Dubai: Iconic batsman Sachin Tendulkar believes defending champions India are favourites to retain the ICC Cricket World Cup title in 2015 and exuded confidence that the trophy will remain in the subcontinent.
With exactly 500 days to go before the first ball is bowled in the World Cup 2015 on February 14, Tendulkar hoped that Mahendra Singh Dhoni's side will successfully defended the title and make India only the third country after West Indies and Australia to win back-to-back titles.
"Along with India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are also good sides. I am partial towards India and want them to do well. That would be really exciting. It will give so much happiness to the entire nation," he said.
"That is something I would want, along with a billion plus people who will also be expecting the same thing to happen," added Tendulkar, who along with Pakistan's Javed Miandad is the only player in the history of the game to play in six World Cups.
Tendulkar retired from ODI cricket in December 2012 as the leading run-getter with 18,426 runs.
India, which leads the ICC ODI Team Rankings table by a distance, has been drawn in Pool B and will open its campaign against Pakistan in Adelaide on February 15.
India's other matches in the first round are against South Africa (in Melbourne on February 22), Qualifier 4 (in Perth on February 28), West Indies (in Perth on March 6) and Ireland (in Hamilton on March 10) and Zimbabwe (in Auckland on March 14).
Tendulkar, who is also the highest run-getter in the history of ICC Cricket World Cup with 2,278 runs from 45 matches, hoped India players will quickly adjust to the conditions in Australia and New Zealand.
"Well I think most of our guys have been to Australia. They know what to expect, (as) they have played there already," said the 40-year-old, who was part of the squad that toured Australia in 2011-12.
In the lead up to the World Cup 2015, India will again be in Australia for a four-Test series. This will be followed by a tri-series also featuring England, apart from the host.
More than Australia, Tendulkar's worry was about adjusting to New Zealand conditions.
Recalling India's ICC Cricket World Cup 1992 match against New Zealand, Tendulkar said: "I remember our match in Dunedin, where it was extremely cold and windy. Whenever a batsman hit the ball with the wind, it would travel 10 yards further, but when we had to play against the wind, the ball travelled 10 yards less!
"As there is a tour to New Zealand planned in early 2014, it should give them good exposure to the conditions there," said Tendulkar, who had finished as India's top scorer with 482 runs from nine matches in the 2011 World Cup.
Four-time world champion Australia will launch its campaign against traditional rival England under the Melbourne Cricket Ground ( MCG) lights in Melbourne on the opening day, March 14, while co-host New Zealand will feature in the tournament opener against Sri Lanka in Christchurch.
Pool A includes Afghanistan/UAE*, Australia, Bangladesh, England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Qualified 3 while Pool B comprises India, Ireland, Pakistan, South Africa, Qualifier 4, West Indies and Zimbabwe.
The top four sides from each pool will progress to the quarter-finals, followed by the two semi-finals and the final. All the seven knock-out matches will have reserve days.
Among other teams, England has emerged as a top ODI side in the last few years and came very close to winning its first 50-over tournament before losing to India in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy 2013.
It currently sits third on the ICC ODI Team Rankings table, four ratings points behind Australia. England has played in three World Cup finals (1979, 1987 and 1992) but is yet to put its hand on the trophy.
England's Test and ODI captain Alastair Cook said his side was improving and will try to make it fourth time lucky.
"We'll be working hard in the coming months to ensure we give ourselves the best possible opportunity to go one step further in 2015," Cook said.
"We have been improving steadily as a one-day side in recent years and are very much looking forward to the challenge of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.
"We got close to winning our first 50-over ICC event finishing as runners up in the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 and will be working hard in the coming months to ensure we give ourselves the best possible opportunity to go one step further in 2015," he added.
Cook said his boys have always enjoyed playing cricket in Australia and New Zealand and look forward to similar entertainment in 500 days' time.
"Playing cricket in Australia and New Zealand is always a fantastic experience and I have no doubt it will be another great occasion both for the teams and their supporters," he said.
Meanwhile, co-hosts Australia and New Zealand celebrated the 500 days to go occasion in style.
New Zealand's stars Martin Guptill, Kyle Mills and Mitchell McClenaghan joined local kids for a game of beach cricket at Auckland's idyllic Takapuna Beach.
In Sydney, Australia fast bowling legend Brett Lee helped to mark the occasion on the historic Sydney tall ship, Southern Swan, the day before the International Fleet Review begins.
Lee, a key figure in Australia's World Cup triumph in 2003, said he was looking forward to the inspiration provided by one of the world's biggest sporting events.
"This is a once in a generation opportunity for fans and families to experience the magic of the ICC Cricket World Cup. I'm really looking forward to both Sydney and Australia making the 2015 summer one that inspires young cricketers and provides lasting memories," he said.
The 2015 event will see 49 matches played across 44 days at 14 venues across the two hosting nations. All 14 teams will need to play in both Australia and New Zealand if they are to claim cricket's ultimate prize.