New Delhi: India may boast an array of devastating stroke-makers in its ranks, but Sachin Tendulkar remains the prime target of rival bowlers in the World Cup. Tendulkar's form will be the key to India's fortunes in the cricketing extravaganza, for bowlers believe the battle is half won with the cheap dismissal of the master batsman. But greatness demands a price. Who knows it better than Tendulkar, still looking for a permanent batting slot despite being the world's leading One-day scorer with 11,546 runs and record 33 centuries in 303 matches.
He has been asked to bat in the middle for his team despite his preference for the opening berth. The aim remains the same. He is expected to set a blistering pace as an opener by consistently hitting over the top when the field restrictions are in place in the first 15 overs. He is expected to do the same as a middle-order batsman when the field is spread out. Tendulkar loves challenges even though he is unsure whether he will open or bat in the middle in South Africa.
"Its important we don't put too much pressure on him and he is allowed to play freely," Indian captain Saurav Ganguly said. "I still believe he should bat at number four as he scored two hundreds in England and seemed to have adapted well to the position." The team-management believes Tendulkar is the only batsman having the technique, temperament and shots to deliver at any position. Consequently, the best batsman was demoted during the six home matches against England last year to promote the team's interests after seven seasons as an opener.
Tendulkar is willing to pay the price for his greatness, having served the team commendably well. If, as experts say, adaptability is the name of the game, then none is better- equipped than Tendulkar, because the prolific scorer has it in him to master any bowler in any condition. Tendulkar uses a heavier bat, which appears to be lighter than a feather when the master wields it to cause mayhem in the opposition ranks. He is just over five feet, but taller than many of his great contemporaries in deeds.
He is a phenomenon who is destined to take batting to such dizzy heights that no one has ever dared or dreamt of. Ask Australian leg-spin wizard Shane Warne, who said he had nightmares of Tendulkar stepping out of the crease and hoisting him out of the ground after the 1997-98 Indian tour. Ask West Indian batting great Viv Richards, who said that Tendulkar's batting reminds him of his own. Tendulkar has the charisma to lure even his opponents into his magic circle of fans with his eye-defying brilliance.
Tendulkar says it is his enthusiasm for the game that has kept the fire burning in him. Add to this his insatiable appetite for runs, which drives bowlers to despair and spectators to utmost delight. Whatever position Tendulkar bats in the World Cup, he is bound to draw spectators to the grounds with his uncanny knack of punishing even good deliveries and finding gaps where none appears to exist.