Day of destiny for Tendulkar
No man in any cricket World Cup final has carried such a burden of expectation on his shoulders as Sachin Tendulkar.
Tendulkar will open the batting for India against Australia at The Wanderers on Sunday knowing he is crucial to his team's chances of lifting the Cup for the first time since Kapil Dev's men unexpectedly beat West Indies 20 years ago.
Viv Richards was indisputably the best batsman in the world in 1983 and his dismissal for 33 in the final at Lord's precipitated a West Indies' collapse.
But the great Antiguan was surrounded by batsmen of the calibre of Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes and captain Clive Lloyd. The West Indies' pace attack was also the finest in the world.
On paper the India batting looks strong, in reality it can be brittle as Australia demonstrated in the group match when they bowled the Indians out for their World Cup low of 125.
Tendulkar's views on his role in Sunday's final are unrecorded as he been under a self-imposed vow of silence during the tournament. His batting, though, has been eloquent. The diminutive Indian has scored a record 669 runs at an average of 66.90 with a healthy strike rate of 89.31.
His most significant innings was against Pakistan when, with premeditated brutality, he hit express bowler Shoaib Akhtar out of the attack before falling two short of his century.
Akhtar and Wasim Akram were a potent opening pair. Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee can be deadly.
McGrath takes a sadistic delight in probing batsmen's weaknesses with his relentless line and length and late movement both ways. Lee has developed into the world's most dangerous strike bowler, bowling at a burning pace and mixing vicious short-pitched deliveries at the ribcage with late-swinging yorkers.
Australia have had problems at the top of their order, with no batsman firing consistently, and they have been eager to get Damien Martyn back in the frame for the final.
Martyn, who fractured his right index finger against Kenya last weekend, had a full workout on Saturday without any apparent problems.
"If Damien is 95 percent right, I'm pretty sure he'll be in the starting lineup," Australia captain Ricky Ponting told a news conference.
Indian fans, including politicians and film stars, have been pouring into Johannesburg over the past 24 hours, many seeking tickets which are fetching astronomical sums on the black market. All tickets for the 30,000 capacity Wanderers' ground were sold out weeks ago.
On Saturday federal Sports Minister Vikram Verman delivered a bat, with an inscription from Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, to captain Saurav Ganguly at the team's hotel.
"I wish and pray to God that the Indian team will not only be victorious but also be glorious in victory," the message said.
Australia batsman Darren Lehmann, one of six members of the Cup-winning squad in England four years ago, said he thought the pressure would be on India on Sunday.
"The Indian public will be expecting them to win, they demand them to win and there will be a huge amount of pressure on them from their public and the media," he said.
"Experience of the pre-game is probably most important as that is more pressurised than anything else because once the game comes along all you can do is play in it.
"We know how to handle those situations better than most so that is handy."
Australia: Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting (captain), Darren Lehmann, Andrew Symonds, Michael Bevan, Damien Martyn or Ian Harvey, Brad Hogg, Andy Bichel, Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath.
India: Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly (captain), Mohammad Kaif, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, Dinesh Mongia, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Javagal Srinath, Ashsish Nehra.
Umpires: David Shepherd (England), Steve Bucknor (West Indies).
Third umpire: Rudi Koertzen.
Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle.