Bayliss expects Murali to feature
Sri Lanka coach Trevor Bayliss is confident Muttiah Muralitharan will play in Saturday’s World Cup final against India.
Muralitharan is due to bring an end to his record-breaking career at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, although his ambitions of a dream send-off have been threatened by a run of injuries.
The off-spinner, who turns 39 later this month, has hardly looked in peak condition for most of the tournament, and has been forced to battle hamstring, side, groin and knee complaints at various stages.
He hobbled his way through the semi-final win over New Zealand but, despite his problems, has still managed 15 wickets in the tournament.
Bayliss believes it is an indication of Muralitharan’s determination to go out on a high and claim a second World Cup title in his 350th one-day international.
"Chances are good that Murali will play," the Australian said. "He completed 10 overs in the semi-final, and such is the character of the man that he will play even with discomfort."
Bayliss said he would give Muralitharan and fellow injury worry Angelo Mathews maximum time to prove their fitness.
In the meantime Sri Lanka have taken the precaution of flying veteran seamer Chaminda Vaas and off-spinner Suraj Randiv in as cover.
"We have asked for them just to be on the safe side, but Muralitharan and Mathews will be given as long as possible to prove their fitness," he added.
Sri Lanka flew to India yesterday after securing their place in the final with comfortable knock-out stage wins on their home soil in Colombo.
England were defeated by 10 wickets in the quarter-finals and New Zealand provided only a late scare before they were beaten by five wickets in the last four.
While they will leave their home comforts behind, and instead be cast into the role of away side against the Indians, Bayliss thinks that may work in his team’s favour.
He believes the pressure will be on India to perform in a match that is set to have an extra edge, with local hero Sachin Tendulkar on the verge of 100 international centuries.
"We have played good cricket through the tournament and have done well against India in the past," Bayliss said.
"The pressure will be on India since they are playing at home, but we are familiar with the conditions in Mumbai. If we concentrate on what we do the best then we can play some good cricket and if we play good cricket, we are going to be very difficult to beat.
“This match is 50-50 at this stage. Obviously, there will be a lot of pressure on India to perform at home.
“We have been able to do that in the last couple of games and come out with two good wins. The boys are quite confident about their chances in this World Cup.
"Yes, we have played India on a number of occasions and have beaten them before on a lot of occasions.
“[But the final] is a difficult assignment. We have beaten them on a number of occasions. Our guys are confident we can play well and win."
India have an injury concern of their own after it was revealed that seamer Ashish Nehra fractured the middle finger on his right hand during yesterday’s semi-final victory over Pakistan.
The 31-year-old suffered the injury when he attempted to take a catch to remove Shahid Afridi in the deep, only for television replays to show the ball bounced just before he clasped onto the ball.
"Nehra has a fractured finger, which was revealed from the scans taken this morning," said India team manager Ranjib Biswal.
There is scope for Nehra to play, however, because the fracture is not on his bowling hand and he was able to bowl three overs after sustaining the injury.
While much of the focus in Mumbai will understandably be on Tendulkar and Muralitharan, India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni believes the team ethic his squad have built during the tournament will ensure they will not rely on any individual to pull them across the line.
“Everybody’s giving more than 100% on the field, so we’re ready for the final,” Dhoni said.
“The team unity, the way we are backing each other and not criticising any player has been great.
“If somebody is having a bad time on the field we are making sure he is wanted and everybody is helping each other. That’s what really counts in team sport.
“Individuals have stepped up and said, ’Okay, I will be the person who will perform in this particular game’, but overall everybody has contributed so far in bits and pieces.”