March 09, 2007

The aura of the World Cup is far too special

By H Natarajan

Ramesh Powar may have the sympathy of millions of his countrymen. Virender Sehwag and Irfan Pathan may have taken copious flak. But all angst about selections and omissions are a thing of the past. Rahul Dravid’s team is in the West Indies with joy on their faces and hopes in their hearts, carrying with them the best wishes of over a billion Indians. The World Cup is war minus shooting. And history bears testimony that India stands gloriously united in times of war.

The World Cup is the paradise that every cricketer covets. Ask VVS Laxman to appreciate the pain of having to end – in all likelihood – an international career without having ever stepped on the World Cup turf. For a man known for his cricketing aesthetics, it’s an ugly hole in his cricketing curriculum vitae. On the other hand, there is Sunil Valson. He did not ever play for India, but he ended his cricketing career by being a member of a World Cup-winning team.

A batsman may have played hundreds and thousands of memorable shots in his career, a bowler may have taken hundreds of wickets in his career, but brilliance on the World Cup stage has a special aura that has a longer recall value. Be it Viv Richards’s last-ball six off Mike Hendricks in the 1979 World Cup final, Balwinder Singh Sandhu’s banana in-swinger to bowl Gordon Greenidge in the 1983 World Cup final, Jonty Rhodes airborne run out of Inzamam-ul-Haq in the 1992 World Cup, the vintage images of remain undamaged by the passage of time.

Ask any Indian – if he was born then and old enough to remember - what he/she was doing on June 25, 1983 and one can expect a graphic detail of the happenings that day at Lord's.

I recollect returning from a late-night party one day with Balwinder Sandhu. He had stopped the car in front of my building and was talking with me when a friend – a doctor – stopped his car when he saw me. He suddenly spotted the man next to me in the driver’s seat. He did not even wait for me to introduce him. He did that himself and lost no time in talking about the ball that bowled Greenidge in the 1983 World Cup! And I have seen unknown cricket fans at all places all too often walking up to Sandhu and talking about that magical ball. In fact, one prominent member of that World Cup team keeps ribbing Sandhu that his career was all about that one ball!

The memories of the 1983 World Cup remain still etched in my mind. Though I have covered many World Cups in India and overseas, some of the most abiding memories have been from the 1983 World Cup. No, I was not in Ole Blighty for the third edition of the World Cup, but as a cricket aficionado and an Indian, that World Cup is still very dear to me.

The beautiful moments of that championship just cascade in my memory…India’s upset win over the reigning champions in the very opening match that instilled the self-belief in the team that they could win the cup… I also remember a nation going into instant mourning when Zimbabwe reduced India to 17 for five and 78 for seven at Tunbridge Wells. And then, as I took the train to reach my office, a passenger telling that India were 260 plus for eight. Did I hear right or has this guy gone nuts? Well, the guy was right. Kapil Dev was putting the hitherto little-known Tunbridge Wells on the world map with an innings that was straight from the realms of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.

There were many unforgettable moments…Kirti Azad bowling Ian Botham, Yashpal Sharma cameo against England… and then, in the final, Krishnamachari Srikkanth’s blazing square drive, Kapil Dev’s sensational catch to get rid of the dangerous Viv Richards, Syed Kirmani’s diving catch to dismiss Faoud Bacchus, Mohinder Amarnath dismissal of Michael Holding that hammered the final nail in the Windies coffin…

The ’83 World Cup has two things that’s very dear to me: one a memory and the other a tangible treasure. I still remember the airport when the team landed in Mumbai. It seemed all off Mumbai were there to welcome the team. Meeting the heroes later was an experience in itself, but the biggest memory of that day was getting a chance to hold the Prudential World Cup close to my heart. As an Indian, it was a priceless moment for me. An absolute privilege.

One of the biggest treasures I have in my collections is a bat autographed by the entire 1983 World Cup team - I got each and every autograph myself to ensure that the signature was not done by a proxy!

So what does what does the 2007 World Cup shave in store? Australia’s dramatic slump leading into the competition means that this is going to be one of the most open World Cups. If there was any proof needed then one needs to look at Bangladesh’s victory over New Zealand in a warm-up match son Tuesday. And let us not forget that New Zealand came into the Caribbean with their morale sky high after annihilating Australia 3-0 in the one-day series back home. Even India were in early trouble against minnows Netherlands before staging a recovery through Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar.

There are no clear pre-tournament favourites, though the Aussies will still be widely regarded as the most dangerous of the lot. While the outcome of the championship is still uncertain, what is more or less certain is that this could be the final opportunity to see several of the legendary names in a World Cup stages. It’s almost certain that Glenn McGrath may play his last ODI in the Caribbean before bidding adieu to his great cricketing career. One can well expect the same from the likes of Inzamam-ul-Haq, Brian Lara, Sanat Jayasuriya, Marvan Atapattu, Muttiah Muraitharan, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden. I don’t see Anil Kumble playing another ODI after the World Cup. It’s also highly unlikely that Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid will play another World Cup. It’s possible that the three greats may choose to retire from ODIs to spend more quality time with their families and, in the process, help extend their respective Test careers.

The names mentioned above are some the greatest ever the game has seen. The list includes the biggest achievers in ODIs - the top six run-getters, the top two highest century makers, three of the top seven wicket-takers and the most successful wicket-keeper in ODI history.

One the saddest days in cricket was when Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh all quit Test cricket together. But that day may seem far less tragic compared to what possibly could happen by the time the curtain comes down on the 2007 World Cup.

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