Mumbai: Without doubt the most enduring phenomenon in modern cricket and India's biggest sporting icon, Sachin Tendulkar is all set for an epic curtain call starting from Thursday when he steps on the field against the West Indies for his 200th and final Test where emotions will weigh heavy.
For once, an individual would be the focus even though it is a clash of two teams and why not, given that the individual in question is a man who successfully transformed from a prodigal talent to a living legend in 24 glorious years.
Tendulkar has been synonymous with the game in India for more than two decades and held in awe and admiration all over the cricket-playing world.
As a curly-haired teen with unbelievable talent, he walked in to the cricket field and the hearts of his fans quite effortlessly ever since his debut in 1989. And Such has been his domination in both the places that the vaccum he would leave seems unfillable.
Having won the first Test by an innings and 51 runs, Team India and their seniormost statesman will be focussed on inflicting another humiliating defeat on a mediocre Caribbean outfit at the Wankhede Stadium.
But the scores and statistics will certainly take backseat for the next few days as a nation gets ready to bid farewell to arguably its greatest and most revered sporting icon. (Also read: Sachin Tendulkar - Genuine praise or marketing gimmick? | Nothing to prove anymore for Sachin, say Lara and Ganguly)
When Sir Don Bradman retired at the Oval in 1948, there were tributes but celebrations of a fantastic career were much muted.
But now as world cricket's most celebrated No 4 batsman bids adieu to the game, there is a silent prayer on everyone's mind -- let it be a farewell to remember.
While the onus will be on Mahendra Singh Dhoni to control on-field proceedings, it will also be difficult for the players not to feel overwhelmed by the occasion and emotions associated with the great man's farewell.
For the legend himself, he would like to sign off on a high in front of his friends and family with a knock that will be etched in everyone's memory in the years to come.
Having got a raw deal from umpire Nigel Llong in his penultimate Test match in Kolkata, the highest run-scorer in Test history would expect that a Shane Shillingford or Tino Best do not 'do an Eric Hollies' on him as he walks out to bat at his beloved Wankhede for the last time.
Legend has it that Sir Don's eyes became moist and he failed to spot Hollies' googly in his last Test innings to get out for a duck. It will be interesting how the 40-year-old Tendulkar keeps his emotions under check during the last few days of his glittering career.
May be he would like to finish with a flourish like Greg Chappell, who scored a century in his final knock before calling time on his career.
A bowling attack which has one quality spinner and some really average medium pacers (injured Kemar Roach is already on his flight back home) is something that Tendulkar can still negotiate playing from memory.
However, after nearly two and half decades of top-flight cricket, even if the mind wants, the body at times does not respond to the rigours of international cricket.
A young Tendulkar would always play the paddle sweep to an off-break bowler in his bid to smother the spin at the earliest. He has done that successfully against Saqlain Mushtaq and Muttiah Muraliutharan.
Therefore, expect an intriguing battle between Tendulkar and Shillingford as the senior batsman would definitely have a strategy in mind to counter the Caribbean offie's doosra which posed a bit of problem in the first Test.
There may be multiple opinions about whether focussing on one individual is fair in a team game but for skipper Dhoni, it's an advantage that he would certainly not like to trade off. (Suggested read: Sachin as sports minister?)
For someone, who does his job with a sense of purpose, Dhoni wouldn't mind the spotlight to be on Tendulkar as it would help the likes of Virat Kohlis, Rohit Sharmas, Mohammed Shamis and Ravichandran Ashwins to concentrate on creating relentless pressure on a fragile Caribbean side who were outplayed on all departments of the game in Kolkata.
The bowling has got a fresh wind with Mohammed Shami's nine-wicket haul in his debut Test giving Dhoni a chance to look at new combinations after consistent failure from pace spearhead Ishant Sharma.
The India captain doesn't believe in tinkering too much with a winning combination and in all likelihood, would retain the same XI for Mumbai unless someone gets injured or falls sick prior to the game.
Rohit, who has been going through a dream patch, will like to consolidate his position in the Test side as India are set to play 13 matches in the next one year.
Kohli missed out during the first Test but with his insatiable apetite for runs, the Delhi lad will certainly want to score a big hundred as nothing can be a more precious parting gift than a good performance and an Indian win for a hardcore team man like Tendulkar.
For Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara, this will be a good chance to get into the groove before they face the terrific South African trio of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander in their backyard in a month's time.
Vijay and Pujara are not expected to feature in the Indian ODI squad and hence will be back to the confines of domestic cricket before the South Africa Test series come calling.
As Tendulkar walks into the sunset, he would only feel reassured that the transition phase of Indian cricket looks to be complete with the Dhawans and Kohlis ready to keep the tri-colour flying.
But Indian cricket is set to feel quite poor once its most loved and revered player hangs up his gloves.
India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt. & wk), Shikhar Dhawan, M Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, R Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Pragyan Ojha, Amit Mishra, Ajinkya Rahane, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Rohit Sharma, Ishant Sharma.
West Indies: Darren Sammy (capt), Tino Best, Darren Bravo, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Sheldon Cotterrell, Narsingh Deonarine, Kirk Edwards, Chris Gayle, Veerasammy Permaul, Kieran Powell, Denesh Ramdin, Shannon Gabriel, Marlon Samuels, Shane Shillingford and Chadwick Walton.
Match starts at 9.30 am (IST).
Story first published on: Wednesday, 13 November 2013 15:00 IST