MIRPUR, Bangladesh (AP) — The tag of "chokers" is often used for South Africa at major cricket tournaments but it could start applying to Sri Lanka if the team loses to India in Sunday's World Twenty20 final.
The Sri Lankans have lost in the final of four global ICC tournaments over the past seven years. Now they have a chance to emulate Arjuna Ranatunga's side of 1996, which won the World Cup on the Indian sub-continent.
It is the third World Twenty20 final for Sri Lanka, which lost to Pakistan in 2009 and to the West Indies in 2012. Sri Lanka has also lost in the final of the World Cup twice in recent years — to Australia in 2007 and to India in 2011. For its part, South Africa failed to win either title despite making the semifinals of the World Cup three times.
Sri Lanka's match against India also gives its players a chance to present former captains Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara with a parting gift. Both players have announced they will not take part in international T20 games in the future.
But Sri Lanka has to defeat a team that has been the most impressive so far.
India was the only unbeaten side in the league stage with its spinners dominant — off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and legspinner Amit Mishra had two player-of-the-match awards each as India won all its four league games convincingly to top Group 2.
India also beat South Africa in the semifinals as Virat Kohli produced a match-winning 72 not out to overhaul a score of 172 against a side boasting premier pace bowler Dale Steyn and in-form legspinner Imran Tahir among others.
"Virat has grabbed every opportunity that he has got over the years and that's why he's so successful," India captain MS Dhoni said about Kohli, who has the highest aggregate of 242 runs in this tournament. "He's someone who wants to improve in each and every game. He never throws away his wicket yet scores at a pace not easy to match."
Dhoni said India needed to be at its best to win.
"Sri Lanka has a fantastic team. They have spinners who are needed on a track like this. They also have a fair bit of experienced players with Mahela and Sangakkara around," Dhoni said.
India beat Sri Lanka in the 2011 World Cup final but Dhoni played down any lingering advantage from this.
"Pyschological advantage will not matter in this format, it all depends on how individuals respond to particular situations," Dhoni said. "If we replicate what we have done in the tournament we should win."
Sri Lanka was also an impressive winner in its semifinal match after qualifying with an easy victory in its last league game against New Zealand, in which left-arm spinner Rangana Herath finished with a haul of 5-3.
Sri Lanka got past a dangerous West Indies side as it was declared the semifinal winner by 27 runs after the Duckworth-Lewis method was put into operation due to rain and a hailstorm.
But Sri Lanka was very much in control of that game with Darren Sammy's defending champions needing a difficult 81 runs off 37 balls when play was called off.
"They have some good six (or) seven batsmen but we have to remember that batsmen need only one ball to get out," Sri Lanka captain Lasith Malinga said. "Our worry is not about the batsmen they have but about bowling a good 20 overs."
Malinga said a $1 million award announced by Sri Lanka Cricket for winning was not a major incentive.
"We just to want to play our brand of cricket and win the tournament. We're not concerned about other things and what we'll get," Malinga said.
Malinga confirmed that he'll lead Sri Lanka even if original captain Dinesh Chandimal plays after opting out of the semifinal due to indifferent form.