Sri Lanka coach Trevor Bayliss insists Muttiah Muralitharan will play in the World Cup final despite continued worries over his fitness. Muralitharan, who turns 39 next month, skipped practice on Thursday at the Wankhede stadium and has struggled with niggles through the course of the tournament, including a hamstring injury, a side strain, a troublesome knee and a groin issue.
There was speculation that he would be rested for the semi-final against New Zealand in a bid to allow him time to be fully fit for the final, but he played despite not being in the best physical condition. The final will be Muralitharan's last international game. "Chances are good that Murali will play," said Bayliss. "He completed 10 overs in the semi-final, and such is the character of the man that he will play even with discomfort."
The fitness of allrounder Angelo Mathews is also a worry for Sri Lanka. Veteran seamer Chaminda Vaas and offspinner Suraj Randiv are being flown in as cover for the injured pair, but Bayliss confirmed Sri Lanka had not applied to the ICC to have them included as official replacements. "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 said.
Bayliss was bullish about Sri Lanka's chances of winning a second World Cup title after their triumph in 1996, and suggested the pressure would be on India as the home team and tournament favourites. "We have played good cricket through the tournament and have done well against India in the past," he 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] it [the final] is a difficult assignment. In the last three years, we have played 35 matches and this will be the 36th one. We have beaten them on a number of occasions. Our guys are confident we can play well and win."