The defending champions didn't make it, the mercurial outsiders stumbled, the strong contender choked, the Ashes winners ran out of gas, and after six weeks of high drama, we have come to this: the first all-Asian World Cup final. And they deserve to be there: five of the top six run-getters, two out of top five wicket-takers, the fielder with the most catches and the wicketkeeper with the most dismissals will all be on show. The two teams have rallied around two of the best modern-day captains: Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Kumar Sangakkara.
Sangakkara is a fiercely ambitious man. Arjuna Ranatunga was almost the freedom fighter, infusing self-respect and clearing the colonial hangover, Mahela Jayawardene was the astute captain who brought so much tactical nous and cricketing intelligence, and Sangakkara is trying to add ruthlessness. Ranatunga pushed the boys to become men, Jayawardene made the men self-aware, and Sangakkara is trying to turn them ruthless. The evolutionary journey has produced a World Cup triumph, a runners-up finish and now, a chance to win it for the second time.
Sangakkara's dream, however, has been hit a nightmarish blow with the injury to Angelo Mathews. Even Muttiah Muralitharan won't be 100% fit. Mathews' absence severely affects the balance of the team and adds huge pressure on an already brittle lower-middle order, where Chamara Silva and Thilan Samaraweera haven't exactly set the tournament alight. Silva, who dazzled in the 2007 edition, has proved combustible in this tournament. Samaraweera is there to manage a collapse, and he did that really well in the curtailed game against Australia. Neither has Mathews' talent to turn a 225 score into 275.
To state the obvious, Sri Lanka will now heavily depend on Tillakaratane Dilshan, the captain and Mahela Jayawardene if they are to put up or chase down a daunting target. They will now have to bat with the knowledge that the lower middle order might not withstand a top-order collapse. Dilshan, though, is in great form, Sangakkara has looked as gritty as ever and while Jayawardene is yet to really flow, he can be always be counted on to come good in pressure games. And Sri Lanka have a varied bowling attack to defend even relatively unsafe totals and the ability to restrict the opposition from piling up too much.
MS Dhoni is a quietly ambitious man. Sourav Ganguly was passionate, Rahul Dravid was process driven, Anil Kumble led from the front with his grit, while Dhoni has been an intuitive captain. He is level-headed, and shrewd enough to marry passion and process. He has soaked up the pressure of being India's captain, is smart enough to know the value of his own brand, and keeps his star-heavy team rolling smoothly with the aid of Gary Kirsten. India's previous two victories, against Australia and Pakistan, have ironed out many of the flaws seen earlier in the tournament. However, those two wins also raise the question of India being emotionally drained. Do they have fuel left in them to raise their game one final time?
The batsmen, who had perhaps tried too hard to compensate for the relatively weak bowling attack by trying to do too much in the end overs and collapsed in the batting Powerplay, seem more aware of identifying a viable target. Someone or other has taken charge during tricky chases. Yuvraj Singh showed tenacity in the chase against Australia, and Suresh Raina maturity in his shot selection against Pakistan.
The poor performance in the early part of the tournament seems to have freed up the bowlers. Expectations are lower and the pressure is off in some ways, allowing them to show better discipline and skill. Munaf Patel has greater control over his leg cutters and Harbhajan Singh has slowed up the pace to give himself a better chance to take wickets.
In the last two years, Sri Lanka and India have won eight games apiece against each other. In the last year, the record stands 4-3 in Sri Lanka's favor. In their last five encounters in India, though, the record stands 3-1, with one no result, in the home side's favour. However, these two teams have played each other so often - today's final will be the 30th time since July 2008- that they should know everything there is to know about each other.