Sachin Tendulkar checks his bat during a training session ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup final match against Sri Lanka in Mumbai.
It is as if destiny has come knocking at Sachin Tendulkar's door. A World Cup in the subcontinent, the last of his career, his team is in the final on his home ground and he is one short of 100 international hundreds.
For Indian fans, the World Cup cannot have a better ending than the home team lifting the Trophy and Tendulkar getting his milestone century at the Wankhede Stadium. The man himself has not left any stone unturned in an effort to grab the great opportunity. He has trained with maniacal zeal and played his heart out to help take his team to the World Cup final.
On the eve of the grand finale, he batted in the nets like a man possessed. For all his talent, his philosophy is clear -- the harder you prepare, the better your chances of success.
His mantra is simple: 'From my years of playing, the one thing I have understood is that best preparation is the key'.
He appears to be clear in his mind that it is the biggest tournament and match of his career. Even the slightest of distractions have been kept away. His family has not attended a single World Cup game, and even though it is being played at the Wankhede, they are not expected to be present at the final too.
The entire nation cannot wait for him to take guard against the Sri Lankans on Saturday; and on the top of their wish list is his 100th hundred. But the champion's thoughts and ambitions are far away from personal glory.
Only win matters
He just wants the Cup. "Who gets the runs is not important, it's the runs for the team total that is," Tendulkar had told Virender Sehwag during the first match against Bangladesh when he was run out cheaply after a mix-up with the latter.
He's not feeling weighed down by the weight of expectations of his billions of fans either. For him, it is only about what the team expects. He knows his role is more than mere runs. It's about providing inspiration too.
With two brilliant hundreds and two invaluable half-centuries, the Little Master is truly in the zone. And, what is his idea of being in that orbit? 'Do your preparation, come to the ground with a clean slate, and then react to the situation.'
The Tendulkar-Sehwag opening partnership will once again be crucial as the duo is pitted against the prolific Upul Tharanga-Tillakaratne Dilshan pair. Which pair comes good could influence which way the match swings. So far, Sehwag has got off to blazing starts and Tendulkar has then settled down to anchor the innings.
It's not just the runs, but the pace of accumulation that has made the difference. Dilshan's strike rate is 93.02, Tendulkar's 90.98, Tharanga's 86.94 and Sehwag's 123.37. As Romesh Kaluwitharana and Sanath Jayasuriya proved at the 1996, an all-out attacking combination is an advantage here. This time Tendulkar, Sehwag and Tharanga, Dilshan have played a similar role.
The openers will have to change their game a bit in the final as the wicket will offer some initial bounce and movement. They will have to play with controlled aggression.
The preparation has been to Tendulkar's heart's content. Now, it's time for Tendulkar to make his own destiny.