New Delhi, Feb 1 (IANS) Sachin Tendulkar holds every conceivable cricket record in an illustrious career spanning over two decades, and the only thing missing from his portfolio is the World Cup. He makes no secret that he wants to be part of a victorious India team, playing in his record sixth and probably the last World Cup this spring.
Tendulkar came close to fulfilling his dream in 2003, before Australia shattered it in South Africa in the final.
“I still want to achieve something and everyone knows what it is,” he said in the run-up to the third World Cup in the subcontinent.
Tendulkar’s teammates are also hunger for the World Cup. Their refrain is that they should do it for the 37-year-old maestro, their hero. Along with them, a billion people hope their 28-year wait for the World Cup a second time will finally end now.
Indians realise that hopes alone cannot deliver the ultimate victory. Clubbed with the Cup aspirants South Africa and England, two-time champions West Indies, Bangladesh, Ireland and the Netherlands, the world No.2 ODI team’s main challenge is to absorb the pressure of playing before the home crowd.
To compound their problems, the Indians play their opening match of the tournament Feb 19 against Bangladesh and that, too, in their backyard Dhaka.
It was the shocking defeat at the hands of Bangladesh in the preliminaries that literally knocked India out of the last World Cup in the Caribbean. Sri Lanka, the third team in the group, then went through to the final.
While the Indians try to live down that memory and the tag of favourites, the other contenders see them as the team they need to beat to win the Cup.
India’s strength is their batting, a line-up that has Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni — all masters of the willow – and their bowling, too, is in the capable hands of Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh.
In 1987 and 1996 when the subcontinent hosted the event, India could not make the semi-final, losing in the penultimate match.
This time around, India look better prepared under South African coach Gary Kirsten, who has escorted them to the top of the Test rankings. But can they continue their good form into the World Cup?
Though the middle order has caused some concern as it failed to deliver in the ODIs in South Africa, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni is confident that his team will peak by the time the first ball of the World Cup is bowled.
“The South Africa series was a disappointing series for the batsmen. Bowlers were getting the wickets, and the runs too. Overall, we haven’t performed as a batting unit. But we will be better prepared for the World Cup,” Dhoni said.
The bowlers are in good form and the experience of Zaheer and Harbahajan will be the key. Zaheer, Harbahajan and Ashish Nehra were part of the team that made the 2003 final, and the team will rely heavily on the trio this time as well.
However, the key is the performance of the bits and pieces players. Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan, Piyush Chawla and Ravichandran Ashwin will all have to double up to make sizable contributions if the team has to click.
Sehwag, Yuvraj and Pathan will be the game changers.
Squad: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain/wicketkeeper), Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Yusuf Pathan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla, Praveen Kumar, Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel and Ashish Nehra
Fixture: Feb 19 vs. Bangladesh (Dhaka); Feb 27 vs. England (Bangalore); March 6 vs. Ireland (Bangalore); March 9 vs. the Netherlands (Delhi); March 12 vs. South Africa (Nagpur); March 20 vs. West Indies (Chennai)