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Last Updated:  Thursday, 20 February, 2003, 19:09 GMT

Murali's World Cup mission
For a man who loves taking wickets, Muttiah Muralitharan has forged yet another passion - collecting signed cricket bats.

Muttiah Muralitharan walks off with a shoulder injury in Australia
Murali has had his fair share of injury problems

The Sri Lankan star behaved like an awestruck teenager, wandering round from team to team, asking every player from the 14 participating countries to sign his collectable cricket bats at the opening ceremony in Cape Town.

Not only is Murali confident he has all 210 players' autographs, he has two bats for each team - that's 28 bats, 420 signatures in total.

But now the hard part - how is he going to get them past customs and exactly where is he going to keep his new prized assets?

"Carrying them is not the problem," Murali told BBC Hindi. "I will take them home and see where I can put them."

Of more pressing concern to Sri Lankan fans is Murali's long-term fitness.

Whispers had suggested the off-spinner could retire from one-day game after the World Cup to concentrate on Test cricket.

And Murali acknowledged his fitness will dictate his future in the limited overs game.

Chaminda Vaas in action for Sri Lanka
Chaminda Vaas has shone with the new ball

"I'm only 30, but I have had nagging injuries and if the situation persists, then I will play for another two years," he said.

"But I have a lot of cricket left in me and if fitness allows, I will play in the next World Cup as well."

Three victories out of three have given the Sri Lankans the ideal platform for the Super Sixes and beyond.

And for once, the bowling attack has been spearheaded by the seamers, with Muralitharan playing a secondary role.

But he was quick to dismiss the pacey South African pitches are unsuitable for spin.

"In matches so far, as soon as the wickets start to dry out, the ball starts to spin," said Murali. "This is a good sign for me."

If their excellent form continues, Sri Lanka are on course to meet Australia in the first game of the Super Sixes - a repeat of the 1996 World Cup final in Lahore.

If we continue to play the way we have been playing so far, there is no reason why we should not win in the final
Muttiah Muralitharan

But after their drubbing in the recent VB Series Down Under, the Sri Lankans are most definitely second favourites.

India and Pakistan have already suffered the wrath of the rampant Australians in Group A.

But Muralitharan is confident his side can pull another shock victory over the overwhelming tournament favourites - just like in 1996.

"No team is unbeatable - we have beaten the Australians in the past and if we meet them again we can beat them again," he said.

"There team is good, there is no doubt about that, but we are all here to win the World Cup."

"If we continue to play the way we have been playing so far, there is no reason why we should not win in the final."

Another World Cup winners' medal to add to his 28 signed bats? Anything is possible when Muralitharan is at his best.

Links to more Sri Lanka stories


Jayasuriya fearful for Murali
10 Feb 03 |  Sri Lanka
Murali undergoes surgery
27 Nov 02 |  Cricket
Murali limits horizons
23 Jan 03 |  Sri Lanka
Murali fed up with Australia
16 Jan 03 |  Cricket

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