Cape Town: Expectations of a cricket crazy-nation ride on his shoulders, but Sachin Tendulkar on Friday reminded his fans that cricket was a team game in which an individual can play a role "only up to a point". "With an outstanding record of 1,059 runs at an average of 58.83 from 22 matches from three previous World Cups, the Indian genius would be the focus of the game's greatest bowlers when the World Cup tournament starts on Sunday. A modest man of few words, Tendulkar said he learnt early not to get swayed by public opinion and that he preferred to judge his performance by the standards he has set.
"I am happy as long as I know I gave off my best on a cricket field. I would rather judge myself in my own eyes," Tendulkar said. "By thinking what others are feeling about you could only mean additional pressure on you. The demands of the game are stiff anyway." And the master blaster is quietly confident of playing his role in the team's performance over the next few weeks. Rival teams would be mistaken in believing the greatest batsman in One-day arena would not count for much for, Tendulkar is lurking in a corner, sizing up his opponents and neatly working out the best route to success. "I am confident this is a balanced Indian side and would do well in the tournament.
I am not the only one who would be key to team's success," the little master emphasised "I have always believed it is a team game and a team only does well when everyone plays his part. An individual can play his role only up to a point," said Tendulkar, world's leading One-day batsman with 33 centuries and 56 fifties in his overall tally of 11,546 runs from 303 games at a brilliant strike rate of 86.4. His figure of 523 runs from seven matches in the 1996 World Cup tournament is also the most made by any batsman in any of the previous seven editions of the tournament.
Tendulkar's importance is acknowledged by coach John Wright, who said his presence in the side was always a morale-booster. "It is not true the team panics when Tendulkar is missing from the roll but his presence is always a great boost to the general morale of the side," he said. Tendulkar is no longer an all-out attacking batsman of his early days and the change has as much to do with the switch in his batting slot as it has to do with the better understanding of the demands of his craft. He has also learnt over the years he has enough shots in his armoury to keep the scoreboard moving and does not need to dismiss every delivery out of his presence. "It's not always you get balls to hit - sometimes it serves to just wait and bide your time," Tendulkar said. He might have struggled at times to keep the right balance between attack and defence but his contemporaries would rather leave him to his own device than rush to offer a piece of advice.
"The last time I saw him on a cricket field was when he took the game away from us in the Kolkata Test with a sizzling century," said Carl Hooper, captain of the West Indies team and an unabashed admirer of the little champion. "It did appear to me he was intent on playing more shots than he had for a long time," Hooper said. Tendulkar inspires intense debate among cricket-crazy millions in India, who dissect his performance after almost every delivery bowled to him. The mega tournament inevitably is being built up as a showdown between Tendulkar and West Indian Brian Lara for the mantle of best batsman of the world.
There is also a great debate on how Tendulkar would come up against the likes of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne of Australia and the classic encounter against Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar when the two bitter rivals meet for the first time on a cricket field in over two years. "It's not McGrath versus me or likewise with others. There are 10 other players in a team and everyone else needs watching," said Tendulkar, deftly sidestepping the issue. Tendulkar, to start with, will now bat at number three and not at number four in the opening game against Holland at Paarl next Wednesday. He would be required to give the team momentum in the first 15 overs, should the opening combination of Virender Sehwag and Saurav Ganguly fail to fire against the new-ball bowlers.
Fanie de Villiers and Pat Symcox, two of South Africa's leading cricket experts, who in their playing days bowled at the little master and even enjoyed occasional success, firmly believe Tendulkar would be an automatic starter in their all-time One-day World XI. But even they would have him at the top rather than waste his talent in the middle- order. "Tendulkar would be number one batsman in our all-time favourite eleven," said Symcox.
De Villiers added, "But for him no other Indian would figure in this eleven." Compliments such as these or by England captain Nasser Hussain - "watching him sometimes is an education" - are only taken in his stride gracefully by Tendulkar. "It's always good to hear people say good things about you. But the real motivation comes from wearing the country's colours and doing your best on a cricket field," he said.
Copyright AFP 2001