Cricketers unite for charity

MELBOURNE: Muttiah Muralitharan has been booed by crowds at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and called a cheat. He'll forgive all that, for the sake of Sri Lanka and millions of others devastated by Asia's tsunamis. 

The flack from being no-balled seven times for chucking at the MCG in 1995 damaged his reputation and his desire to tour Australia, yet he's prepared to return to the cauldron as the most visible face of cricket's tsunami relief appeal. 

For 80,000 people at the MCG and millions more watching in 122 countries that are taking a broadcast of the match, the diminutive Sri Lankan offspinner will be a champion regardless of the outcome today when his Asian XI takes on the World XI. 

What he can achieve by bowling a few overs with his aching shoulder will be almost as important, says Murali, as the hours he's spent delivering food and consoling survivors of the tsunamis that killed more than 30,000 on his island home. 

FOR A GOOD CAUSE: Spinner Shane Warne from Australia (left) who is playing for a Rest of the World cricket team and rival Muttiah Muralitharan from Sri Lanka, playing for the Asian XI team, pose for photo as they prepare for their match in Melbourne. – AFPpic

“It's very important – all these players getting around us and trying to help this cause. It's difficult to think about playing – we're all devastated,'' he said. “But we can help ... by raising so much money that will be spent rebuilding where millions are homeless.'' 

Muralitharan hasn't played since a shoulder operation last August and is making a rare appearance at the MCG. 

“It's one of the famous grounds in the world for me because of what happened to me in 1995 – I'm looking forward to getting back here,'' said Muralitharan, whose expecting a better reception this time. “The Australian public loves cricket. If we do well, they'll cheer. I feel excited about playing.'' 

The International Cricket Council has recruited the world's leading players to help raise millions of dollars for World Vision's tsunami appeal. 

Australia's Shane Warne, who surpassed Muralitharan as the leading wicket taker in Test cricket, is making a one-off return to the one-day arena and will join forces with the likes of West Indies batting genius Brian Lara and England paceman Darren Gough. 

Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly will lead the Asian XI, which includes his teammates Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble and prominent Sri Lankan trio of Muralitharan, Sanath Jayasuriya and fast bowler Chaminda Vaas. 

Sri Lanka captain Marvan Atapattu had to withdraw when his children became ill and Pakistan paceman Shoaib Akhtar was ruled out with an injured hamstring. 

Tendulkar can't bat or bowl because of a lingering elbow problem, but said he needed “to be part of it'' and would field whenever he got the chance. 

“All over the world it's been a tragic event,'' said Tendulkar, India's most marketable sportsman. “It's our responsibility to get together and help the needy and also the people who've lost their dear ones – our thoughts are with them.''  

Asian XI: Sourav Ganguly (Ind/capt), Sanath Jayasuriya (Sri), Virender Sehwag (Ind), Rahul Dravid (Ind), Yousuf Youhana (Pak), Alok Kapali (Ban), Kumar Sangakkara (Sri), Abdul Razzaq (Pak), Chaminda Vaas (Sri), Zaheer Khan (Ind), Anil Kumble (Ind), Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri), Sachin Tendulkar (Ind). 

Rest of the World: Ricky Ponting (Aus/capt), Matthew Hayden (Aus), Adam Gilchrist (Aus), Stephen Fleming (Nzl), Brian Lara (Win), Chris Gayle (Win), Chris Cairns (Nzl), Shane Warne (Aus), Glenn McGrath (Aus), Dwayne Bravo (Win), Darren Gough (Eng), Daniel Vettori (Nzl). Coach/manager: Steve Waugh (Aus) 

Umpires: Rudi Koertzen (Rsa) Billy Bowden (Nzl). 

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