Once the drama of the IPL auction fades out, all eyes will be on the 2011 World Cup. Here’s what lies ahead for cricket’s greatest contestIt is only appropriate that on the day after the IPL auction in Bangalore crowded out all other news from television channels, we take note of cricket’s biggest slugfest returning to the sub-continent after a 15-year hiatus. With 39 days remaining for the curtains to go up on the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup in Dhaka on February 17, the game’s greatest show will be played out in its biggest market.Consider the action that is set to take off: 14 teams slugging it out in 49 day-night matches spread over 45 days across 13 venues. You can’t have a more tempting recipe for undiluted fun, with enough temptations to send die-hard fans into a high state of excitement and get even the not-so-sports-inclined to jump on to the World Cup bandwagon. Get set for the biggest, longest and most varied cricket tournament ever.India co-hosted the World Cup in 1987 and then in 1996, but those were different times.The craze for the game has since touched the sky, thanks partly to the Indian Premier League (IPL) that has given a huge boost to the popular interest in the game (though the connoisseurs of the game would vehemently disagree), and the stakes involved have shot through the roof.Then, there is the biggest point of interest for Indian fans: Sachin Tendulkar. Most probably the maestro will be playing his last World Cup – he will be just about two months short of 38 years when the tournament kicks off – so the burden of expectations will he heavy on his overworked and overstretched shoulders. Another man under close scrutiny will be Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the master of cool who is expected to be retained as captain. He is known to maintain his composure in the most trying and tense match situations, but playing in front of home crowds prone to emotional swings and overcoming the performance anxiety that is bound to overcome even the sturdiest during a tough-as-nails competition is a different matter altogether.advertisementAdd a bit of history – no home team has won the World Cup in the championship’s 35-year history – and you can imagine the pressure on co-hosts India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. India will play five of their six league matches on home turf and their lone face-off outside home will be the tournament opener against Bangladesh in Dhaka on February 19.It’s not just the participating teams that will be under close scrutiny. The tournament will be the acid test for the security agencies of the three host nations. With the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the International Cricket Council (ICC) deciding to rely on the Indian forces to provide security, and not hire private security like it was done for the IPL’s 2008 and 2010 editions, it will be a Himalayan challenge for the men in uniform to ensure an incident-free World Cup.Pakistan was to be the fourth joint host, but after the near-fatal attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in March 2008, and the subse-quent violent incidents inside Pakistan, the ICC was compelled to take hosting rights away from the troubled country.Security issues confronted the 1996 World Cup as well, thanks to Sri Lanka’s war against the Tamil Tigers. The West Indies and Australian refused to travel to Sri Lanka because of the volatile political situation in the Emerald Isle, despite being offered the luxury of playing in an empty stadium sealed by security forces.With the LTTE problem having been resolved, Sri Lanka will be trouble-free this time around. But nothing can be taken for granted as certain militant organisations have already announced that they would disrupt the World Cup. The security agencies have taken note of the threat perception and are planning accordingly, said Delhi’s joint commissioner of police (northern range) Karnail Singh. The Ferozeshah Kotla, which will host four matches, comes within the northern range.Tournament director Ratnakar Shetty said the security issue was a sensitive one. “We don’t discuss such issues,” he said. But the venues are leaving nothing to chance to ensure the smooth conduct of matches. The Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA), for instance, has included three retired top cops in its security committee to chalk out a detailed plan.”We will keep the threat perception in mind when providing security,” said Karnail Singh on Kotla. All things said, it is the on-field action that will get the crowds and the eyeballs. The Indian team is already being elevated as favourites, a tag that will only add to the load of expectations on the players.advertisementThe team is well settled, though the final 15 will be announced by January 19. The batting will be in the hands of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Tendulkar, Yusuf Pathan, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma; the bowling attack is expected to be shared by Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel, Sreesanth and Harbhajan Singh.It promises to be the most closely fought World Cup, with quite a few teams being the contenders for the winners’ cheque of $3 million (Rs 13.8 crore) and the losers’ for $1.5 million (Rs 6.9 crore)-the total prize money adds up to $10 million (Rs 46 crore). Australia, who will be chasing their fourth successive title, South Africa, England, Sri Lanka and even Pakistan are the others that will fight hard for the honours. That will only heat up the action in the balmiest part of the sub-continental year.