MUMBAI, April 1- A billion hearts will beat for Sachin Tendulkar as India bid for their second World Cup title in the all-Asian final against buoyant Sri Lanka on Saturday.
Tendulkar returns to his home turf at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai determined to add the only silverware missing from the collection of the most celebrated cricketer of the modern era.
The Indian star, who turns 38 next month, holds almost all coveted batting records, but not even his individual brilliance could win the ultimate prize in a team sport like cricket.
In five previous appearances in cricket’s showpiece event, Tendulkar helped India reach the semi-final at home in 1996 and finish runners-up to Australia in 2003 in South Africa.
When India won the World Cup under Kapil Dev in 1983, Tendulkar was 10 years old, but five of his current team-mates — Ravichandran Ashwin, Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Piyush Chawla and Munaf Patel — were not even born.
Playing in his sixth and possibly last World Cup, a record he shares with Pakistan great Javed Miandad, Tendulkar has led from the front to lift India into the final.
His 464 runs in the tournament are just three behind Sri Lankan Tillakaratne Dilshan’s 467, and he goes into the title clash one ton away from recording an unprecedented 100 international centuries.
Tendulkar’s lucky 85 in Wednesday’s semi-final against Pakistan, when he was dropped four times and survived close leg-before and stumping decisions, suggests he was destined to play the final.
"It will be a fantasic occasion," Tendulkar said of the match in his home city. "We will focus on the job in hand and try to get the job done."
Both India and Sri Lanka have injury concerns.
Sri Lanka appear to be the worst hit with star bowler Muttiah Muralitharan struggling to recover from hamstring and knee injuries and all-rounder Angelo Mathews down with a side strain.
Kumar Sangakkara’s men have flown in veteran seamer Chaminda Vaas and off-spinner Suraj Randiv to cover for the injured duo, but they are still not officially eligible to play.
Muralitharan, the world’s leading Test and one-day bowler who turns 38 next month, will leave international cricket after Saturday’s final.
Indiam seamer Ashish Nehra is almost certainly ruled out after sustaining a fracture in his right hand during the semi-final win over Pakistan in Mohali on Wednesday.
India may not ask for a stand-by since off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and seamer Shanthakumaran Sreesanth are waiting in the wings to take over from Nehra.
Sri Lanka marched into their second successive final after losing just one match out of eight in the tournament.
Sangakkara’s men, playing at home in Colombo, thrashed England by 10 wickets in the quarter-final before delivering a five-wicket blow to New Zealand in the semi-final.
Sri Lanka, like India, are also seeking their second World Cup title after winning in 1996 when Arjuna Ranatunga’s team stunned Australia in the Pakistani city of Lahore.
Dilshan has led a power-packed display by the batsmen to become the tournament’s leading scorer, while Sangakkara has notched up 417 runs and young opener Upul Tharanga has made 393 runs.
Sri Lanka enjoy a formidable bowling attack with sling-arm fast bowler Lasith Malinga (11 wickets) and unorthodox spinner Ajantha Mendis (seven) complimenting off-spinner Muralitharan, who has 15.
Indian seamer Zaheer Khan, who will also play on his home ground in Mumbai, goes into the final with 19 wickets, second behind Pakistani captain Shahid Afridi’s tally of 21.
Sri Lanka have prevailed in recent one-dayers against India, winning six of the 10 matches played last year in Dhaka, Harare, Bulawayo and Dambulla.
But India have won five of seven matches against the Islanders on home soil over the last five years.
India will be playing at the refurbished 33,000-capacity Wankhede stadium for the first time, while Sri Lanka know what awaits them having beaten New Zealand by 112 runs in a league match at the ground on March 18.