The romance of World Cup

Written by Boria Majumdar | Updated: Jan 30 2011, 20:30pm hrs
One of the singular fairytales of the 2007 World Cup was the man of the series award won by the Australian legend, Glenn Mcgrath. Then 37, Mcgrath retired soon after the competition was over, bringing to an end a glorious international cricketing career.

While his was a fairytale similar to that of Imran Khans in 1992, legends like Brian Lara or Sachin Tendulkar have not been able to make the World Cup stage their own.

The case of Sachin Tendulkar is most interesting. Highest scorer and man of the tournament in 2003 with 673 runs, he had to settle for the runner-up prize. In 1996 too, he was the highest scorer of the competition with 523 runs, but could not save India from being ousted in the semi-finals. It was his 65 against the turning ball that was Indias only ray of hope at the Eden Gardens on that fateful day in March in 1996.

It was a game that eventually threatened to deprive Eden of its status as an international cricketing venue. Burning stands, broken galleries and a tearful Vinod Kambli are the enduring memories from that encounter.

With 93 international centuries, 47 in tests and 46 in ODIs, 25 more than second ranked Ricky Pontings combined tally, instantly the debate about whos the greatest ever is put to rest. Yet, he has never won the World Cup.

This World Cup, it is well known, is his last chance. Having scored almost 2,000 runs in World Cup cricket and having brought India perilously close to winning the silverware in 2003, Sachin, the patriot that he is, will want to taste ultimate glory at the refurbished Wankhede in front of his home crowd.

And what is of significance is that Sachin, in 2011, has the team to have a real crack at the silverware. A team with considerable batting and bowling depth and with the extra incentive of winning it for their legendary teammate, chances are India might witness a cardinal cricketing romance come true on April 2.

To push the fantasy a bit more: With Sachin on 97 international hundreds, it may well be that he gets his 100th hundred at this World Cup. A World Cup win to go with his 100th hundred, Indian fans can sacrifice their last dollar if this dream comes true.

Just like Sachin, Kallis, Ponting, Murali and Gayle, each of them legends of the game in their own right, will also be eyeing the silverware.

While Ponting will be defending his title won in 2003 and 2007, he has never been under as much pressure as now. Having lost the Ashes and with calls all over asking for his sacking as captain, Ponting wants to win the Cup more than ever before to sign out on a high.

Murali, who has already declared that World Cup 2011 will be his last international engagement, will want to end a legendary career with one last flourish. The 1996 World Cup in many ways saw the making of Sri Lankan cricket.

The performance graph will turn full circle if they accomplish a podium finish in 2011.

And for Kallis, perhaps in the form of his life, this is his final chance to win a major competition. South Africa has for over a decade been the team to beat in the World Cup and yet they have stumbled when it mattered the most.

With perhaps the best fast bowling attack in the world and a number of batsmen in form, the pressure on Kallis too is less than it has been in the past. This, coupled with the fact that he had a great IPL season three in 2010, should give him the extra confidence for the World Cup.

Others like Afridi, Brett Lee, Gayle and Mahela are also playing their last tournament adding to the romance of World Cup 2011.

Despite cricket being a team game, it is well known that it is also the most individualistic of all team sports and without the legends mentioned above, the story of the World Cup will not be half as interesting.

So much so that an India-Australia match can well become a clash between Tendulkar and Lee or Harbhajan and Ponting. Such individual duels turn into elements of fantasy, resulting in the creation of the much-needed hype surrounding the tournament.

The writer is a sports historian