WITH the curtain about to fall on the career of one true great and a momentous milestone within touching distance for another, tomorrow’s World Cup final looks set to provide a fitting denouement to a tournament which has far exceeded expectations.
The success of the previous two World Twenty20 jamborees had led some dissenters to doubt the commercial viability and public appeal of a 50 over tournament.
Thankfully, despite fears as to whether their infrastructure could stand up to the rigours of staging such a high-profile event, that the soul of the game will remain in the subcontinent with a legacy in place for the millions of fans in that corner of the globe should stand as a tribute to the job the organisers have done.
With attendances falling in such cricketing strongholds as South Africa and Australia, it has been uplifting to see matches played out to packed, knowledgeable, respectful and raucous crowds, even though the standard of the cricket has been some way short of vintage. Rising above the mediocrity, as ever, are two champions who embody the spirit of cricket, and whose presence in Mumbai tomorrow will ensure a great occasion, regardless of the result.
Muttiah Muralitharan is to retire from the game, fitness permitting, probably on one leg. His action, and its legitimacy, will forever be a topic of debate, but those who choose to concentrate on that miss the point by a margin as wide as the gap left by those batsmen who have failed to pick his doosra. The facts and statistics speak for themselves.
Moreover, this is a man whose integrity has never wavered amidst the various controversies that unfairly threatened to taint his reputation.
On the opposing side, Sachin Tendulkar returns to his home ground in search of his hundredth international century – it’s a script made for Bollywood.
At 37, he’s not quite the force he was but a total of 464 runs this month isn’t shoddy for someone supposedly past his best. English crowds will get one last chance to savour his talent first-hand this summer; a ton tomorrow might mean his home fans won’t get that privilege again.
THE BATSMAN | SACHIN
ODI Debut: 18 Dec, 1989
ODI Caps: 452
ODI Runs: 18,093
ODI Ave: 45.23
Balls Faced: 20,966
Highest Score: 200*
THE BOWLER | MURALI
ODI Debut: 12 Aug, 1993
ODI Caps: 349
ODI Wickets: 534
ODI Ave: 23.00
Balls Bowled: 18,763
Four Wicket Hauls: 15
Five Wicket Hauls: 10
Best Bowling: 7 for 30