Cricket: Absence of Tendulkar is setback for India

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The Independent Online
INDIA'S ATTEMPTS to play down the notion that their World Cup hopes depend on Sachin Tendulkar putting aside personal grief and making a swift return to competitive action looked unconvincing last night after they were beaten by Zimbabwe in their leading batsman's absence.

Tendulkar is back at home in Bombay today, mourning the loss of his 66-year-old father, Ramesh, who died of a heart attack on Tuesday, obliging the 26-year-old to pull out of yesterday's group match at Leicester.

India's morale was further shaken when their stuttering pursuit of 253 for victory at Grace Road was brought to a summary halt by Henry Olonga, who took three wickets in the penultimate over to wrap up their innings at 249.

Tendulkar was on a plane from Heathrow an hour before play began yesterday, the news of his father's death having been broken to him in a telephone call from his wife, who was staying in London. There are fears he will withdraw from the tournament and the Indian management is braced for that possibility, even though they hope he will be back in time for next week's match against the struggling holders, Sri Lanka, in Taunton.

Brijesh Patel, the team manager, acknowledged that the loss of a player considered to be the best batsman of the modern era would be a major blow, but was confident before yesterday's defeat that the squad could still thrive. "It is a hell of a setback for any side to miss a player of his ability and for him to return will be a big boost," Patel said.

Tendulkar is India's greatest sporting hero and regarded as vital to the team's success. Some supporters in a crowd of 5,500 at Grace Road yesterday, swelled by members of Leicester's huge Indian community, held up banners expressing their sympathy. The player, who would have opened India's batting yesterday, definitely misses Sunday's match against the outsiders Kenya.

Match report, page 30