Through the excitement of the 50-over World Cup, still easily cricket’s grandest stage, there inevitably comes a moment that leaves a lump in one’s throat. The quadrennial extravaganza brings the cricketing world on one platform for what is inarguably the sport’s most coveted title.
Some, like Pakistan’s Inzamam-ul-Haq, chose this cup of dreams to arrive on the international stage. A wispy 22-year-old in 1992, he thumped 60 off just 37 balls in the semi-final against New Zealand. Imran Khan’s Pakistan went on to win the title, beating England in the final.
Some haven’t been as fortunate. Several great cricketers have never managed to finish on the triumphant side in the 36 years of the World Cup. Batting great Brian Lara chose the 2007 edition in the Caribbean as his swansong but failed to inspire the hosts past the Super Eight stage. Not winning a World Cup remains his single major disappointment.
Champion medium-pace bowler Glenn McGrath helped Australia wrest their third straight crown in the West Indies edition before bowing out of the international arena, an equally emotional moment for cricket lovers the world over.
Australian Adam Gilchrist, who thumped a century in the 2007 final against Sri Lanka with a squash ball in his glove, continued to play international cricket until early 2008. But the Caribbean sojourn was the last time we saw him in the World Cup, and his exploits remain the stuff of legend.
Similarly, the 10th edition of the competition, to be staged in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh from 19 February, could be the last time we’ll see four greats of the modern game on the World Cup stage.
Sri Lanka’s master spinner Muttiah Muralitharan is almost 39; India’s batting legend Sachin Tendulkar, 37; Australian batsman Ricky Ponting, 36; and South African all-rounder Jacques Kallis, 35. They could well play on for the next couple of years, but it is unlikely they would be around for the 2015 World Cup.
Muralitharan retired from Test cricket last year with a record 800 wickets, but the wizard off-spinner, also the most successful bowler in One Day cricket, kept the window open in the shorter formats of the game for yet another crack at World Cup glory. He was a key figure in Sri Lanka’s triumph in 1996, the previous occasion the World Cup was held in the subcontinent, with his remarkable width of spin, accuracy and economy rate.
Eleven years later, the master spinner from Kandy finished as the second highest wicket taker behind McGrath in the 2007 edition with 23 wickets and was instrumental in paving the way for his team’s entry into the final.
Sri Lanka excluded 1996 veterans Chaminda Vaas and all-rounder Sanath Jayasuriya from the final 15 this time, but backed ageing Muralitharan’s genius in an otherwise youthful squad in recognition of almost two decades of continued excellence and his astronomical success rate on the slow, low pitches of the subcontinent.
Tendulkar will be playing in a record sixth World Cup, a tribute to the little master’s endurance, remarkable skills and youthful exuberance. Apart from being the highest run scorer and century maker in Test and One Day cricket, Tendulkar also holds the record for most runs (1,796) in World Cup history.
Tendulkar has scripted several classics on the World Cup stage. The 98 against Pakistan at Centurion in the 2003 World Cup stands out. “We wanted this World Cup to be the most successful one ever and your innings against Pakistan at Centurion has helped us achieve that,” read a congratulatory telegram from World Cup organizing committee chief Ali Bacher. The master batsman was adjudged the player of the series.
India rode on Tendulkar’s brilliance into their first World Cup final since their spectacular triumph in 1983 before losing to Australia in the last hurdle. Winning the World Cup has been Tendulkar’s ultimate dream, he has often said.
The man who denied India glory in 2003 was Ponting, who savaged 140 (not out) off 121 balls to virtually bat India out of the contest. Ponting, one of the best batsmen of the modern era and often compared with Tendulkar, will look to sign off his World Cup career in style as Australia aim for their fourth straight crown to compensate for a disappointing Ashes defeat.
Ponting’s World Cup record is enviable. In his four previous World Cups, he has been part of the winning side three times—twice as captain—and finalist in 1996, when Australia lost to Sri Lanka. Ponting, who has scored over 10,000 runs in both Test and One Day cricket, is the second highest run getter (1,537) in World Cup history, only behind Tendulkar, and in 2003 became the fourth batsman to score a century in a World Cup final.
West Indians Clive Lloyd (1975) and Vivian Richards (1979) and Sri Lanka’s Aravinda de Silva (1996) had achieved the feat earlier.
Ponting will look to overcome the outcry at home following the Ashes debacle and recover quickly from a thumb injury that sidelined him from the start of the One Day series against England to lead his side.
Like Tendulkar and Ponting, South African giant Kallis is one of the only five players to have scored over 10,000 runs in both Test and One Day cricket. However, Kallis has also taken over 250 wickets in both Test and One Day cricket with his medium pace and is indisputably one of the greatest all-rounders in the history of the game.
However, with Kallis in the team, South Africa, always a strong contender for the title, have suffered two successive heartbreaks in World Cup competitions. In 1999, South Africa lost the semi-final to Australia on lower net run rate after a thrilling tie. Ironically, Australia, who had started the tournament in disastrous fashion, qualified for the semi-final on the basis of their victory over South Africa in the league phase. Four years later, as hosts in 2003, they exited in a bizarre fashion in the group phase. After taking control of a do-or-die battle against Sri Lanka, who had set them a target of 269, South Africa’s dressing room sent wrong instructions to their batsmen in the middle when a light drizzle steadily grew heavier.
The 229 needed at the end of the 45th over, even as the rain drenched the ground, was for a tie when they had needed a win on the Duckworth and Lewis method.
A miscalculation which former South African batsman-turned-TV commentator Andrew Hudson summed up: “42 million South Africans are going to go to bed tonight hoping it was a bad dream”.
Can Kallis help South Africa break free of their tag of chokers?
SACHIN TENDULKAR (INDIA)
WORLD CUP MATCHES: 36
HIGHEST: 152 vs Namibia in South Africa, 2003
JACQUES KALLIS (SOUTH AFRICA)
WORLD CUP MATCHES: 29
HIGHEST: 128 (not out) vs the Netherlands in Basseterre, 2007
RICKY PONTING (AUSTRALIA)
WORLD CUP MATCHES: 39
HIGHEST: 140 (not out) vs India in Johannesburg, 2003
MUTTIAH MURALITHARAN (SRI LANKA)
WORLD CUP MATCHES: 31
BEST BOWLING: 4/19 vs Ireland in 2007
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