He entertained fans the world over

Even the best player of the World Cup award did not brighten his face. Tendulkar's cup of joy was not full. He was declared `Man of the Tournament' for serving his team consistently in the 11 matches India played and entertaining the South African public and millions of television viewers.

G. VISWANATH

Sachin Tendulkar's consistent batting and his three `Man of the Match' awards straightaway boosted his points aggregate to fetch him the `Man of the Tournament' trophy. — Pic. REUTERS-

INDIA'S victory march in the World Cup — nine in all and eight in a row — was halted by an awesome batting display by the Australian captain Ricky Ponting at The Wanderers. The Indians finished second best and they, in the least, would argue that they deserved the glittering Cup. The candour in Ganguly at the post-match press conference without holding the bowlers responsible for the 125-run defeat was telling. Ganguly put up a disappointed, but brave face, but the man sitting to his right, Sachin Tendulkar, looked forlorn and crestfallen.

Even the best player of the World Cup award did not brighten his face. Tendulkar's cup of joy was not full. He was declared `Man of the Tournament' for serving his team consistently in the 11 matches India played and entertaining the South African public and millions of television viewers. The organising committee timed the announcement of the news before India took the field for the last time in the competition. Unfortunately, Australia took control of the final right from the first over.

Ganguly was candid in saying that he was not really looking forward to chase the target. India's final campaign had to start with Tendulkar. He decided to take on Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee and perished after facing just five balls. A majority of the spectators had no interest left in the match after his departure. It would have required a monumental effort from the other Indian batsmen to approach a total of 360.

The Australian batsmen had already mounted pressure and this was reflected in the manner in which Tendulkar attempted the shot. His single boundary score took his aggregate to 673 runs for an average of 61.20. He scored a century against Namibia and probably missed three more. After receiving the gold trophy worth 500,000 (approximately $62,500) from the legendary Sir Garfield Sobers, he said: "It is an honour to be named the best player of the World Cup, but I would have been happier if India had won the title. It was just one of those off days when nothing went right for us. We had a bad start and the pressure kept building."

Tendulkar's greatest fan was Dr. Ali Bacher, Executive Director of the Cricket World Cup 2003. He called him the second best batsman of all time (the first of course being Sir Donald Bradman) and said: "He (Tendulkar) thoroughly deserves this accolade. We wanted this to be the best World Cup ever, and Sachin's brilliant batting has helped the tournament captivate many millions of people around the cricketing world."

Winning three `Man of the Match' awards straightaway boosted his points aggregate, but it was felt that Ganguly had a real chance of upstaging him, after he scored a century against Kenya in the semi-finals and took his tally to 10. But the announcement that Tendulkar had earned two more points for his half-century and two wickets in the same match set to rest all the suspense hanging over who would eventually get the award.

This was Tendulkar's fourth World Cup, the first one being the 1992 Benson & Hedges Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Four years later at home he was in the thick of things and made over 500 runs. In 1999, in England, he was not at his best and had to briefly leave the Indian camp to attend his father's funeral. In the recent past he was asked to bat at No. 4 in the interest of the team. Evidently he was not comfortable there and Ganguly and the team management sprang a surprise reverting his position to the top of the order in the World Cup.

He began with a half-century against the Netherlands on a sluggish pitch at Paarl. Jason Gillespie foxed him and got the better of him at Centurion. He was all aggression against Zimbabwe at Harare and spent a long time in the middle to score his highest World Cup score against Namibia at Pietermaritzburg. A blazing half-century against England at Kingsmead saw the true Tendulkar, challenging and thumping the England seamers and upping his game. Thereafter came the innings of the World Cup against Pakistan at the Centurion. He made the eagerly awaited clash with the likes of Shoaib Akhtar, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Abdul Razzaq most memorable by his fluent stroke production in front of the wicket. All this showed the spark of genius in him. Akhtar's fast and short ball felled him, but before that he had driven the opposition to despair and sulk.

Tendulkar prospered as the competition moved into the second stage. He was the leading star, as the likes of Brian Lara and South Africa's Herschelle Gibbs disappeared from the scene. There were no real competitors to challenge his position and he dislodged Chaminda Vaas from the top. India crushed its rivals including Sri Lanka and New Zealand in the Super Sixes stage and the expectations soared as India arrived in Johannesburg for the Cup final. The Australians believed only one man could stop them from grabbing the title for the third time. They targeted him and priced him out.

"It was simply not our day. Of course, it is a great feeling to have won the award, but I would have been much happier if India had won the World Cup. I am certainly disappointed that I could not play a major role in the final, but then we play as a team and not as individuals. That's the bottom line," he said when asked how he felt not making a worthwhile contribution in the final.

Tendulkar's performance in the 11 matches:

Group `A' league phase: The Netherlands: c Smits b de Leede 52 (91b, 7x4); Australia: lbw b Gillespie 36 (59b, 3x4); Zimbabwe: b G. Glower 81 (91b, 10x4); Namibia: b Van Vuuren 152 (151b, 18x4); England: c Collingwood b Flintoff 50 (52b, 8x4); Pakistan: c Younis Khan b Akhtar 98 (75b, 12x4, 1x6); Super Sixes: Kenya: c A. Suji b M Suji 5 (12b, 1x4); Sri Lanka: c Sangakkara b de Silva 97 (120b, 7x4, 1x6); New Zealand: c Oram b Tuffey 15 (16b, 3x4s; Semi-final: Kenya: c D. Obuya b Tikolo 83 (101b, 5x4, 1x6); Final: c and b McGrath 4 (5b, 1x4).

Final standings: Sachin Tendulkar (India) 14 points; Sourav Ganguly (India) 10; Chaminda Vaas (Sri Lanka) 9; Marvan Atapattu (Sri Lanka) 8; Brett Lee (Australia) 7 and Andrew Symonds (Australia) 6.