Sachin Tendulkar, a constant in all five of India's wins over Pakistan at the World Cup, isn't part of the team this time around. Can India overcome his absence to maintain their win record over their neighbours?
When holders India clash with Pakistan in their high-octane campaign opener of the ICC Cricket World Cup on February 15 at the Adelaide Oval, the awe-inspiring Sachin Tendulkar would be conspicuously absent for the first time in a match between the two arch-rivals in the showpiece event.
The batting maestro, who has retired from the game after a glorious 24-year-career, was a constant presence in each of the five contests between the sub-continental giants in cricket's mega event, picking up three man of the match awards too and stamping his authority on these nerve-wracking contests which had all ended in India's favour.
Significantly all but one of these victories for India against Pakistan had occurred in the month of March.
Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi (R) speaks with Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar after a dropped catch during their ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final match at The Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) Stadium in Mohali on March 30, 2011. Pic/AFP
Tendulkar made his World Cup debut in 1992 when the mega event was staged in Australia and New Zealand previously and played a very crucial innings of 54 not out, besides picking up the vital wicket of Aamer Sohail, to bag the man of the match award at the Sydney Cricket Ground in India's victory over Pakistan in their first-ever Cup meeting.
And it was Tendulkar who again stole the show with his vital, albeit chancy, knock of 85 at Mohali four years ago in the semifinal to be adjudged the man of the match for the third time in World Cup contests between the two Asian giants -- thus paving the way for India to win the coveted title a few days later by beating Sri Lanka in the final in Mumbai.
In between his first and last appearance against Pakistan in the tournament, Tendulkar made 31 in Bangalore in the quarterfinals in 1996, 45 at Old Trafford, Manchester, in a group game in 1999 after rushing home to attend to his father's last rites and an unforgettable 98 at Centurion Park in South Africa that enabled India to chase down Pakistan's imposing total.
In this period, only once -- in 2007 -- when the tournament was held in the West Indies and both India and Pakistan crashed out in shocking fashion early on, that the two sub-continental rivals failed to meet each other in the World Cup.
With a tally of 313 runs in five matches at a high average of 78.05, Tendulkar stands head and shoulders above all other Indians in all World Cup contests against Pakistan.
Only two other Indian batsmen have amassed more than 100 runs against Pakistan in combined World Cup history -- Mohammed Azharuddin with a tally of 118 in three games and Rahul Dravid with 105 in two matches.
In his own words, Tendulkar rates the 75-ball 98 he made against Pakistan's top class three-pronged pace attack of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar at Centurion Park a dozen years ago in South Africa as among his career-best.
"This innings must rank as one of the best I have played because of the immense pressure it was played under," Tendulkar has stated in his autobiography - 'Playing It My Way'.
"It was always going to be a huge game for both teams. The intensity was such that I could not sleep properly for three nights before the game. If there was ever a match we wanted to win, it was this one. The nation would brook no failure and for many of our fans this was the true final. It really did not matter to them what happened in the rest of the tournament, as long as we managed to beat Pakistan at Centurion," he said in the book.
"The ground was buzzing hours before the match. It was sport at its best. This is why I played cricket, to be out in the middle for my team, on the world's biggest cricketing stage, against India's arch-rival. Listening up to the national anthem and singing the words gave me goose bumps."
In that match, after seeing Pakistan riding on Saeed Anwar's 101 to rattle up an imposing score of 273 for 7, Tendulkar told his opening partner Virender Sehwag that he would take first strike and before starting to attack the Pakistan fast bowlers they needed to play out the initial burst.
But what unfolded was the opposite with Tendulkar driving Akram to the covers in the first over and Sehwag too following suit.
Akhtar bowled the second over and Tendulkar has written that "and in many ways it turned out to be the defining over of the match."
A slash over third man for six was followed by a flick behind square leg from outside off for four and a straight punch for four. Eighteen runs came off that over and Tendulkar says in his book that "It was a dream start".
The opening duo then attacked Waqar and Tendulkar has written: "Our body language had turned aggressive and when I finished off the Waqar over with another four we were firmly in control. We had not allowed the bowlers to settle down and had seized the advantage. It was the best early assault against Pakistan that I had been involved in and it could not have come at a more important time."
About his World Cup game in Sydney and India's first-ever win over Pakistan, Tendulkar says in his book: "It was a satisfying win and by the end of the match I had completely lost my voice because of all the shouting."
"It was the first time India had played Pakistan in the World Cup since the inception of the tournament in 1975 and it was the start of a string of victories against them in World Cups. The 1992 victory was particularly pleasing because I was also the Player of the Match", Tendulkar has written in his autobiography.
On the 1996 quarter final win over Pakistan in Bangalore, Tendulkar - who made a slow 31 while putting on 90 runs with Navjot Sidhu for the first wicket - has written that in the team hotel they were treated like royalty after the tension-packed 39-run victory.
"On our way back to the hotel we could see people lining the streets and they were throwing garlands and flowers at the team bus. In the hotel too we were being treated differently", he has said in his autobiography.
"We were being treated like royalty and it felt wonderful to see the country so happy and proud", he has remarked in his book.
About the victory in 1999, Tendulkar has recalled it happened when the Kargil conflict with Pakistan was on.
"The match had assumed great significance against the backdrop of strained political relations between the two countries - the war in Kargil in Kashmir was on at the time. India won the highly charged encounter by 47 runs, with Venkatesh Prasad picking up a five-wicket haul", Tendulkar has written in his autobiography.
On what later turned out to be his second-last innings in the World Cup, and against Pakistan in the semifinals on March 30, 2011, Tendulkar has stated it was "One of the most pressured games of my career. Playing Pakistan in a World Cup semifinal on Indian soil - it just couldn't get any bigger."
Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led India defeated Pakistan by 29 runs to move into the April 2 final against Sri Lanka that they won at the Wankhede Stadium to clinch the title for the second time after a gap of 28 years.
The two arch-rivals are slated to meet again on February 15, but this time the reassuring presence of Sachin Tendulkar won't be there. Whether India's young guns can rise to the challenge and continue their winning spree remains to be seen.
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