Thursday, Mar 06, 2003
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By Nirmal Shekar
The second best batsman in the world is on a flight home to the Caribbean, probably considering an unscheduled holiday around the time the second phase of the World Cup, leading up to the climax, hots up in South Africa.
When Brian Charles Lara stroked that marvellous hundred to win for West Indies a dramatic Cup opener against South Africa, few would have believed he'd be missing once the competition moved to the Super Six stage.
The second best team in the world on form over the last few years will have disbanded by now, every single member in the side wondering perhaps what to do when lowly visitors from elsewhere in the continent, Zimbabwe and Kenya, dance on their stage when they themselves are cooling their heals and licking their wounds.
Surely, Dr.Ali Bacher would not have met with such a scenario even in his worst nightmares.
So, it turns out that we might very well be `feasting' our eyes on an Ongondo and a Suji and a Shah in a World Cup semifinals instead of watching such familiar faces as a Lara or a Kallis or a Klusener.
Indeed, this has been a rather sensational preliminary phase in the World Cup with boycotts and rain and heroics missing in the original script combining to catapult a pair of lightweights into the big league even as the once-mighty West Indians, one of the pre-tournament favourites, the South Africans, and the men from the country that gave us this great game England were left stranded like commuters who arrived a minute too late to the platform even as the Express to the Super Six sped past them.
For all that, for the fan, it has been a jolly good ride for the most part not the least for the Indian fans and the first three weeks have offered us a lot to cherish. Depending on where we stand and what we savour, each of us will have a list of the best we've seen.
Here, then, is my Top Ten:
1. SACHIN'S SAVAGERY: This was the cricketing version of the Noble Savage. What we saw at the Supersport Park in Centurion when India began its reply to the rather impressive Pakistan total of 273 was not so much a great cricketer at his best but something of a magnificent Force of Nature at work.
Imagine, for a moment, the Amazon in spate; imagine, too, a great big volcano spewing forth; imagine being a spectator when the Big Bang occurred; think of a cyclone that sweeps across an island, uprooting everything standing.
Actually, this writer was thinking of all that when the little genius from Mumbai turned the fastest chucker in the business and his two great fast bowling colleagues into fidgety, fumbling midgets with an innings of such astounding brilliance that it took your breath away.
2. LARA'S THEME: When the Trinidadian torpedo is at his best, using the willow much like Rembrandt would a paintbrush or Ravi Shankar would the sitar strings, there are few better spectacles in the world of cricket.
Coming into the tournament with a big question mark over his form, Brian Lara went on to author a magnificent opening stanza to the World Cup with a hundred that left South Africa gasping, and the West Indies a winner by a short head.
Among this generation of cricketers, we have seen only one man bat better than Lara. And we must be proud that he is an Indian.
3. THE SYMONDS SYMPHONY: As one of those branded as a bits-and-pieces cricketer, not much was expected of Andrew Symonds. Perhaps a great stop here, a timely wicket there, a cameo innings of 30 or 35 to win a match.
In the event, the Symonds we saw against Pakistan, when Australia was in trouble, was something of a revelation. After playing himself in, in the company of Ricky Ponting, the gifted athlete mounted a brutal yet calculated onslaught on the Pakistan bowling for an unbeaten 143.
4. THE AUSSIE ASSASSINS: Not even the memories of what Bond and Tuffey and Oram and Co. did to our boys on made-to-order pitches in New Zealand would have prepared us for what we saw when Ponting tossed the new ball to Brett Lee in the match against India.
Sourav Ganguly and his men disappeared like small sand castles built by children on the beach in the face of monstrous waves as Lee and Jason Gillespie came at them. This was fast bowling at its best and lily livered batting at its worst, the sole exception being the little master.
5. THE FLAMING UPSET: Stephen Fleming was on fire. And South Africa's hopes of picking up its first points were reduced to ashes on a day when the laconic New Zealand captain came up with the best innings of his career.
In a match in which Messrs Duckworth and Lewis came on the scene yet again, Fleming's brilliance overshadowed a wonderful century by the in- form Herschelle Gibbs.
6. TRIVIA QUESTION: What would you have answered if, on the eve of this World Cup, you were asked to name a popular Canadian sportsman?
Wayne Gretsky, the all-time great ice hockey player? Perhaps the tainted Ben Johnson?
Now, of course, as a cricket lover, you know all about John Davison. You know all about his believe-it-or-not century off 67 balls against the West Indies. An off-spinner who bats at No. 9 for South Australia, Davison was in blazing form with the bat. And, should a trivia question come up four years from now, you have a rather useful name there.
7. AH-SWISH NEHRA AND HIS BIG NIGHT: The point about sport is, unless you have truly arrived on the big stage, you will always be a "great potential'' as Ashish Nehra was for a few seasons.
But on that memorable night against England, Nehra's left-arm fast bowling did to England what Gary Gilmour's craft accomplished in another era.
When the slanted deliveries whistled past them, the Englishmen were lucky. When it didn't, and took a spot of the bat, or leaden feet, they were gone.
8. OH, YEAH...IT'S OBUYA: Ladbrokes or William Hill in London would have offered you a fortune if you had wagered on Kenya beating the Sri Lankans.
Collins Obuya is not a betting man, so he backed himself to bowl the Lankans into a corner. And, he did that too in style, capturing five wickets for 24 runs and the man of the match award as the African team beat the 1996 world champions handsomely.
9. THE BIG Bs: Give me the Australian bench any day. You take the first XI. Indeed, there are few more inspiring performers in the sport than the men who come off the bench as replacements in the Australian team.
There is so much competition for places that men like Andy Bichel, when offered a chance, climb on some invisible ladder to metamorphose into giant performers as he did against England on a day when Michael Bevan, that remarkable death-defying hero of our times, was once again at his brilliant best.
10. THAT VAAS IT: Chaminda Vaas is perhaps one of the most under rated new ball bowlers in contemporary cricket. He is no Glenn McGrath. And he knows that too. That is the good part. For, within his limitations, he is a giant performer.
Six wickets for 25, four of them in the opening over, and three of them off the first three balls of the match, may have looked unbelievable if the opponents were top rated performers. But a record is a record and Vaas and his fans will take it, no matter that it came against Bangladesh.
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