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All eyes on the Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar

india Updated: Nov 08, 2011 10:45 IST
Nikhilesh Bhattacharya
Nikhilesh Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times
Nikhilesh Bhattacharya

Here and now. That is where the Indian team want to be ahead of the first of three Tests against the West Indies starting at the Ferozshah Kotla on Sunday.

Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni refused to dwell on the past at Saturday's pre-match press conference. "There is no good reason why we should be thinking about the England tour," he said, when asked about India's last Test series, which they lost 0-4. And he refused to look ahead to another tough tour coming up at the end of the year. "The Australia series is too far away, no point thinking about it," he said.

"What we try to do is be there in the present." The problem for cricket fans is that the present does not seem attractive enough. And that is not just because the spot-fixing trial in England has resulted in cricket getting more bad press.

The West Indies, for all their talk of playing "fearless" cricket, are not the biggest crowd-pullers anymore. The series starts with a format least liked by Indian fans and takes place at a time when too much cricket over the past few months has resulted in visible signs of viewer fatigue. The half-empty stadiums that witnessed India thumping England in the home ODIs were in marked contrast to the buzz created by the Formula 1 circus when it pitched tent in Greater Noida just over a week ago.

Sachin the saviour
As he has done so often with the bat in his hand, the man for the crisis is the one who waved the chequered flag at the Buddh International Circuit - Sachin Tendulkar.

Cricket throws up all sorts of statistics, but Tendulkar is on the verge of a number that is as mind-boggling as Don Bradman's average. To understand the significance of 100 international hundreds, take a look at the competition. After Tendulkar's 99 tons, Ricky Ponting is a distant second with 69, followed by Jacques Kallis with 57.

It was in Kotla nearly six years ago that Tendulkar scored his 35th Test century, against Sri Lanka, to go past Sunil Gavaskar's record of 34 Test hundreds. If he closes in on another sensational landmark again, expect the fans to troop into a venue that looks beautiful from outside but ugly on the inside thanks to aggressive in-stadia advertising.

Seeking answers
The India team will hope the series can throw up answers to the questions bugging them since the thrashing in England, which ended their reign at the top of the ICC Test Championship table.

Is Virender Sehwag fit enough for Tests? How long can the ageing middle-order of Rahul Dravid, Tendulkar and VVS Laxman maintain its lofty standards? Will Yuvraj Singh finally make it in Tests? Can R Ashwin demonstrate that he can replace Harbhajan Singh as the leader of the spin attack? Will Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron be consistently quick enough to match international standards?

The answers may determine how soon India can climb back to the top.

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