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.