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The Stage is set for The Battle of the 2 Legends

April 1, 2011

Sachin Tendulkar on his home ground, bidding for a first title in six attempts at the World Cup, will take on Muttiah Muralitharan, aiming to win it again in his last World Cup for Sri Lanka after winning in his first World Cup.

Two sportsman sharing the same stature in records albeit in completely different aspects of the game. The batsman genius – Sachin Tendulkar – has records which will never be overcome for it will need endurance and hunger combined with the grace, humility and sublime technique to last the modern day game of Cricket for 22 years. The spin wizard – Muttiah Muralitharan – established records and fear which no other bowler will ever get even a sniff at without the guile and toughness of Muttiah’s everlasting gleaming smile. The glistening white teeth made the most serious of hearts broaden their lips many a times.

Myths were created for the two giants of the game. One gave nightmares to another great of the modern game and the other was a constant thorn in the English batting line up. Constantly over the last 2 decades, the two have adapted, modified their style and innovated with the same level of hunger in the 3 aspects of the game which are evolving at the speed of the latest Apple products.

Sachin graced the game without any hiccups and winning fans in every format, every corner and every legend unanimously with very few critics (I myself was one of them till he scored his 200 against SA which I had never dreamt possible) whom he silenced gradually in his march towards becoming a legend. The past legends loved him and his contemporaries loved him even more. One part of the world which was stingy in praise till 1998 was silenced by the treatment of Shane Warne in 1998 tour and the silence was broken with the praise beginning from their own legend Don Bradman. The journey of the legend was straight forwardly balanced and perfectly timed like his own straight drive. (The most glorious image in the world of sports is this stroke by Sachin with his head perfectly placed and his posture perfectly balanced to caress the ball to the boundary).

However, Muttiah did not have an easy walk. It was a wobbly journey similar to his diagonal run up to the popping crease. The gleaming teeth showed his enthusiasm and willingness to conquer the legends whoever it be. Muttiah did not have a billion fans to avoid the wrath of ICC, Daryll Hair and a sore Indian loser called Bishan Singh Bedi.

No cricketer, and few sportsmen indeed, can have divided opinion as much as Murali but he is one of an indefatigable kind. He is adored and applauded as one of the two greatest spin bowlers  (I believe only Saqlain Mushtaq – the now forgotten Pakistan off spinner came close to matching the genius of Murali)of his generation or derided as a cheat, if an inadvertent one, for the accommodation of whom the laws of the game have been amended. There is no middle ground. The manner in which Saqlain and Murali continuously innovated to outdo the other in late 90’s and early 2000’s saw the birth of ‘doosra’ by Saqlain.

Since the advertent call of no-ball from Daryll Hair in the 90’s (a cruel call in my opinion) the scrutiny has been unrelenting. Sometimes, the manner to his name is even argued whether to put a ”d” or ”th” to which he simply replies “as you wish” with the ever present childish smile on his face.

I regard him as a genius, a freak of nature whose unique physical attributes, to be found in his shoulder and wrist, make him capable of doing things with a cricket ball that others without his abilities should not even contemplate. It is an unfortunate consequence that one aspect of his legacy has been to sow the seeds for a generation of bowlers who, seeking to emulate his doosra, really do throw it.  So, for me, it is fitting that he should be able to bow out from international cricket as a World Cup finalist and, perhaps, as a winner.

Murali is one person for whom the laws were bent a lot in the game but I ask ‘Did the changes not apply to every other person in the game’? How come they never could extract the advantage to the maximum. (However, reports show that he was note  even close to the limits of allowed bending of the arm, forget breaking those rules. But we dear readers read the headlines and discuss it without the matter of the report) Also, to applaud the genius, an article on a tour of Australia once mentioned him going to the lab in the University of Western Australia without the knowledge of his teammates and coach to do another test to prove ‘HE IS NOT A CHEATER’. Every challenge thrown to him by the ICC and Australia he responded with a better performance.

The most striking thing, though, was Murali’s motive. He did not go to the lab to prove yet again that he was clear. He went because he wanted to prove that there is no truth in what his more informed critics were saying. There was no way he wished to play a game in which he might genuinely be cheating. So he went to dispel that in his own mind and he came away content. If he had not been vindicated, the chances are that he would have abandoned cricket.

I can continue to write about the memories of a curly haired boy stepping in to the cricket ground blooded by a delivery of it’s kind by Waqar Younis, the tearing apart of the Australian bowling attack in Sharjah, the beautifully timed strokes in South Africa 2003, the 5-32 against Australia in Kochi – 2000, the innings through back pain against Pakistan when his team mates let him down,  the stunned look on his face when Adam Bacher caught him at deep mid wicket on 169 in Capetown, the burden of captaincy in his batting and so on, the hurricane in Headingley 2003 with Ganguly, the double at Perth, the stupid lbw (or shall I say shoulder before wicket) to McGrath in Sydney, the grace to walk away against West Indies in this WC, and many many more. The burden of a billion hopes made a 16 years old curly haired man into a man of responsibility very quickly and independently.

With Muttiah Muralitharan memories started to form shape with the ‘chucking’ incident. The great determination and backing up from his Captain (Arjun Ranatunga) gave him the confidence to capture and mesmerize the world with the spin. 7-30 against India reducing India to 57 in Sharjah is the most sad one, however, the ease with which he tore the English and South African line up again and again and again is one of a kind. The Australians always misread him and Sachin has difficulties at times playing him.

After, 02.04.2011, the ODIs will miss one of these amazing personalities. (assumption, Tendulkar will retire from ODIs breaking a billion hearts when India wins the WC) The game will miss the humility and childish charm after 2 decades. However, we should applaud and be grateful to their families for having shared these rarest of jewels with us for almost 2 decades.

Eventually, whoever wins, I will remember this game as a fitting farewell to the 2 geniuses who unlike many other greats did not get the world stage to bid farewell to the game.

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