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Friday, April 1, 2011

Sachin Tendulkar versus Muthiah Muralidaran in final showdown

SACHIN Tendulkar v Muthiah Muralidaran - that's what it's come down to in the World Cup final.

It's the batsman who has made more runs than anyone against the bowler who has taken more wickets than anyone.

Even though there will be 10 other talented combatants on each side, if either of these two megastars defeats the other, it is highly probable it will determine the outcome.

Even the many gods who oversee fate in all its forms on the subcontinent seem to be split about who to support -- each player has had their blessing this week.

Murali, who will retire after the match, snagged a wicket with his final delivery on Sri Lankan soil, trapping New Zealand's Scott Styris lbw to ensure victory in the semi-final in Colombo.

And Tendulkar was dropped four times and survived two tight decisions by the TV umpire in an innings of 85 without which India probably would not have won its semi against Pakistan yesterday. It reeks of divine intervention.

Cricket fans should be grateful because it gives tomorrow night's showpiece occasion a focal point that couldn't be replicated by any other two players.

One must hopeMurali delivers the bulk of his allotted 10 overs to Tendulkar, which prompts a question that has always puzzled me about limited-overs cricket. Why is a batsman permitted to occupy the crease for 100 per cent of the innings, if he can, but a bowler can deliver fewer than half the overs on offer from either end?

It's just more proof that, as everyone knows, cricket in all its forms has always been a batsman's game.

For the record, Tendulkar has 14,692 Test runs and 18,093 in one-day internationals for a total of 32,785. Murali has 800 Test wickets and 534 in one-dayers for 1334. They are monumental numbers that may never be bettered.

If only because he has about a billion people barracking for him as against Sri Lanka's 20 million in this David and Goliath contest, Tendulkar is under significantly more pressure. Unlike Murali, Tendulkar has never played in a winning World Cup team in five attempts.

He admits he dreams fervently of doing it, but when he got the chance in the 2003 final against Australia he failed, making four, while Ricky Ponting scored 140 not out in a performance that remains his proudest moment.

It is one of the few blank spots in Tendulkar's stupendous record.

Now, though, the stage is set for a triumph of a magnitude that even his adoring scriptwriters could not have imagined.

He has the opportunity to score his 100th international century in the World Cup final in his home town, Mumbai, in the month of his 38th birthday against the world's greatest bowler. Wherever he is, even Don Bradman will take his hat off if that happens.

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