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Dublin: 2°C Friday 16 April 2021

Sachin and Murali do battle for cricket's greatest prize

Two sporting giants collide at Wankhede Stadium today when India take on Sri Lanka in the Cricket World Cup final.

Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan, left, congratulates India's Sachin Tendulkar in 2005.
Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan, left, congratulates India's Sachin Tendulkar in 2005.
Image: AMAN SHARMA/AP/Press Association Images

THE WORLD CUP cricket final pits India vs. Sri Lanka and features the best batsman against the most prolific bowler.

Sachin Tendulkar is on home ground in India, bidding for his first title in six trips to the World Cup. He’ll take on Muttiah Muralitharan, who is aiming to win it again in his last international match.

Tendulkar will be under enormous pressure, with India desperate to end a 28-year wait for its second World Cup title and become the first country to win it on home soil. The 37-year-old player made his debut at Wankhede Stadium — the venue for the final on Saturday — in 1998 and has been in the international arena for two decades.

Muralitharan is hobbled by nagging injuries. He’ll draw on his experience of winning the World Cup at age 23 when Sri Lanka stunned the cricket establishment with a seven-wicket over the Australians at Lahore in 1996.

In the first all-Asian final, the teams match up well.

One thing in India’s favor has been its tougher run to the final, following the must-win group match against the West Indies with a big quarterfinal win over three-time defending champion Australia. It then ousted Pakistan in a blockbuster semifinal. If India wins the final, it will have beaten every former World Cup champion to capture the title.

“It’s important to peak at the right time,” skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni said after the victory over Pakistan. “Throughout the tournament we didn’t have any easy games. Every game we had, we had to struggle. All in all, we’re ready for the finals.”

In Sri Lanka’s favor is its World Cup record against India, with four wins from their six completed matches.


Tendulkar has scored more runs than any batsman — more than 18,000 in ODIs alone — and is one shy of his 100th hundred in international cricket. His nearest rival, recently deposed Australian captain Ricky Ponting, is next with 69.

Tendulkar narrowly missed his century of centuries in India’s 29-run semifinal win over archrival Pakistan, but he was dropped four times. But it adds more drama to the tournament final in the thriving financial and entertainment hub, home to India’s Bollywood.

“Going back to Mumbai, especially for this event, is a wonderful occasion,” Tendulkar said. “And all I want to say is, we want to be calm, focus on our job and get the job done.”

Muralitharan has taken more wickets in tests and limited-overs cricket than anyone in history. He only needs three more to equal Australian pace great Glenn McGrath’s record 71 World Cup wickets.

He had his perfect Colombo send off when he took a wicket with his final ball on home soil in Sri Lanka’s semifinal win over New Zealand, when he was hoisted onto his teammates’ shoulders and later did a lap of honor with the national flag.

Muralitharan has had his share of some controversies, including being no-balled for using what umpires considered an illegal bowling action on his first tour to Australia. It’s unlikely he’ll let hamstring, groin and side strains stop him from playing his last international match.

“Chances are good that Murali will play,” Sri Lanka’s Australian-born coach Trevor Bayliss said Thursday. “He completed 10 overs in the semifinal and such is the character of the man that he will play even with discomfort.”


Sri Lanka’s other injury concern is allrounder Angelo Mathews, who left the field late in the semifinal with a muscle strain. Just in case, though, Sri Lanka is sending veteran seamer Chaminda Vaas and offspinner Suraj Randiv to Mumbai on standby.

The only other concern for Sri Lanka is a lack of time at the crease for its middle order. The Sri Lankans have three of the top five scorers in the tournament, led by opener Tillakaratne Dilshan. Skipper Kumar Sangakkara is also in superb touch at No. 3 and as wicketkeeper.

India’s batting is its strength, but the bowling attack did well to defend 260 at Mohali, with all five bowlers taking two wickets apiece.

Sri Lanka is two from two in India, after winning both the group match and the semifinal final here in 1996, the latter finishing in controversy.

The Sri Lankans were awarded the match at Calcutta by default after the 100,000-strong crowd rioted when it became obvious that India would struggle to win. Chasing 252, India was 120 for eight in the 35th over when ICC match referee Clive Lloyd took the teams off the field and then decided to abandon the match when there was more crowd trouble.

There’s unlikely to be a repeat of that disturbance, with strict security in place and Wankhede reduced to just over 30,000 in a recently completed renovation.

– AP

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