Sachin Tendulkar has been winning matches for India with his amazing batting exploits for more than two decades, and it’s time his team clinched the World Cup for him.
Tendulkar, who turns 38 in April, makes his sixth and probably the last appearance in the showpiece event with one notable omission from his eye-catching CV - a World Cup.
The ‘Little Genius’ may have amassed a record 17,629 runs in 444 one-dayers with 46 centuries - the highest by any batsman - but will be pleased more if the team win the Cup in front of his home crowd in Mumbai on April 2.
“I sincerely wish this would not be Sachin’s last World Cup and he would play one more. All members of the Indian side would like to win it for him,” said India opener Gautam Gambhir.
India, champions in 1983 in England, runners-up in 2003 in South Africa and semifinalists at home in 1987 and 1996, have the resources to triumph despite injury worries over some of the players.
Batsmen Virender Sehwag, Gambhir and Tendulkar, and paceman Praveen Kumar were all injury scares before or during a recent one-day series in South Africa, but are expected to be fit.
India open their campaign on February 19 against Bangladesh in Dhaka in what many believe is more than just a match as the visitors will be determined to settle a score or two with the hosts.
Bangladesh exceeded expectations when they upset India in the opening match of the 2007 tournament in the Caribbean, the defeat eventually leading to the former champions’ first-round exit.
Things have improved since then, especially with the appointment of South African Gary Kirsten as coach in 2007.
All players, including Tendulkar, have lauded his role in making India a competitive unit at home as well as away.
Tendulkar is expected to lead the charge as batting will be the key to India’s fortunes. With an explosive Sehwag as his opening partner, the fireworks are bound to come from both the ends.
The pair are a bowlers’ nightmare and spectators’ delight, capable of dominating any attack with exciting stroke-play and providing a blistering start.
Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli and Yusuf Pathan can also step up the run-rate with brilliant improvisation, while skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s power-hitting in the closing overs has often stood the team in good stead.
India are in Group B along with South Africa, England, the West Indies, Bangladesh, the Netherlands and Ireland and should face no difficulty in making it to the quarter-finals as four sides advance to the next round.
But India need to be disciplined in their bowling.
Zaheer Khan is renowned for providing early breakthroughs, while fellow-seamer Praveen Kumar is able to keep the batsmen guessing with his deceptive bowling. Their fitness and form will be the key.
Fans’ expectations will be high, but India need to focus on their game and not put pressure on themselves.
Duncan Fletcher, the former England coach, was not off the mark when he said handling pressure would be the key for India.
“India must be favourites at this stage, especially on their home grounds. But they must be under enormous pressure. Whether they can handle that pressure from the home crowd will be significant,” Fletcher said.
Although India, missing key players due to injuries, lost a recent one-day series on lively South African pitches, Dhoni was confident of an impressive show from his side in the World Cup.
“The conditions (in India) will be different and it’s just a matter of one or two innings (for batsmen). Things will fall in place.”
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