New Delhi, March 31 (IANS) The World Cup final in Mumbai Saturday will be the perfect backdrop for the greatest batsman and the greatest bowler of this era to raise the stakes and excel one last time.
Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan, the highest wicket-taker in both Tests and One-dayers, has already announced that he is quitting international cricket after the Mumbai game and likewise India’s batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar, the highest run-getter in both forms of the game, may in all likelihood end his ODI career if not quit international cricket altogether.
Muralitharan,38, is the lone member of the present Sri Lankan squad from the 1996 World Cup winning team, apart from veteran Chaminda Vaas, who was drafted into the squad as an injury stand-by for the final.
Muralitharan would hope to end his illustrious career with a second World Cup and Tendulkar his first and India’s second to cap his glittering career.
Tendulkar, who played in only one World Cup final which India lost to Australia in 2003, would also like to end his exceptional career of over two decades, adding the elusive cup to his inumerable trophies, accolades and records.
Tendulkar looks determined to make this World Cup his own. He is tournament’s second leading scorer with 464 runs in eight matches, three runs behind Sri Lanka’s Tillakaratne Dilshan. He hit centuries against South Africa and England.
Winning the World Cup and getting his 100th international century in the final will be the icing on cake.
Both the teams are aware of the magnitude of the occasion for the two champion players.
“Going back to Mumbai for this event, is going to be a wonderful occasion. We have got to be calm and focussed. This has been memorable, and something I will cherish all through my life. I am proud to play the final in Mumbai,” said Tendulkar after the victory against Pakistan.
Sri Lankan players turned emotional when Muralitharan took the lap of the R.Premadasa stadium after their semi-final match Tuesday, the last time the off-spinners was playing on his home turf.
Muralitharan has endured pain to play matches. He has battled a series of injuries, but has emerged as the highest wicket-taker for his team with 15 scalps.
“What Murali has achieved on the field is for everyone to see,” Mahela Jayawardene said after the practice session in Wankhede Stadium Thursday.
“Over the years I have seen him as a person. When I joined the team he was the first person to take us out for a meal. Till then I had not played with or against him. He has done that for all young cricketers coming into the Sri Lanka dressing room. He would always have a chat with them, he is one of the friendliest guys around. And he is very friendly with the opponents as well. For us at times it was annoying, but that’s what Murali is,” he says.
Jayawardene gives a peek into Muralitharan’s “remarkable” personality. “He is an amazing character. We will be truly missing him in the dressing room. He keeps every one laughing and in good humour.”
Muralitharan has developed the knack of scripting fairytale ending. He took a wicket with the last ball he bowled in Test cricket, claiming Pragyan Ojha as his 800th victim, and Tuesday took the wicket of Scott Styris with the last ball he bowled at home in the ODIs.
He is so invaluable to Sri Lanka that the team management knows that even a half-fit Muralitharan can be handful for the Indian batsmen.