|Cricket World Cup dream final|
|Friday, 01 April 2011 21:50|
Praise and admiration rained down on Sachin Tendulkar and Muttiah Muralitharan yesterday, 24 hours before the two superstars bring their Cricket World Cup careers to an end.
Tendulkar, playing in his sixth and probably last World Cup at the age of 37, is desperate to capture the only piece of silverware missing from his record-breaking career.
Added spice is provided by today's final against Sri Lanka being played at his home Wankhede stadium in Mumbai where a century will make him the first batsman to score a hundred international centuries.
"If you bat with Sachin for 15 games you have the kind of experience you'd have after 50 games," said India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni in praise of a man who is three weeks shy of his 38th birthday.
Muralitharan, the only member of Sri Lanka's 1996 World Cup winning squad still playing, will retire after today, bringing down the curtain on a 19-year career which has yielded 534 ODI wickets.
The off-spinner, who will celebrate his 39th birthday on April 17, is an injury doubt for today's match after suffering a series of injuries throughout the tournament.
But with 15 wickets already to his name in this event, he is crucial to his team's chances and is just three wickets short of equalling Australian seamer Glenn McGarth's record of 71 World Cup victims.
Sri Lanka coach Trevor Bayliss has insisted that Muralitharan will play.
"Chances are good that Murali will play," said Bayliss. "Such is the character of the man that he will play even with discomfort."
Sri Lanka appear to be the worst hit with star bowler Muttiah Muralitharan struggling to recover from hamstring and knee injuries while all-rounder Angelo Mathews was ruled out yesterday with a side strain.
Off-spinner Suraj Randiv, who flew to Mumbai as cover along with veteran seamer Chaminda Vaas, has replaced Mathews in the squad.
Indian seamer Ashish Nehra could miss the match after fracturing the middle finger on his right hand in Wednesday's semi-final win over Pakistan.
A massive security operation has been mounted for the final - the highest-profile sporting event to be held in Mumbai since the deadly 2008 militant attacks which left 166 people dead.
Although no specific threat has been made for the match between India and Sri Lanka, Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik said he would prefer to take no chances with the safety of players and spectators.
"We will be overdoing it a bit," he admitted. "But it's better to be on the safe side. The stakes are high."
For the final, to be attended by Indian President Pratibha Patil and her Sri Lankan counterpart, Mahinda Rajapakse, Patnaik said some 3 500 personnel will be deployed inside and outside the ground.
Meanwhile, the International Cricket Council insisted the tournament, which staged its opening ceremony on February 17 and its first warm-up matches on February 12, had been a sporting and commercial success. The first round took four weeks to complete only for the world's eight top-ranked teams to fill the eight places in the quarter-finals. "The future of 50-over cricket seems assured after this fantastic tournament in which records have tumbled and TV ratings and attendances have exceeded expectations," said ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat.
"The final TV audience will exceed one billion."
The media in India and Sri Lanka were in a frenzy ahead of the final.
"Sri Lanka can!" said the Colombo-based Daily FT in banner headlines. "Wishing the Sri Lankan team best of luck," the Daily Mirror said. ‘Rally round team," urged the front-page headline in the state-run Daily News.
Cinemas and theatres said they were canceling their Saturday evening shows as the entire country was expected to be watching the final on television. Cricket clubs said they would set up giant television screens while bars said they were extending "happy hour" to cover the entire duration of the match.
In India, the Hindustan Times headlined its front page: "Now for the icing on the cake."
And Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara is hopeful Muttiah Muralitharan will feature in today's World Cup final and admitted that the veteran off-spinner was feeling upbeat in the dressing room.
Muralitharan, the world's leading Test and one-day bowler, who turns 39 this month, has been struggling with hamstring and knee injuries and has been rated as a doubt for the final against India, his last match before retirement.
"Murali's presence is always important. He's a big-match player, he's been amazing for us, so hopefully if he is fit he will take the field," Sangakkara said.
"Everyone understands it is hard to shut Murali up, whatever his mood is. He's pretty upbeat, he's always talking, laughing and annoying most of the other players in the dressing room. Today has been no different.
"It is great to have him in the side, great to hopefully have him tomorrow and play this World Cup final with us. Whatever happens, we want to play for him and play for each other and do the best we can do."
Sri Lanka also have a doubt over all-rounder Angelo Mathews (side strain).
"Angelo is one of our very important players," Sangakkara said. "He's picked up an injury. We'll make an assessment but if he's not there he's not there. The player who replaces him will consider it a big opportunity to do well for his country on this magnificent occasion."
Sri Lanka have flown in off-spinner Suraj Randiv and veteran seamer Chaminda Vaas to cover for the injured duo, but they are still not officially eligible to play.
Rival squads and pitch conditions for the Cricket World Cup final between India and Sri Lanka at the Wankhede stadium
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla, Ravichandran Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, Munaf Patel.
Coach: Gary Kirsten (RSA).
Sri Lanka: Kumar Sangakkara (capt), Mahela Jayawardene, Upul Tharanga, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Thilan Samaraweera, Chamara Silva, Chamara Kapugedera, Angelo Mathews, Thisara Perera, Nuwan Kulasekara, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, Muttiah Muralitharan, Ajantha Mendis, Rangana Herath.
Coach: Trevor Bayliss (AUS)
Umpires: Simon Taufel (AUS) and Aleem Dar (PAK)
TV umpire: Ian Gould (ENG)
Match referee: Jeff Crowe (NZL)
Match starts at 11am
Pitch conditions: The well-rolled pitch with even bounce should provide entertaining cricket with both bat and ball. The match will begin in hot weather but the evening sea breeze will cool temperatures.
Previous Cricket World Cup winners
1975: West Indies
1979: West Indies
1996: Sri Lanka
2007: Australia. - AFP.