Sachin v Murali - a farewell battle to cherish

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Mumbai, March 31 (AFP): Legends Sachin Tendulkar and Muttiah Muralitharan face-off in a mouth-watering duel for the last time when India and Sri Lanka clash in the World Cup final on Saturday.

The contest between the world’s leading batsman and highest wicket-taker in their final appearance in cricket’s showpiece event will add spice to the big game at the Wankhede stadium.

Muralitharan, who turns 39 next month, will leave international cricket after the World Cup with more Test (800) and one-day (534 so far) wickets than any bowler in history.

Tendulkar’s batting skills have not diminished even as he celebrates his 38th birthday next month, but he is unlikely to make a record seventh World Cup appearance in 2015.

A World Cup title has eluded the Indian star despite being the sport’s most successful batsman with a record 32,785 runs and 99 centuries in Test and one-day cricket.

Muralitharan tasted World Cup glory in his maiden appearance in 1996 when Arjuna Ranatunga’s men stunned Australia in the final in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

The ageing superstars have led from the front in this tournament to carry their teams into the final.

Tendulkar’s 464 runs in eight matches are just three behind Sri Lankan Tillakaratne Dilshan’s record tally of 467, while the wily Muralitharan has claimed 15 wickets despite battling injuries.

Muralitharan has soldiered on bravely over the past six weeks despite being afflicted by hamstring and groin injuries, a side strain and a troublesome knee.

An appreciative Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara said winning the World Cup for Muralitharan has motivated his team. “Murali is a legend to bowl virtually on one leg and still get wickets,” the captain said.

“He is the icon of Sri Lanka, on and off the field, a fantastic human being and a great team man.”

The off-spinner is the only player from either side to enjoy a World Cup triumph.

Tendulkar was 10 years old when India won the tournament under Kapil Dev in 1983, while five of his current team-mates - Ravichandran Ashwin, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Piyush Chawla and Munaf Patel - were not even born.

India’s South African coach Gary Kirsten, who played against Tendulkar in the 1990, regards the batting star as his hero and the “backbone” of the team.

“It has been an absolute honour and previlege to share the same dressing room as Sachin,” said Kirsten, who will step down as coach after the final to spend more time with his family.

“There is nothing to teach Sachin. In fact, I have learnt a lot myself just watching him prepare for a game. He is my hero.”

Win or lose, fans will relish the sight of the two old warriors battling under the hot sun. They do not make cricketers like them any more.

India’s influence must be managed says Speed

(Reuters) - Balancing India’s commercial power with the interests of other cricket-playing nations is one of the main challenges facing the game over the next few years, according to former ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed.

“Sticky Wicket”, the Australian’s memoir will be released on Friday and details his 11 years in cricket, first as chief executive of the Australian Cricket Board and then at the International Cricket Council (ICC) from 2001 to 2008.

His spell at the top of cricket coincided with India’s emergence as the game’s superpower and the book details the impact of that as well as corruptions scandals, chucking controversies and the emergence of Twenty20 cricket.

Speed lays out starkly how the value of Indian television rights have changed the dynamic of international cricket with an Indian tour of Australia now generating five or six times that of the next biggest draw, England.

That clearly gives India huge clout when it comes to negotiations on the international stage, with other countries wary of falling out with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for fear of losing a tour.

“Finding the right balance between India’s commercial power and the interests of the other countries is a big test for the game,” Speed told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“Most other sports would be happy to have the world’s second biggest country so passionate about cricket, so if it’s managed properly, I think it’s a positive.

“It’s something where there will have to be an accommodation between India and the other countries, there’s not much point India playing itself, so it needs to keep the other countries strong.

“From time to time, they will need to stand up to India.”

Speed certainly feels he did that while at the ICC and ultimately, he says in his book, it forced his early departure after he offended the BCCI over the issue of Zimbabwe Cricket’s finances.

The 63-year-old’s clashes with Indian officials led to him being burned in effigy on the subcontinent and routinely branded a racist.

“The effigy burning was part of the job,” he recalled. “There was usually some sort of misunderstanding or exaggeration of the position and I think that’s a great example of the passion for the game in India.

“It’s a traditional way of expressing dissatisfaction with people in positions of power and it was my turn a few times. I look back on with a sense of amusement.”

The racism accusations were less amusing.

“I’m not a racist and I was never happy to be called a racist,” he said. “Sometimes I had to make decisions that upset one country or another and it was an easy accusation to make.”

The success of Twenty20, while welcome, has led to another big challenge for cricket as it tries to find a balance with the one-day and test forms of the game, Speed said.

“I think it’s possible,” he said, adding that the “workload issue” would result “very few” players playing all three forms.

“Some of them will play one form, some will play two forms. I think that’s an inevitable outcome of the third form.” Would most not be tempted to forsake test cricket, given the high rewards and lighter workload offered by the 20-over game?

“I think there’ll be very few players who go down that path,” he said. “Players measure themselves by their records in test cricket.

“There is a risk that 50-over cricket will lose its popularity, but the current World Cup has shown that the good matches will achieve good ratings.”

Since his 2008 departure from the ICC, Speed has kept himself busy with lecturing and consultancy, most recently a report for Australia’s professional sports on the danger of betting-related corruption.

The fight against corruption remains a “significant” challenge for cricket, particularly in India, and the recent Pakistan spot-fixing scandal was a timely reminder, Speed thought.

“The message that every involved in cricket has had since the late 1990s is ‘we need to do as much as possible, we can’t relax, if we relax the corruptors will come back in’,” he added.

“The recent Pakistan issue in many ways is a positive, perhaps every decade needs to have a serious wake-up call.”

Reading the details of the rows, personal attacks and pressure of his job, it is hard to believe that his time in cricket gave Speed great pleasure.

“It was a fascinating job,” he counters. “I dealt with interesting people and difficult people and there was a good deal of stress, but for a sports administrator, it was a great challenge and a thoroughly enjoyable time.”

Speed, who counts Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar as his favourite players of the modern era, said he would like to be remembered as a “person who made decisions without fear or favour” and even in retrospect would change none of them.

“I’d make fewer enemies, that would have solved a few problems.”

India grants income tax exemption to World Cup

Reuters) - India approved a proposal to exempt the Cricket World Cup from income tax on Thursday, granting the tournament an estimated 450 million rupee ($10.1 million) windfall.

“The Union Cabinet today approved the proposal of the Ministry of Finance for exempting the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 from income respect of income which is arising in India,” a government statement said.

“The financial implication will be 450 million rupees approximately.”

India and Sri Lanka play the final of the six-week long tournament, which has been hosted by Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, in Mumbai on Saturday.

India granted tax exemption on income to residents and non-residents gained from international sporting events held in India in 2006, in time for that year’s ICC Champions Trophy cricket tournament.

India often exempts ticket sales for popular movies from taxes, especially films which are seen as carrying a social or patriotic message. ($1 = 44.630 Indian Rupees)