Mumbai: A heavy bout of nostalgia will descend upon the Wankhede Stadium on Thursday when India plays Sri Lanka at the Cricket World Cup.
It will be a rematch of the 2011 final, when India won by six wickets and the venue became hallowed turf for the cricket crazed nation. A sea of blue had poured out onto the streets of Mumbai that night after MS Dhoni lifted India’s second World Cup trophy.
Dhoni’s winning shot – a six over long on – was immortalized and two seats at the Wankhede are permanently decorated as that spot where the ball landed. All of it adds to the aura of this magnificent cricket venue by the seaside, where India is aiming to continue its unbeaten run in this tournament.
Much has changed since 2011, of course. The great Sachin Tendulkar is long retired, although his name is stamped on the stands at the Wankhede.
Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan – all of vital contributors to India’s second World Cup title — are also retired.
Virat Kohli and spinner Ravichandran Ashwin are the only players in this squad who were part of the setup 12 years ago.
Kohli has grown from a youngster to a superstar in the meantime – chants of his name have replaced the echoes of Tendulkar’s name. He has 48 ODI centuries now, one short of Tendulkar’s world record in the format. A good batting surface in Mumbai might just help. Kohli was out for a duck in Lucknow against England, but scored 354 runs in five games before that.
Ashwin has only played one game in this tournament – the opener against Australia in Chennai when he returned 1-34 in 10 overs on a spin friendly surface. Ashwin was even left out on a similar wicket in Lucknow, as India’s focus has shifted to picking up wickets with pace.
Mohammed Shami is in searing form with nine wickets in two games. Jasprit Bumrah has picked up 14 wickets in six games, and the duo pose a tremendous threat with the new ball. They routed England, sharing seven wickets for 54 runs in 13.5 overs.
Shami’s inclusion has also solved India’s problem in the absence of injured allrounder Hardik Pandya. The five-man bowling attack looks balanced and there isn’t much scope for change, with Pandya not expected to recover from a left ankle injury until the semifinals.
Semi berth will be the focus
Nostalgia aside, there will be intense focus on securing qualification for the semi-finals. India leads the standings with 12 points and is the only unbeaten lineup in the tournament.
One more win will guarantee a spot in the top four.
“There are three matches left,” wrist spinner Kuldeep Yadav said, declining to speculate on semifinal permutations. “We have to perform well and win all the three remaining matches. Then we will see who comes."
Unlike India, Sri Lanka has no veterans from the 2011 final. And its form has been patchy in the ODI format, to the point where it had to go through the qualifiers in Zimbabwe to feature in this tournament.
Mahela Jayawardene, who scored a century for Sri Lanka in the 2011 final, is the team's batting consultant for this tournament. He will be aiming to motivate the current lineup not only for this match but also for the 2025 Champions Trophy qualification – the top eight teams here will qualify.
Sri Lanka is currently seventh with four points from six games but is coming off a major setback to its semifinal aspirations with a loss to Afghanistan.
The 1996 champions must win all remaining games to stay in contention for a playoff spot – starting with India, and then against Bangladesh and New Zealand.