In the face of an impending combat between man and machine in the World Cup final a few days from now, after beating New Zealand, Indian captain Saurav Ganguly went public that he would rather play humans like say Sri Lankans. Even after beating seven sides in a row in a single tournament, a feat no Indian team has ever achieved in the country's 28-year one day history, Ganguly couldn't hide an inner hope that Australia gets knocked out in the semi final.
"I am being honest," he said in a press conference after a revengeful thrashing of New Zealanders at Centurion's Supersport Park, "I would rather play Sri Lanka in the final than Australia". Man of the Match Zaheer Khan however said, "we are ready to face anyone".
It was in the same ground that India lost shamefully to Australia in a first round encounter. But it was also here that India beat Pakistan in one of the most exciting matches of the tournament. Three comprehensive wins later in the second phase, despite two Australian batting collapses in the tournament, Ganguly still doesn't believe that his team can beat the Australians.
It's hard to believe that any captain will like to lift the World Cup without the satisfaction of having beaten Australia. What's in a metal cup when some other team is still considered the best in the world?
Though it was for the first time that Ganguly dealt in some detail about the final; as a man of destiny, he has usually avoided commenting on the issuing saying, "We have to qualify first. For that matter Australia has to qualify first. We have to take one step at a time. What matters to us at any given point of time is the next match".
He doesn't underestimate Kenya against whom Indians will play the semi final in Durban. "It's a much improved side and they could be dangerous," he told Outlook. But all talk in South Africa is about an India-Australia final, which the captain admitted he would like to avoid on a day when India notched yet another easy World Cup win.
For making Indians play early this year in conditions that are usually seen in other planets, retribution visited the New Zealanders when they needed mercy the most. In Centurion's Supersport Park, New Zealand needed to either beat India or hope that Sri Lanka would lose to Zimbabwe for the right to play Australia in the Semi Final. Now only hope remains after they lost to India by 7 wickets in a match that was hurriedly completed with two successive fours by Kaif in the 41st over when it began to drizzle as though he didn't want Duckworth-Lewis to get any more publicity.
In an unsolicited service to New Zealand's funeral, percussionist Sivamani belted out death beats on food trays and more legitimate things from the Grand Stand. Though early in its innings, India did manage to make a chase of 146 look challenging after losing three wickets for 21 but thereafter an inspired New Zealand bowlers ran into The Wall and Mohammad Kaif who it seems is made of the same construction material. They put on a tenacious unbeaten and painfully built partnership of 129 off 222 balls, which is a record for the Indian 4th wicket against the Kiwis.
Sachin Tendulkar looked in his punishing form once again but the law of probability caused his demise after he cut a Tuffey delivery straight to Oram. He now has scored 586 runs in this World Cup in 9 matches. After Sehwag departed early, Gangly never looked comfortable against the hostile pace of Shane Bond. A deviously quick yorker from Bond that he might have seen only in television replays, removed his off stump.
But Dravid and Kaif took matters to a boring end leaving it to Sivamani to give people in one section of the stadium some portion of their money's worth. Earlier, New Zealand's batsmen couldn't find respectability with Indian pacers. While Zaheer took four wickets, two of them in succession in his very first over, it was Ashish Nehra who was the most lethal.
As the New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming said, "I am most impressed with him among the Indian bowlers. He really troubled us". His first two overs were maidens. The third over went for one run in return for the wicket of Styris. The fourth over went for 2 runs, the 5th and 6th for 3 each, while his seventh, eighth and ninth overs were the most expensive conceding 5 runs each. After a maiden in his 10th over, he finished with 24 for one.
Meanwhile gentle giant Srinath continued his silent but effective showing in the tournament conceding 20 in 8 overs while taking Fleming's wicket. Sachin who was mysteriously not used as any fraction of 'the fifth bowler' in the tournament bowled for the first time in a list than had eight bowlers in total. Just when there was a threat that Dravid too will be called to bowl, the New Zealanders did a favour by running out of batsmen.
In Fleming's analysis it was a game that was taken away from him by, "the Indian bowlers and our batsmen". When he was asked to compare the Indian pace attack with Australia's, the vanquished captain said, "I will perhaps rate Indian left-armers as slightly more difficult to play than the Australian bowlers".
It's in the face of such compliments and a general feeling among the hurt people of South Africa that only India will deny Australians the cup, that the Indian captain removed his mask of self-belief and said in public domain that he would rather meet Sri Lanka in the final at Johannesburg's Wanderers.