x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

It's one more chance to star again

Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh all have one chance to redeem themselves by winning the World Cup against Sri Lanka in Mumbai.

Yuvraj Singh, left, and Sachin Tendulkar, right, know what it is like to be adulated one moment and vilified another. Along with Zaheer Khan, not pictured, they hope to be heroes for India once again.
Yuvraj Singh, left, and Sachin Tendulkar, right, know what it is like to be adulated one moment and vilified another. Along with Zaheer Khan, not pictured, they hope to be heroes for India once again.

In 1987, during a World Cup match against Zimbabwe, he was a ball boy who had asked for a spot in front of the North Stand so that he could watch Manoj Prabhakar bowl.

Sachin Tendulkar was 14 years old then, and Prabhakar took four for 19 as India won by eight wickets.

Today, more than 23 years on, he returns to his home ground to play a World Cup final, with a massive stand - at third man if viewed from the pavilion - named after him. It could be his 453rd and last one-day game and a final chance to emulate his heroes from 1983.

"Ever since he made his debut in 1989, the whole of India has expected a lot from him," said MS Dhoni, the India captain, on the eve of the final. "It's his passion for the game that stands out.

"Every time he comes to the ground, whether it's for practice or a game, he's 100 per cent there.

"He comes with a purpose and does not leave till he's achieved it.

"God made him to play cricket. And he's done it for 21 years now."

Five years ago, he was booed off at this venue as India collapsed on the final day of a Test match against England.

It was the lowest phase of his career, with an elbow problem and then a shoulder injury drastically reducing his effectiveness.

There were even tears at home as the injury woes prevented him playing with his son.

The revival since has been astonishing.

After the first-round exit in the Caribbean four years ago, Tendulkar has made 3,246 runs from 68 one-day internationals (ODIs) at an average of 51.52.

Along the way, he also became the first man to score 200 in a 50-over international.

His 464 runs have played a huge part in India's run to the final, but there have been other heroes.

Zaheer Khan has taken 19 wickets in eight games.

For him, this match is as much about redemption as it is about opportunity.

In the 2003 final, he was sucked into a clash of personalities with Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, one that he had no chance of winning.

They took 15 from his first over, and 67 from the seven he bowled on a day when India lost by 125 runs.

Though he hails from Shrirampur in interior Maharashtra, it was Mumbai that made Zaheer a top-level cricketer.

He came here as a 17-year-old boy after his secondary school exams.

Even in canvas shoes, he was so impressive that Sudhir Naik, now the Wankhede curator, gave him his first pair of spikes.

When he learnt that Zaheer was contemplating studying engineering, Naik called his father and convinced him that cricket was the boy's destiny.

He moved to Mumbai, started playing in the Kanga League, made his Ranji Trophy debut and was in India colours by the time he was 22.

The surface that Naik has prepared for the final should certainly have enough pace and bounce to keep his protege interested.

Having once lost his way and his status as pace spearhead to Irfan Pathan, Zaheer's story is also one of learning from mistakes.

But there's a third individual in the Indian side who has an even better chance to end the competition as its standout player.

Yuvraj Singh has 341 runs and 13 wickets, not to mention four man-of-the-match awards.

Yet, less than a year ago, he was dumped from the Test side in Sri Lanka.

Before the start of the tournament, the country's many television channels - all sound and nonsense - were actively debating whether he deserved a place in the squad.

Now, in true fickle fashion, there is only gushing praise.

At one point last year, an emotional Yuvraj was so fed up that he contemplated quitting the game. It took a trip to Mumbai for him to rule out that drastic course of action.

The man who counselled him was blunt, telling him that throwing in the towel was a ridiculous option. On his phone, Yuvraj has his mentor's named saved under "God".

On Saturday, as he walks out at the start of India's turn, millions of Indians will hope that Tendulkar can summon up a divine innings.