Millennium Post

‘No WC match excited me more than a showdown against Pakistan

ICC cricket World Cup is the Olympics of cricket. I had my fair share of success but winning all four showdowns with Pakistan was special.

When I first started playing first-class cricket, the greatest incentive was to break into the Indian team and get the opportunity to play in 1992 World Cup. But at no stage did I actually think I would be on the plane to Australia until a Ranji Trophy game against Maharashtra in Pune in which I picked up seven wickets. That performance gave me a great deal of confidence and from then on I was lucky enough to perform consistently and find a place in the India team for the Test and triangular series in Australia preceeding the WC.

While the World Cup was the ultimate objective, another huge incentive was to bowl alongside Kapil Dev, who was a role model for all Indian fast bowlers. Kapil had always been my idol and I learnt a lot from bowling with him, touring with him and merely sharing the dressing room with him.

International cricket captivated me in one way or the other and it was a dream come true to be both a part of the World Cup and to be in a position to bowl alongside Kapil.

I have been privileged enough to have bowled alongside three or four generations of Indian fast bowlers. While Kapil was and will remain my idol, I truly enjoyed bowling with Venkatesh Prasad.

Gradually, we then moved on to the era of Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra. That was probably the golden period for India fast bowling. Under Saurav Ganguly, India started winning matches abroad as well, and it made giant strides in all forms of the game that existed then. The pinnacle, of course, was reaching the final of 2003 World Cup, an effort made possible by the consistent performances of Zaheer and Ashish. That tournament drove home the point that if a team has three or four really good fast bowlers, it can win many games and titles. At the end of the day, it is the bowlers who win you matches and that was proving to be only too true.

It was disappointing to finish my international career with defeat to Australia in the final in 2003 but India was up against the most formidable side which was playing really good cricket and had the added advantage of having played in the two previous WC finals. Ricky Ponting produced an absolute blinder, an innings which took the final away from us.

I bowled to some truly world-class batsmen during my career. Aravinda de Silva from Sri Lanka was among the toughest to bowl to while Inzamam-ul-Haq always seemed to have a lot of time. Brian Lara was another phenomenal batsman who made batting appear ridiculously easy. But Ponting was perhaps the toughest to bowl to, especially after he had played out the first 10 or 15 minutes.

I was part of four World Cups and each one was a unique experience. The first in 1992 was quite overwhelming because it was my first cup and everything happened too fast. Before we realised what was happening we were out of the tournament. After that one-run loss to Australia in Brisbane, everything seemed to work against us, and we were eliminated in group stage.

I thought we had a great team in 1996 and were playing very well in our own backyard.
Unfortunately, we lost pretty badly to Sri Lanka in the semifinal in Kolkata, a bitter disappointment given that it came on our own patch. I was also disappointed at our performance in 1999 in England.

I thought India had the personnel to deliver on the biggest stage. But the team was going through a lot of transition and while it did make it to the Super Six stage, things didn’t work out well after that.
By 2003, there were advances in technology. India had strategies in place, it knew and was in control of what it was doing. Apart from the two matches against Australia, India pretty much dominated the competition, and while losing the final was a bitter pill to swallow, it could take pride from the brand of cricket which was executed throughout the tournament.

I had my fair share of success at World Cups but no match excited me more than the four showdowns against Pakistan. That we won all four matches makes it even sweeter. Somehow or the other, we found a way to motivate ourselves that much more when we played Pakistan.

In many ways, especially for the fans of both the teams, it was like the final of the tournament, no matter even if it was just a pool fixture. Every match was high-energy, high-octane stuff, with needle such as the Javed Miandad-Kiran More incident at the SCG in 1992, the Aamir Sohail-Venkatesh Prasad face-off in Bangalore in 1996 and Sachin Tendulkar’s demolition of Shoaib Akhtar in Centurion in 2003. In contests such as these, both the winner and the loser is remembered for long, but for entirely different reasons, of course!

I see no reason why the India-Pakistan match in Adelaide in the coming World Cup will be any different. The strengths of the two teams are immaterial when India and Pakistan face each other. The keenness to win lifts the games of the players collectively so it will again be the match to look forward to at 2015 World Cup starting next month.

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