. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Grudge Match On for World Cup Final

LAHORE, Pakistan -- Diplomatic noises will be made, soothing words expressed, but if World Cup officials are relying on a harmonious final between Australia and Sri Lanka on Sunday they must have spent the last three months on Mars.


The Gaddafi stadium will be unable to provide a crowd atmosphere comparable to Bangalore or Calcutta over the past week and the absence of co-hosts India and Pakistan deprives the occasion of spectacular off-field fireworks. Yet as far as the two sets of players go, the best advice for unwary spectators is to stand well back behind the boundary rope. This is a final to settle old scores.


So much was said and written in the wake of Australia's refusal to travel to Colombo for their opening World Cup match on Feb. 17 that only those with very short memories will be able to treat the final as just another game of cricket.


The guerrilla bomb attack which killed more than 80 people and injured 1,200 in the Sri Lankan capital on Jan. 31 provoked widespread security fears, but while West Indies' decision to forfeit their group match on the island was relatively ignored, Australia found themselves embroiled in a bitter war of words.


Much of it dated back to Sri Lanka's tour of Australia before and after Christmas which proved acrimonious even by modern standards. The touring side were accused of ball-tampering in the first test in Perth and off-spinner Muttiah Muralitheran was persistently no-balled for throwing in the second test in Melbourne by home umpire Darrell Hair.


Relations between the players became increasingly strained, overshadowing some excellent cricket from both sides, and nothing that has occurred since has helped heal the various personal rifts.


Now it is payback time after Australia's dramatic five-run semifinal win over West Indies. Sri Lanka, almost oblivious to the fact they have reached their first World Cup final, are itching to seize their opportunity.


"Nothing could be more satisfying for us than to win the Cup by beating Australia in the final," admitted Sri Lankan manager Duleep Mendis. "It's not only me, the whole team has been eyeing this game since before the semifinals."


But Mark Taylor's team hope to bury old grievances. There has been a clear determination among the senior Australian players since the start of the tournament to emulate their 1987 predecessors who triumphed in Calcutta over their more traditional rivals England. Mark Waugh's three centuries and Shane Warne's superb leg-spin efforts have grabbed the headlines, but they have numerous reliable assistants and Taylor's captaincy has been consistently first-class.


Seldom can two sides have recovered from a collective score of 16 for six inside 11 overs and still reached the World Cup final.