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Sachin not far from being at his best: Greg

"He thinks differently and that makes him the champion that he is," said Chappell.

india Updated: Oct 24, 2005 19:52 IST

Sachin Tendulkar was set to return to the spotlight on Tuesday for a limited-over series against Sri Lanka after enduring the longest layoff in his 16-year career following elbow surgery.

Tendulkar --the world's top run scorer in one-day cricket with 13,632 runs-- hasn't played for more than six months, and he underwent an operation on his right elbow in May. He must rekindle his spark under the watchful eye of India's new coach, former Australian captain Greg Chappell, whose main focus is the 2007 World Cup.

"Sachin has an important role to play. I don't think he's far away from being at his best," Chappell said Monday ahead of the series opener in the central Indian city of Nagpur. "As long as he can stand up and make runs, Sachin will be worth his place in the team."

But the 32-year-old batsman needs to be challenged to continue enjoying the game, Chappell said.

"The danger for any player is that as you grow older, you start thinking older. Once the enthusiasm and youthful exuberance is gone, it's very hard to play at this level," he said. "I can still see the youthful exuberance in Sachin."

With the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies looming and some of the team's established stars showing signs of feeling the strain, Chappell, who took over in June from New Zealander John Wright, has been grooming youngsters in the squad.

Rahul Dravid is India's new skipper for this series against Sri Lanka and for five one-dayers against South Africa next month. Many young players have been picked for the first two matches against Sri Lanka.

"We've got to use our resources astutely," said Chappell. "We'll continue experimenting with the youngsters, keeping the World Cup in mind."

But the seasoned Tendulkar remains part of Chappell's plan. "Whatever he does with the bat and ball, or in the field, is multiplied by the factor X because of the sort of the player Sachin is. You've got to look at what the people bring to the group," Chappell said. "He thinks differently and that makes him the champion that he is."

Dravid said the team was pleased with Tendulkar's return from injury.

"We're all glad to have him back, and Sachin is also excited with his return to the team," said Dravid.

He said he felt no extra pressure because of taking on the captaincy.

"There's a positive energy in the team. We have the home advantage although Sri Lanka has been playing better than us in recent times," he said.

India is ranked seventh in the world and Sri Lanka is rated No. 2 in one-day competition.

Sri Lanka is touring India for the first time since 1999, after a string of victories in recent one-day encounters between the two on Sri Lankan soil.

Sri Lanka is not expecting the series to be a walkover. "We've come here with several things on our mind and goals to achieve," said Sri Lankan skipper Marvan Atapattu. "This is going to be an interesting challenge for both sides, playing the same opponent in seven consecutive games."

India enjoys a 41-34 record against Sri Lanka, which as rank outsider stunned India in the first encounter during the 1979 World Cup in England. On its home turf, India leads 17-8.

First Published: Oct 24, 2005 18:18 IST