x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Sachin Tendulkar could script a dream final act at World Cup

But the trophy will be equally coveted by a host of veterans, also likely to retire after one-day cricket's flagship event is over, such as Muttiah Muralitharan, Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis.

Sachin Tendulkar has yet to win the World Cup.
Sachin Tendulkar has yet to win the World Cup.

Sachin Tendulkar has won nearly every individual accolade in cricket and holds unrivalled status in India. The television audience there soars every time he goes out to bat.

However, his 21-year international career is missing one notable achievement: a World Cup title.

That adds to the pressure on India, who are co-hosting the tournament this year with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and will stage the final in Mumbai, Tendulkar's home town.

"Every time I go out, the country needs me," he said recently, adding that it only made him more determined to keep scoring runs.

He already has amassed more centuries and more runs in both Test and limited-overs cricket than any other batsman, and leads all run-makers at the World Cup as he prepares to play in the tournament for the sixth time.

MS Dhoni, the India captain, does not think the extra burden will hurt his team's chances, and there is a determination to help Tendulkar complete his resume by delivering the country of 1.2 billion people its first World Cup title since Kapil Dev's squad shocked the all-conquering West Indies at Lord's in England in 1983.

The first challenge will come on opening day next Saturday, when the team travel to Dhaka to take on Bangladesh, which in 2007 produced a group-stage upset that paved the way for India's early exit.

Tendulkar, 37, played a major role for the India squad during the 1996 and 2003 World Cups. He established the record for most runs in any World Cup by accumulating 673 in 2003, and he was the highest scorer in 1996 with 523.

His absence from a match against Zimbabwe in the 1999 World Cup, when he returned home briefly after his father's death, resulted in India losing the match and spoiling their chances of reaching the finals.

Tendulkar, who leads the aggregate table for most runs in World Cups at 1,796 in 36 matches and shares the record of four World Cup centuries, will now be tied with Pakistan's Javed Miandad in number of World Cup appearances.

Brian Lara, the only modern-day batsman who has been consistently compared with Tendulkar, said the Indian's records will not be easily broken.

"I believe that the entire world appreciates Tendulkar still playing cricket," Lara, the former West Indies batsman, said on a recent visit to New Delhi. "His records will not be surpassed, especially with more Twenty20 cricket being played."

Lara said he was honoured to have his name being spoken in the same breath as the Mumbai batsman.

"Winning the World Cup or not, Tendulkar's achievements are enormous," he said.

Tendulkar is not the only big-name veteran with strong personal motivation for the World Cup. Here are three others:

Ÿ Muttiah Muralitharan, Sri Lanka. Just as Tendulkar has been the master batsman of the modern era, Muralitharan has been the supreme bowler, taking more wickets than anyone in both Test and one-day internationals (ODI).

Unlike Tendulkar, however, Muralitharan has a World Cup medal - he was a young member of the team when Sri Lanka upset the cricket establishment to claim the 1996 title.

Now 38, he has said he plans to retire after this World Cup, which is being staged in Asia for the first time since Sri Lanka's upset victory 15 years ago.

"The day we won the cup in 1996 was the happiest day. It is because of that our cricket has come this far," said Muralitharan, the only member from that 1996 Sri Lankan squad in this year's team.

"[But] it's been 15 years since 1996 and we can't dwell on the past.

"The teams are different … You can never compare generations."

Even so, he does see a sequence emerging and hopes the progression continues.

"In 2003 we entered semis and in 2007 we entered finals. We had good teams but we could not win the cup," he said. "But [with] this team I think we have a chance."

Muralitharan could end up being the leading wicket taker in World Cups, too.

Going into his fifth tournament, he has 53 wickets in 31 World Cup matches — which puts him third on the list — and needs 19 to surpass Australia's Glenn McGrath in the No 1 spot.

With Muralitharan still capable of extracting incredible spin, and with a strong batting line-up to back him, it is little wonder most consider this Sri Lanka's best chance to win the World Cup for the second time.

"I think every World Cup is a great opportunity to win it no matter where you play," the captain Kumar Sangakkara said. "This one playing in our neck of the woods probably gives us a slighter edge than the other teams."

Ÿ Ricky Ponting, Australia. Ponting, who hopes to guide Australia to a fourth consecutive title, was a junior member of the Australia team beaten by Sri Lanka in that 1996 final at Lahore.

He has been an integral part of the team that has won all three World Cups since, and captain in the last two.

The 36-year-old batsman has recovered from a broken finger just in time to lead the defending champions again.

His return was a boost for the Australians, who face a broad-ranging performance review following a deflating, lopsided Ashes series loss to England.

Ponting has not played this year. He missed the last Test and the seven-match limited-overs series against England, which Australia won 6-1 to gather some composure and self-belief to go with their No 1 ODI ranking.

Australia's injury update was not as good elsewhere, however, with Mike Hussey, the batsman, (hamstring) and Nathan Hauritz, the first-choice spin bowler (dislocated shoulder) both ruled out.

With other candidates Shaun Marsh and Xavier Doherty also injured, Callum Ferguson and Jason Krejza were drafted into the Australia squad.

Krejza, 28, made his ODI debut last weekend and has played only two Tests, although he took 12 wickets in India in 2008 in his first.

Ponting was not concerned about the lack of slow-bowling options in his Australia squad, which contains part-timer spinners Steve Smith, Cameron White and Michael Clarke.

"The one thing we've learned the hard way on the subcontinent, particularly with India and Sri Lanka, is that they play spin so well and so often it is counterproductive using too much spin against their batsmen, even despite the conditions," Ponting wrote last week in an Australian newspaper column. Besides, he said, he expects Brett Lee and Shaun Tait, the pace bowlers, to offer something different.

"We'll be unleashing Lee and Tait at 150kph to unsettle their batsmen," he said.

Ÿ Jacques Kallis, South Africa. The world's leading all-rounder is desperate to help the Proteas shake off their tag of World Cup underachievers.

They have never reached a cricket World Cup final, having been beaten in the semi-finals twice by Australia and once by a cruel rain-interruption which cost them an almost certain win against England in 1992.

The rate of Kallis's recovery from a niggling injury to his right side is the biggest question mark over South Africa's bid for their first major ODI title.

Team management said Kallis, South Africa's leading run scorer and the fourth-highest wicket taker in ODIs, will be ready to play "a full role with both bat and ball from the start of the tournament".

But others are concerned. Without Kallis in top form, South Africa's batting and bowling suffers.

South Africa were inconsistent in their most recent ODI series, at home against India, and fought through batting collapses and bowling struggles before managing a come-from-behind, 3-2 series win.

"It's been hard cricket and we needed to be at our best to win," said Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain.

He said that he is relieved that the Proteas are not going into the tournament as favourites this time.

"I really am excited about our opportunity to go to the World Cup and play."