India and Pakistan set to light up final

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Nobody at the International Cricket Council was prepared to say so but the final of the first World Twenty20 today involves the countries it and almost everybody else wanted. India and Pakistan have not only been the outstanding teams but their encounter at The Wanderers is also bound to grab the attention of billions of people around the planet.

The alternative was a contest between Australia and New Zealand which might have enthralled the southern hemisphere but which would not have had them switching on in many other places.

With due respect to Australia, one of the best teams to have played the game in any form, it came as something of a relief that they were not so smart at Twenty20. Cricket needed another name on one of the trophies and New Zealand's might not quite have cut the mustard either.

It is remarkable the finalists should have come so far. Neither team has played much Twenty20 – Pakistan had four matches in all before this tournament and India only one, under sufferance. Indeed India's board had been positively hostile towards it. How things have changed in a fortnight. The players have embraced the format, playing fearlessly whether batting or bowling, winning because they have seemed unafraid to lose. Whether that mindset survives a final between the two great sub-continental rivals is open to question.

That may be in the hands of the captains, and Shoaib Malik and Mahendra Singh Dhoni have been models of calm amid the bedlam that is Twenty20. Both were restrained yesterday, though Dhoni was comfortably more expansive.

Malik is leading a side which has suffered untold catastrophe in the past year – ball-tampering controversy at The Oval and a loss in the first round of the World Cup which was put firmly into perspective by the sudden death of their coach, Bob Woolmer – and which he is quietly determined to change.

"We have the right combinations," Malik said. "The boys have given 110 per cent and if we win this World Cup with the religious festivals of Ramadan and Eid coming up we will give that gift to our people in Pakistan."

Dhoni has been a magnificent leader in his first tournament in charge. None of India's big stars – Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and above all Sachin Tendulkar – have been here and they have not been missed. Dhoni was engagingly modest.

"A good skipper is decided by the players," he said. "Whatever responsibilities he has he gives to the players." He made it sound simple.

India's key batsman in the competition's latter stages has been Yuvraj Singh, whose last two innings have brought 128 runs from 46 balls including 12 sixes, six of them in a single over against England.

Ah, England, now on their way to Sri Lanka. This is another cricket party they attended, only to act like a wallflower.

The final should be some spectacle on a flat pitch. The beauty is that either side can win.