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Duel of the demi-gods: Legends vie for cricket World Cup

By Ben Wyatt, CNN
  • The climax of the cricket world cup is building to a crescendo
  • Two of the greatest players in the history of the game go head-to-head in the final
  • Though cricket is a little known game across much of the world it is called a "religion" in India
  • Sachin Tendulkar has scored more runs that any other player in the history of the game

(CNN) -- Each sport has its halcyon age, an era when -- via the fickle whim of fate -- destiny combines to create champions of similar age and skill to vie for the most glamorous prizes of the day.

The 1970s saw heavyweight pugilists such as Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Joe Frazier combine to create boxing's golden age. Basketball had a hot streak in the 1990s when such "Dream Team" players as Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird reigned in the NBA.

Or how about the decade in tennis when John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg and Ivan Lendl lit up the grand slams of the day with their verve and volleys?

Well, there may be a new chapter to add to these annals of achievement and this time cricket is providing the drama.

When cricket means more than just a match ...

In Mumbai, India on April 2 two of the greatest players in the history of the game are set to go head-to-head as their respective nations clash in the World Cup final. Here is everything you need to know ahead of the showdown:

Cricket - the basics

Cricket is a bat and ball game that originated in England sometime during the 16th century -- its exact origins are disputed -- becoming popular in regions across the planet over the following centuries.

The sport's official governing body, the International Cricket Committee (ICC), boasts 105 member countries worldwide, but many of the best teams are concentrated in pockets: Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka), Africa (South Africa, Zimbabwe), Australasia (Australia, New Zealand), the Caribbean (West Indies) and England.

Sachin Tendulkar: Cricket icon
Mahela Jayawardene looking to enjoy final
The first all-Asian Cricket World Cup final
India and Sri Lanka cricket teams hopeful

In simple terms the game is much like baseball; the aim being to get more runs from your innings than your opponents, while your opponents try to limit this by "bowling out" those who are batting. Once each batsman has been bowled out, the innings comes to and end and the two teams swap roles.

The main difference being that the ball bounces off the ground in cricket before meeting the batsman -- allowing the artistry of the bowler to come into play -- and winning scores are normally in the hundreds rather than double digits.

The World Cup

The game is played over different time periods -- ranging from matches that last four hours to "Tests" that last five days -- but at the World Cup the games are played over the course of one day.

Though cricket is a little known sport across much of the world it is the national sport in many of the countries mentioned above. The current tournament has been co-hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, a location which has seen fervent support for the home teams involved.

In Asia, cricket is often referred to by supporters as a "religion" such is the passion it creates due to the success of their teams. And if cricket is a religion then its gods are well known.

"The Little Master" - Sachin Tendulkar

The all Asian-final match will see India (1983 champions) take on Sri Lanka (1996 champions) in Mumbai -- a cricket-mad city on the west coast of the country.

The favorite of the local crowd will undoubtedly be Sachin Tendulkar, a Mumbai-born Indian batsman who has scored more international runs that any other in the history of the game.

To say he is a superstar in India would be something of an understatement, his face adorns billboards and television adverts which, along with his achievements on the pitch, means he is one of the most famous men in the land.

Having made his debut for his country at the age of 16, at 37-years old he will -- in an event that could not have been better scripted -- attempt to win his first World Cup in the town of his birth after trying six times before and in what will be his last tournament.

In a game where scoring 100 runs is a significant achievement, Tendulkar could score his hundredth international 100 in his final World Cup game, as he currently sits on 99.

A World Cup final in his home city of Mumbai, it could be a perfect setting for a hundredth 100
--Rahul Dravid on Sachin Tendulkar
  • Cricket
  • India
  • Mumbai
  • Asia

Any runs he notches up will add to his current career record of 18,093 scored in one-day games (he also holds the record of 14, 692 runs scored in the longer Test format of cricket).

"What (Tendulkar) has achieved as a cricketer is phenomenal ... for him to go for such a long period with the pressure that he had to grow up with, especially with one billion peoples expectations on his shoulders, that's something you have to admire," Sri Lankan batsman Mahela Jayawardene told CNN.

"A World Cup final in his home city of Mumbai, it could be a perfect setting for a hundredth 100. He's been an absolute legend of the game and for him to be here, at the last hurdle, to be able to win that World Cup medal, I know he'll be really keen for it and up for it," Indian cricket legend Rahul "The Wall" Dravid added.

"Murali" - Muttiah Muralitharan

What better way to combat the world's leading run scorer than with the world's leading wicket-taker (a wicket being the term for a bowled-out batsman)?

Sri Lanka are hoping their own legend of the game, Muttiah Muralitharan, will be fit for the finale as his record at the top of the game is unrivalled.

At the age of 38, the diminutive bowler -- who specializes in slow, spin bowling -- has bowled out a staggering 800 batsman in the Test format of the game and 534 in the one-day version since his international debut in 1992.

He's probably the first one to go and say 'Hi' to them and have a chat ... he's way too nice
--Mahela Jayawardene on Muttiah Muralitharan

The Kandy-born cricketer has an awesome World Cup record too -- having captured 68 wickets in 39 matches -- and 15 in the current tournament. He has the all-time record in his sights too, in a game that will be his last before retiring he needs just four more wickets.

The big question remains whether the "Spinning Genius" will be able to play through the pain of injury to appear in the final, as he has been suffering with hamstring, knee and groin problems throughout the tournament.

The population of Sri Lanka will almost be united as one in hoping their talismanic hero will take to the field to cap his illustrious career and fight for glory.

"[Murali], he's been fantastic for us. Apart from what he's achieved as a cricketer, his [personality] is the most fascinating. It's so annoying because he's so friendly with the opposition ... he's probably the first one to go and say 'Hi' to them and have a chat ... he's way too nice! But that's Murali for you," teammate Jayawardene told CNN.

"[It's] a mouthwatering prospect. Sri Lanka have some mystery bowlers if you can call them that. Muralilitharan has been a great legend of the game, a fantastic bowler," Dravid added.

Diplomacy and audiences

The final of the World Cup will be played against the backdrop of a tournament that has had a wide-reaching effect.

Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, watched the semifinal involving his side alongside the Indian prime minister. The diplomatic meeting was the first between the two nuclear nations -- who have been at war three times previously -- since the 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai.

"Both sides agreed to set up a hotline between (the) home secretary of India and (the) interior secretary of Pakistan to facilitate real-time information-sharing with respect to terrorist threats," said a joint statement issued at the end of their talks.

The games have seen fans glued to their televisions too, all keen to see the action taking place on the pitch. Kevin Alavy -- the director of futures sport + entertainment -- told CNN that the figures are large but could have been even bigger.

"With India being at home in the final, it means the domestic audience could be around 100-200 million people. This will probably account for around 95% of the global audience.

"Cricket's global footprint is relatively small but, more people would have watched internationally if the rights had not been sold to pay-per-view channels like Sky Sports in Britain, and SuperSports in South Africa," Alavy said.