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Ganguly confident of India regaining cup

By Sanjay Rajan

COLOMBO, JULY 31. It was seven in the evening on Friday. The Indian cricket captain Sourav Ganguly was leaning on the portico of the Taj Samudra with daughter Sana by his side. As he waited for his car, he signed autographs, posed for snapshots; the daughter looked on with admiration.

Ganguly enjoys attention. Simply loves it. And he is rather open about it. As the leader of a team, considered to be the one to beat in world cricket, he obviously deserves every bit of the adulation.

After all, he is India's most successful Test captain. The Bengal cricketer's upswing as commander gained momentum after that unforgettable NatWest Trophy triumph at Lord's in 2002.

Thereafter, India was joint-winner in the ICC Champions Trophy in Colombo, finalist at the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, shared the trophy in a tri-series in Dhaka. A remarkable tour of Australia followed, topped by that exciting Test and ODI series' victories in Pakistan.

The turning point was, of course, the NatWest triumph, where India successfully chased 325 against England. Only, the triumph at Lord's, again, happens to be Ganguly's lone success in 12 finals since taking over as one-day skipper in the 1999-2000 season. Under his reign, India lost nine finals and shared two

Burdening statistics

Statistics such as these can be burdening, especially if your side's entry to a final is not exactly a confident one. Not for Ganguly, though. The `Captain Cool' of contemporary cricket said, "That's an issue, yes. We'll sort that out. But, why is it you don't take into account our ODI series victories? The decider in a five-match series is as much a final, I'd say."

If one thinks details like Sri Lanka's two Asia Cup crowns came as host would bother the `Bengal tiger' when he walks out with `Lankan lion', Marvan Atapattu, at the R. Premadasa Stadium on Sunday afternoon to toss, ahead of the day/night final of the Indian Oil-sponsored eighth edition, one is mistaken.

Ganguly uses history as a guide and doesn't allow it to influence him. "It's a new day, a new game. I hope to win it. We beat them in the last match (second-phase), when both sides were depleted. I don't see why we can't do it again," the skipper said.

Laxman to play

Four-time champion India will field a full strength side. "V.V.S. Laxman is fit and will play," said Ganguly.

It means he'll finally return to his successful seven batsmen, four bowlers combination. "Depending on the wicket I'll decide on whether to go in with three seamers or two," he said.

It could be two, considering L. Balaji's patchy form, and that the remaining three pacers are left-armers. But you never know with this man, a master at pulling surprises. He might even go in with three speedsters, now that Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar are bowling off-spin and leg-spin with tremendous confidence.

Ganguly dismissed talk of the toss being crucial and that the Indian team finds it difficult to chase under lights. "I don't think the toss is going to matter at all. Normally a wicket for a final is prepared with attention and care, and the ball comes on to the bat".

"I agree that Sri Lanka is strong at home. Every team is. They know the conditions. But then, we have beaten them in the past. The idea is to take 10 overs at a time and assess the situation at that point," added Ganguly.

India's top six batters haven't fired together, though they have scored in different matches. "It happens, this being our first tournament of the season. Sehwag, Yuvraj and I scored in the last match. Look, everyone needn't score at the same time. Three or four would do as long as it is a sizeable contribution," said Ganguly.

The two specialist spinners, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, have bowled progressively well in the tournament. Left-arm seamer Irfan Pathan, the find on the Pakistan tour, has bowled magnificently. A lot will rely on him. Zaheer Khan looked down in the dumps when Sri Lanka took 15 and 21 runs off him in two separate overs in the second-phase contest, but Ganguly restored every ounce of Zaheer's confidence by allowing the left-armer to bowl the crucial last over.

India's greatest danger is the `Marauder from Matara', Sanath Jayasuriya. The southpaw is on a roll with back-to-back centuries against Bangladesh and India. And he rarely fails against the `Men in Blue'.

"We know that he almost always scores against us. We also know that we have to get him out early. Once that's done, Lanka's run-rate will slide," said Ganguly.

Muralitharan is back

Sri Lanka is in full strength with wizard off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan back from Kandy and senior-most pacer Chaminda Vaas rested and raring to go.

"It's a high pressure match. One good game and we should finish it," said Atapattu.

Let Ganguly have the last word. "We as a team have won all over the world, and are confident of our abilities."

The teams:

India (from): S. Ganguly (capt.), V. Sehwag, R. Dravid (vice-capt.), V.V.S. Laxman, S. Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Mohd. Kaif, I. Pathan, Zaheer Khan, A. Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, L. Balaji, A. Nehra and P. Patel.

Sri Lanka (from): M. Atapattu (capt.), M. Jayawardene (vice-capt), S. Jayasuriya, A. Gunawardene, K. Sangakkara, T. Dilshan, U. Chandana, C. Vaas, N. Zoysa, M. Muralitharan, F. Maharoof, S. Jayantha, L. Malinga and T. Kandambi.

Umpires: D. Shepherd (Eng) & B. Bowden (NZ).

Third umpire: Akhtar Shaheen (Bangla).

Match referee: Mike Procter (SA).

Hours of play (IST): 2.15 p.m. to 5.45 p.m., 6.30 p.m. till close.

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