Aiming for victory on home turf

Sachin Tendulkar is really focussed on the World Cup as this is perhaps his last chance to win it.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Can India do it? Can Tendulkar? That is the delight of sport. Any question can be asked. None can be answered, says Peter Roebuck as he previews the 2011 cricket World Cup.

In so many ways April 2 could be a day to remember, a day to put alongside the precious few whose fate it is to be plucked out by ancients with the time honoured words, “Ah my son, that was a day and I was there.” Already it promises to be a cricketing gathering to relish, the end of a long hard road, a time of upliftment. A stadium has been reconstructed in the heart of Mumbai and rendered ready to receive the champions of the game and to crown the champions of the world. It is a prospect to savour.

Lord's might be cricket's traditional home, a place where memories exist in every brick and blade of grass. To walk out to bat at Lord's is to hear one's steps echo and to feel old players in their graves wishing you luck because they too trod this path and know its loneliness. Lord's staged the first three World Cup finals, oversaw the West Indies in all their might and India's day of glory. It was not a bad start.

Three World Cups and the old powers still empty handed. It was a reminder that sport has a mind of its own, a beautiful blindness about it, an eternal democracy.

Mumbai is London's modern counterpart, a bustling, bristling city, unafraid, comfortable in its own skin, parlous at times. If Wankhede lacks gravitas and custom then perhaps that, too, is a sign of the age. What price yesterday? A world waits to be ordered, the rise of the East, the blending of the ancient and modern, the changing of the economic guard. India was awarded the World Cup in 1987 as an encouragement. Now it is an acknowledgement. .

A lot will have been achieved before the finalists arrive at Wankhede. It is the last match of a tournament staged in three countries, a co-operation between nations, and an example to the turbulent and troubled incapable of curbing their tongues and finding common ground. That Pakistan can play no part in the organisation is regrettable but unavoidable. Perhaps its turn will come; the world is full of miracles. Who dared to think the Berlin Wall might come down? Who thought apartheid could end without a terrible spilling of blood? It is not foolish to hope. It is mandatory.

At least Pakistan is involved, one of 14 nations, some eager to leave their mark, others determined to join the immortals. Cricket yearns to grow beyond its origins, yearns to show that it's a game for all places and all seasons, wants Nepal and Tanzania and Papua New Guinea to follow in the steps of Ireland and Afghanistan and now Canada and for them all to dream the impossible dream.

But cricket is a cruel game too, a game of individual confrontations. Whereas a fit and well organised soccer team can contain a more powerful side, in cricket the weak tend to be crushed. Whereas in boxing a mismatch can end in the blink of an eye, in cricket the agony might last an entire day. Meanwhile the TV figures dwindle, and television pays the bills. So it has been decreed that hereafter World Cups will be reserved for the elite. Of course it goes against the trend. Naturally aspiring nations are outraged. In part, though, the game itself is to blame. It is so confoundedly isolating.

India and chums have been called upon to stage 49 matches, many of them expected to be lopsided, and to welcome more than 200 cricketers, many of them almost unknown in their soccer mad own countries. In some respects South Africa's task in the soccer World Cup was easier because every side had a following and high ambition. It is a simpler game, too, a field, a ball, two goals and a few rules. Cricket is state of mind. Or it was until T20 came along.

Certainly the 2011 tournament presents numerous challenges. Cricket looks towards India and its enthusiasts to take up that challenge. Alas the last two World Cups have been disappointing. Fingers will be crossed that the 2011 edition produces happier memories. Perhaps it will even match the two greatest World Cups, the 1975 and 1987 events, the first and fourth of staged, tournaments that ended thrillingly at Lord's on the longest day of the year and at Eden Gardens as a vast crowd saluted the Australians.

M. S. Dhoni…Indian fans are looking to the charismatic skipper to regain the World Cup.-G.P. SAMPATH KUMAR

Cricket needs to show that the 50-over game is not defunct, that it can still capture the imagination. It needs its main showpiece event to excite audiences and stimulate youth. Every four years the great and mostly good of the game gather in one location and try to secure the World Title. Except that the tag is not quite deserved because Test cricket is widely recognised as the purest form of the game. Nothing is ever straightforward in cricket. It is a complex game played by complex people.

India might yet rise to the occasion. Doubtless there will be headlines about security and stadiums but there is another aspect to it, another prospect to savour, one that might render petty all frustrations and hardships. Stretch forwards to April 2 and dare to think it might witness the last gasp and final triumph of India's strongest team and finest player.

Sachin Tendulkar has never won a World Cup. Nor has this generation of Indian cricketers. That honour rests with Kapil Dev, Mohinder Armanath and their ilk. Already it is too late for some of the modern giants, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Sourav Ganguly, the men who have taken Indian cricket onto the top of the rankings in the same way as contemporary leaders have taken India into the UN Security Council.

But Tendulkar is still around and he can still wield a willow. What price the sight of him walking out to bat alongside Virender Sehwag on April 2. It is home city, almost his home ground. Was he not raised in the vicinity? Surely the ovation would be heard in Pune. Is it too much to ask? Probably it is. Sport rarely dances to the romantic tune. No team has won a World Cup on home turf. The pressure is overwhelming and anyhow the 13 other sides will be going hammer and tongs. Many a slip lies between cup and lip. Ordinarily, too, even the greatest sportsman is thwarted in some part of his career. Steve Waugh never did get to conquer the last frontier. It is a long journey full of pitfalls.

But it is not beyond conception. India is combative, well led and capably coached. Tendulkar is enjoying a veritable Indian summer. In the past he has been chastised for not winning enough matches for his side but those words are not so often heard these days. He seems more at peace with himself, too, less crowded by circumstance.

Can India do it? Can Tendulkar? That is the delight of sport. Any question can be asked. None can be answered.