As a build up to this world cup, ESPNSTAR through all three of its channels, have been showing day and night previous world cup matches. There has been a similar overload of world cup history and the exploits winning 1983 team lead by Kapil Dev. All this nostalgia may be well and good, but it rings hollow with me to a large extent. As a kid, watching the 1983 Indian team defeat the mighty West Indies at Lord’s used to give me Goosebumps, but disappointment, time after time has even soured the memory of enjoying Kapil Dev running back a mile and taking a tough catch to dismiss Sir Vivian Richards at a crucial point. If you think about it, even if a person gets interested in cricket at a really young age, say 5-7, no one born after 1977-1978 really remembers or knows the feeling of India winning a World Cup. This leaves you with all Indian cricket fans below the age of approximately 33-34 who don’t know what it feels to see their team victorious at this tournament. In fact, it is this very age group of cricket lovers, who can’t really imagine any team but Australia winning the darn thing. They were champions in 1987, finalists in 1996, winners 1999, 2003 and 2007. So barring the 1992 tournament, ironically in Australia itself, the Australian team have all but once kicked everyone’s teeth in. I for one, fear not Pakistan or South Africa in a World Cup, I fear only Australia. So all this talk of the decline of the Australian team since 2007 doesn’t really give much comfort, the memory of the trouncing in the 2003 final is still fresh. The image of Ricky Ponting smashing the ball for a six time and time again into the stands at the Wanderers, has been burnt into every Indian cricket fans mind.
Ricky Ponting is still around, and so are a couple of the bowlers who he smashed to all corners on March 23, 2003. Zaheer Khan who has since become one of the finest fast bowlers in the world, went for 67 runs in 7 overs at an economy rate of 9.57 without a wicket. Ashish Nehra, who has made a comeback and made a good enough one to merit a world cup selection also bowled that day, he was the most economical bowler in the Indian side that day, giving away 57 runs in ten overs without a wicket. Harbhajan Singh, who took both Australian wickets that fell, went for 49 runs from his eight overs at an economy rate of 6.12. Granted Ricky Ponting’s prowess has waned since that fateful day, and the Indian Survivors from that final are now the stalwarts of a fantastic ODI side, yet will they be able to shrug off the ghosts of the past and exact revenge if presented with an opportunity.
Another nemesis of India in World Cups since 1996, Sri Lanka, is one team whom no one should be taking lightly. If both Sri Lanka and India finish at the top of their respective groups, which is likely, they will not have to face each other till the final of the tournament if both manage to get that far. The last time the world cup was played in the Sub Continent it was won by Sri Lanka, defeating the Australians in the final. They were finalists in 2007 as well, where they were thoroughly outplayed just as India was in 2003, however, the core of that team survives in this edition as well, and a follow up performance at home is something I would not be betting against.
There is one thing the all the critics agree upon, that this is the most open world cup since 1999. In 2003 and 2007 it was a foregone conclusion that Australia were going to win, it was just a question of against whom and by how much. This time around, you would have a hard time picking the semi-finalists with a large degree of confidence or certainty. The cynic would say that the quality of cricket will be lower than in 2003 or 1999 due to the nature of the pitches, or the quality of cricket having gone down since then. However it is certain that this World Cup will display many more matches which go down to the last few balls, as there is precious little to choose between the top 5-6 teams. Let the cynic crib about the quality of cricket, but there can be no doubt that there will be high quality entertainment and drama on the world’s largest stage, and that has to be good for the health of the game. Here’s to hoping that the World Cup re-energizes the ODI format which has been taking a severe beating from entertaining T20 cricket and high quality test cricket and ends the debate as to whether all three formats of the game can co-exist side by side.