On October 17, 1987, when the Wankhede Stadium hosted its first World Cup game involving India and Zimbabwe, sitting across the boundary ropes was a 14-year-old ‘ball boy' dreaming to play for the country.

On April 2, 2011, the ‘boy', now 22 days short of turning 38, will return to the same venue. This time, he will step inside the boundary ropes in his bid to realise the much-cherished dream of winning the World Cup.

From picking up and throwing the ball back into play during a World Cup match, Sachin Tendulkar has indeed come a long way.

Armed with the most number of international runs and centuries, the Mumbai genius now finds himself one victory away from completing his first successful World Cup campaign in his sixth and, probably, final appearance.

Unfulfilled dream

Tendulkar, while revealing his intention to play in this edition of the World Cup in an interview in April 2008, mentioned his “unfulfilled dream”. Precisely three years later, he finds himself at the threshold of fulfilling his childhood dream. It is really not tough to imagine an in-form Tendulkar, playing before his home crowd, scoring his 100th international century in a winning cause in a World Cup final!

Tendulkar still retains the spontaneity of a 14-year-old. This was evident from the way he jumped for joy after India booked a berth in the final by stopping Pakistan.

Rib-crushing hug

From skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni to Suresh Raina, Tendulkar embraced almost every member of the team as though to thank them for bringing him closer to his dream.

The gesture appeared to be an extension of his unbridled display of happiness at Ahmedabad where he reserved a rib-crushing hug for Yuvraj Singh after the left-hander brought an end to Australia's long reign.

The team members need no reminding how important each victory is, collectively for the side and individually for Tendulkar.

This time, Tendulkar will not be looking to break any record. He will be keen to break the jinx of not winning the World Cup.

Interestingly, on the other side of the battlefield stands Muttiah Muralitharan, the man with the most number of international wickets in both forms of the game.

Muralitharan will be playing in his last World Cup game and determined to leave on a happy note. It will be the great Sri Lankan's final international match on Saturday.

Unlike Tendulkar, however, Muralitharan will be a tad less desperate as he already has a World Cup winner's medal from the 1996 edition and has nothing left to dream or prove.

Muralitharan experienced an emotional high following a fitting ovation he received after the semifinals against New Zealand at Colombo.

It was his final appearance before the home crowd and he signed off with a wicket off his last delivery much like the way he did with his final delivery in Test cricket when Pragyan Ojha became his 800th victim.

Fascinating duel

Should Muralitharan recover fully from a knee injury and play the final, it will be fascinating to watch a contest within a contest — Muralitharan bowling to Tendulkar for the last time in an international match, and that too, the World Cup final!

The two have utmost respect for each other's craft. Tendulkar smiles in admiration whenever Muralitharan beats him with a beauty while the Sri Lankan does the same after being driven against the turn for a boundary by Tendulkar.

Irrespective of the result of the World Cup final in Mumbai on Saturday, Tendulkar and Muralitharan have innumerable reasons to hold their heads high.

The point of interest is who will take the final bow with a smile.

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