India's Zaheer Khan, left, talks to captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni during the Cricket World Cup semifinal match between Pakistan and India in Mohali, India, Wednesday, March 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi) *** Local Caption ***  CWCDA281_India_Cricket_WCup_India_Pakistan.jpg
MS Dhoni, right, has led his team well in the 2011 Cricket World Cup.

MS Dhoni earns respect as leader of men

MUMBAI // MS Dhoni has a date with destiny that could catapult him into a different stratosphere in terms of Indian sports stars.

Dhoni, preparing to take on Sri Lanka at the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday, is the third captain to lead India into a World Cup final after Kapil Dev and Sourav Ganguly.

He has the right pedigree already, having guided India to victory in the World Twenty20 championship four years ago. But this is a different scenario.

Dhoni led astutely in a 29-run win over arch rivals Pakistan in a high-stakes semi-final at Mohali on Wednesday, triggering wild celebrations and raising hopes that he can emulate Kapil's success of 1983.

If he does succeed, India would also have the distinction of beating all former World Cup champions on way to the title.

India defeated the West Indies in their last league match in Chennai by 80 runs and beat Australia, the three-time defending champions, by five wickets in Ahmedabad to set up the high-profile semi-final with Pakistan. It now leaves only Sri Lanka from the list of former champions to beat.

The West Indians were champions in 1975 and 1979 before India spoiled the Caribbean squad's run with an upset victory in the 1983 final at Lord's. Australia won in 1987, 1999, 2003 and 2007, while Pakistan in 1992 and Sri Lanka in 1996.

In the 2003 final, a Ganguly-led India team went in with great expectations but were outplayed in a 125-run defeat to Australia.

Dhoni knows any slip-up against Sri Lanka could make a crucial difference in the title game.

"Sri Lanka are a very good team and we will have to do our best to beat them," Dhoni said after the win over Pakistan. "We've been tested more often than not in the games we have played so I think it will be a very good final."

Dhoni thinks his team have been shaping well for the big game.

"It was important that we peaked at the right time. We've chased some decent scores and we have won batting first. Everybody's giving more than 100 per cent on the field, so we're ready for the final," Dhoni said.

The 29-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman was proud of the way his squad had pulled together.

"The team unity, the way we are backing each other and not criticising any player has been great," he said. "If somebody is having a bad time on the field we are making sure he is wanted and everybody is helping each other. That's what really counts in team sport.

"Individuals have stepped up and said 'OK I will be the person who will perform in this particular game' but overall everybody has contributed so far in bits and pieces."

Dhoni got support from Kapil, who said that the current captain should be respected regardless of the result in Saturday's final.

"I will never doubt Dhoni's credentials as a captain irrespective of the result of the World Cup final," Kapil said. "A lot of people believe that it's the ultimate result which will count but I believe otherwise."

Allan Border, Australia's World Cup-winning captain, however, thought that Dhoni had a big challenge ahead.

"I know people here won't like it but I believe that Sri Lanka will go into the final as favourites," Border said.

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Salah in numbers

€39 million: Liverpool agreed a fee, including add-ons, in the region of 39m (nearly Dh176m) to sign Salah from Roma last year. The exchange rate at the time meant that cost the Reds £34.3m - a bargain given his performances since.

13: The 25-year-old player was not a complete stranger to the Premier League when he arrived at Liverpool this summer. However, during his previous stint at Chelsea, he made just 13 Premier League appearances, seven of which were off the bench, and scored only twice.

57: It was in the 57th minute of his Liverpool bow when Salah opened his account for the Reds in the 3-3 draw with Watford back in August. The Egyptian prodded the ball over the line from close range after latching onto Roberto Firmino's attempted lob.

7: Salah's best scoring streak of the season occurred between an FA Cup tie against West Brom on January 27 and a Premier League win over Newcastle on March 3. He scored for seven games running in all competitions and struck twice against Tottenham.

3: This season Salah became the first player in Premier League history to win the player of the month award three times during a term. He was voted as the division's best player in November, February and March.

40: Salah joined Roger Hunt and Ian Rush as the only players in Liverpool's history to have scored 40 times in a single season when he headed home against Bournemouth at Anfield earlier this month.

30: The goal against Bournemouth ensured the Egyptian achieved another milestone in becoming the first African player to score 30 times across one Premier League campaign.

8: As well as his fine form in England, Salah has also scored eight times in the tournament phase of this season's Champions League. Only Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, with 15 to his credit, has found the net more often in the group stages and knockout rounds of Europe's premier club competition.


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