Cricket legend Murali in World Cup final

RICHARD MAUNTAH, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 3:45 PM ET

TORONTO - “What better way to say goodbye.”

— Muttiah Muralitharan talking about the possibility of a Sri Lanka win in a promo ad airing on ATN’s pay-per-view channel.

Just one more step to go, Murali.

The Sri Lankan legend who represents the last link to their breakthrough 1996 World Cup victory will get his chance to end his career with the sport’s biggest prize on Saturday after a five-wicket win against New Zealand that featured a little drama towards the end.

The fans at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo came to praise the 38-year-old spinner who was playing his last match in his homeland, and hopefully cheer him and the team to Mumbai to face the winner of Wednesday’s much-anticipated clash between India and Pakistan. And Muralitharan didn’t disappoint.

His 10 overs yielded a respectable 42 runs and while taking the wicket of Jesse Ryder was nice, it was taking the wicket of Scott Styris on the final ball of his spell that was extra special but not the first time he ended a phase of his career that way.

“The same happened to me in test cricket as well,” he said.

He had help in limiting New Zealand to 217 all out. Lasith Malinga, whose own legend continues to grow, took three wickets and Ajantha Mendis took the final two to end the innings.

The Black Caps, who have gained a nice reputation in the tournament for their aggressive batting, got their runs including 57 from Styris, who also made this World Cup his final run in one-day cricket. Martin Guptill had 39 and Kane Williamson tried to spark the innings with 22 off just 16 balls. But the Sri Lankan bowling gave New Zealand nothing for most of the innings and the only thing missing from the Lions’ fielding were the dropped catches and mistakes that plagued them for a while against England in the quarterfinal.

Sri Lanka’s opening batsmen started well once again. Upal Tharanga made 30 before falling to a leaping grab from Ryder that may well be the catch of the tournament. Tillakaratne Dilshan made 73 and Sri Lanka stood at 160 for one in the 33rd over. Then the drama began.

In the span of a few minutes, Dilshan was caught by Ryder. Mahela Jayawardene was dismissed quickly by Daniel Vettori, and Kumar Sangakkara was dismissed after making 54. Sri Lanka was down to its bottom order which has been seldom-used in this World Cup.

Thiran Samaraweera made 23 but it was young Angelo Mathews’ not-out string of 18 that shut the door on this match.

“It did get on our nerves because out big guys were out,” Mathews said. “And we just had to get our sticks out and go.”

“The pressure was building a bit,” captain Sangakkara said. “We lost three quick wickets which was unfortunate. We were cruising at one stage.

“But it was Murali’s last game in Sri Lanka and everyone was pumped up to give him a great sendoff.”

At the end of the game, Muralitharan made a final lap around the stadium, part smiling, part visibly choked up, like his captain.

“He’s the icon of Sri Lanka as a champion on and off the field,” Sangakkara said. “He’s a fantastic performer, a fantastic human being, a very good friend, and the ultimate team man.”

richard.mauntah@sunmedia.ca


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