Saturday, March 03, 2007

Memories of great World Cup feats

If you are a cricket lover and have a history of slipping into the odd bout of dejection like most fellow mortals, save this link. You can finish two rounds of globetrotting and yet struggle to find too many better remedies. Cricinfo recalls the 11 greatest World Cup comebacks in it, tide-turning performances forced in the backdrop of self and / or team facing an extreme adversity.

A few personal memories are attached to each of them barring two. While I had the privilege of watching the entirety of two of those performances unfold, I have watched live only parts of a few others on that list. I have watched replays /read / heard of the rest.

It is hard to fathom the exact impact of
Kapil's 175* against Zimbabwe in 1983 on Kapil's eventual World Cup winning team, and consequently on the popularity of cricket in India. The pleasant-est memory associated with that epic will always be the twinkle in my father's eyes whenever he used to narrate his memories of the day to me twenty odd years back.

Those were not exactly memories - like other Indian cricket followers dad too was blanked out by a broadcast strike on the match day - but that perhaps helps add to the old-world charm of the epic feat. It was less of listening to a cricket match and more of papa turning into a story telling granny. I hope I can discuss it with him the next time we meet, just to catch up on that old twinkle once again.

That Murray-Roberts partnership is another one that shaped dad's cricketing beliefs forever. Whenever he sees any of the numerous West Indian lower order collapses of recent years he seldom fails to remind that Roberts and others of that old lot of quicks were far better with the bat as well.

Us papa-son pair were together on 13th March 1996 at the Eden Gardens when India took on Sri Lanka in the
1st semi final of the 1996 World Cup. A few days earlier I was shocked at people writing off the latter, a favourite with me, as worthy opponents of India in the semis and on that day I had inauspiciously (I'm an Indian fan first...) reminded my friends of the depth in SL ranks even after that Sanath-Kalu-gobbling first over from Srinath. Eden was burning around seven hours later but the ugly sight was hardly more painful than the inferno that raged inside after my worst fears had come true.

But I remember that numbing show from Aravinda with immense fondness. How unfortunate it is that the sports tellies in India never show that innings just because India happened to be on the losing side. It blew out the hopes of millions eleven years back but illuminated the best aspects of batting for immortality. Aravinda's driving, as in The Innings in the next match, was divine and he was easily the best batsmen in the planet during that week. I fail to recall having watched any other fifty scored in less than 35 balls that involved no lofted stroke, where all boundary strokes were perfect ground shots between fielders.

The very next day I watched the
semi final loss of West Indies to Australia live on television. I never got the compensation I demanded for the previous night and felt hopeless about life for a time after it actually happened. I still find it hard to believe West Indies lost after getting within 40 runs with 8 wickets remaining, with skipper Richardson unbeaten.

Just as Murray and Roberts had shaped dad's views on West Indian lower order batting, watching most of Fleming's
Jo'burg 2003 heroics live contributed to a growing belief that Fleming is extra effective against South Africans. It turned out to be a false impression when I checked it up later but what a commanding innings it was!

I also watched most of Bevan's unbelievable-yet-so-familiar rescue act against England in the same edition. A real indicator of the man's calibre is that he did it even when the opposition were not getting slack or celebrating prematurely - those days nobody dared indulge in it with him unbeaten.

As far as missing great matches go I have a history of wretched luck. I missed Inzy's hurricane 37-ball 60 in Pakistan's
1992 semi-final win over New Zealand - er, I don't even remember the reason. [An insatiable query inside makes me watch replays of that match and the 1992 final & inspect if the thin man from 1992 is indeed the man we know as Inzamam-ul-Haq today.] But I recall some others. Australia and South Africa played out the (ODI) Match of the Twenty-first Century on 13th March last year while I was travelling. And I spare them not an iota of hatred for doing nearly the same to me with the Match of the Twentieth Century - the 1999 World Cup tied semi final.

I had reached home just in time on 17th june 1999 to watch the final 3 or 4 overs of the best cricket script of all time (Even Lagaan, I'm afraid, comes second). I remember Reiffel spilling a Klusener catch off Mcgrath over the boundary soon after. The four deliveries of the final over were the stuff that separate the strong from the immune.

Strange are the ways of fame and glamour. Some are destined to hog the camera flashes while others will never be worshipped come what may. Damien Fleming, the Australian medium pacer, has never been a star. I saw him at the Mohali airport in a blue shirt during the 2006 ICC trophy and promptly thought of the early setbacks he caused during India's losing chase in the league match with Australia in the 1996 World Cup. But his greatest moment, one that gave his team a chance to win the 1999 World Cup, never came back to me. Damien Fleming's name features way below in columns, episodes and, perhaps, even sections of human memories dedicated to its celebration.

Imagine this man's resilience at that frozen moment against Klusener in having been hit for two blinding fours in the 1st two balls and still coming up with two unhittable deliveries on the trot after that with the scores tied. Try to measure the self-belief in a team that misses a run out chance in the first of them and yet believe in deserving another chance to win it. Klusener showed a lot of strength but it came second to immunity from pressure.

That gives me a nice opportunity to end this discussion with my favourite World Cup tale of flowering under fire: Steve Waugh's hundred in the Aus-v-RSA Super Six match four days before that semi final encounter. It was an elimination match for Australia and who would come to rescue but the man who was instrumental in the team winning their first World Cup in 1987. And what would he score but the highest score of his career.

This is the match from his 1st international season when I first watched him, a twenty year old then, play his now-famous no-nonsense game to extinguish broadening Indian hopes of a surprise win. On 6th January 2004, his last day as a cricketer, he altered his methods a bit but did exactly the same. In between he became the cause of many such moments of lament to us Indians and other non-Australian cricket fans across the world, but such men leave you little choice but to bid them farewell with a 'Way to go'. I'm glad I did that on 6th Jan 2004.

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