A fitting finale
The World Cup final is the stage for a last battle between Sachin Tendulkar and Muttiah Muralitharan.
By Graeme Mair
Last Updated: 03/04/11 11:19am
The first all-Asian World Cup final sees India and Sri Lanka, two of the event co-hosts, collide in Mumbai on Saturday in what promises to be a vibrant end to the six-week tournament.
Regardless of which team walks off with the trophy, the occasion will be notable as the end of an era for two of the modern greats.
India batsman Sachin Tendulkar and Sri Lanka spinner Muttiah Muralitharan, respectively the leading run scorer and wicket taker in the history of international cricket, are unlikely to grace the World Cup stage again.
It will be fascinating to watch the two men, who have consistently pushed back the cricketing boundaries throughout their careers, go at it for the final time on one of the grandest stages.
For Tendulkar there is also the tantalising prospect of scoring his 100th international hundred on his home patch. It almost seems too perfect but, given he scored centuries against England and South Africa in the group stage, it really would not be that much of a surprise.
The Little Master is almost 38 and playing at his sixth World Cup but even he cannot go on for ever and will surely not be able to haul body and mind through another four-year cycle to the next 50-over showpiece in 2015.
Liked and admired around the world in the equal measure, Tendulkar has been an ever-present during India's turbulent ascent to the very top of the game.
His Test record, while outstanding, is comparable with the other leading batsmen of his era, namely West Indian Brian Lara, Australia's Ricky Ponting and even his own team-mate Rahul Dravid.
But in the 50-over format, primarily as an opener, he has proved a class apart, nobody comes remotely close to matching his 18,000 runs or 48 tons in coloured pyjamas.
Just as impressive as his run-scoring exploits has been his ability to remain humble and unaffected, despite living under the most intense public scrutiny.
Muralitharan, by contrast, is an altogether more controversial character - his legacy tainted for some by the endless debate about the legitimacy of his bowling action.
Australian umpires Darrell Hair and Ross Emerson called him for throwing on Sri Lanka's tours Down Under in 1995 and 1998 and, six years later, he was briefly told to stop bowling his doosra after it was found to exceed the elbow extension tolerance of 15 degrees - a rule that had been brought in by the International Cricket Council.
Make no mistake, Muralitharan's action is legal and the ICC's rule change - which came about after analysis of bowling actions around the world - was both pragmatic and sensible. Finger spinners in international cricket would otherwise by an endangered species.
The noise from his critics can often overshadow just how good Muralitharan's record is. He has led his country's attack in all conditions since his debut in 1992, harvesting an incredible 22 10-wicket hauls among his 800 Test scalps.
One-day internationals, where bowlers are restricted to 10 overs and there are usually few close catchers in attendance during the middle overs when the spinners tend to bowl, can often turn outstanding Test performers into mediocrities. Not so with Muralitharan, who has 534 ODI wickets, an impressive ecomony rate of 3.92 and many match-turning displays to his name with the white ball.
Unlike Tendulkar, whose nearest miss came when India lost to Australia in the 2003 final, Muralitharan already has a World Cup victory on his CV as part of Arjuna Ranatunga's side in 1996.
Come the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday and there can only be one winner - India or Sri Lanka, Tendulkar or Muralitharan - who will it be?