Around 2004 at the age of 7, I was perplexed by a piece of news on a regional channel. The news was the announcement of Indian team list for the upcoming series. The anchor concluded the news stating Sourav Ganguly as the captain. The Malayalam word for captain can also be translated as " hero". I took the latter.
I was bewildered, how could a sport have predetermined hero? Even if it is possible, I was disappointed and annoyed that it wasn't Sachin Tendulkar. Like most children of my time, I had known Sachin before any acquaintance with cricket. To end the curiosity, I started watching the sport. The Sri Lanka tour of Zimbabwe in 2004 was my first introduction to cricket. It took another year for me to get into the thick of things. Around 2005, cricket was much different from now. There weren't any exuberant T20 leagues around the world. T20 was still in its infancy. England winning ashes after 18 years was the biggest news. 3 world cups have passed since and we are into the 4th. Only a handful of players from that time are active. Almost all of them are playing their last world cup. The dawn of 2019 ICC world cup will be the most befitting occasion to look back at how each of them fared.
No appraisal is needed to determine how phenomenal a career Chris Gayle had. He had evolved from an intimidating West Indian batsman to the universe boss, amassing over 19000 international runs. He remains a beacon for the power hitters. He holds the record for most sixes in international cricket. For a batsman who has scored two triple centuries in test and one double century in ODI, it may be unfair to say he was at his best in T20. Such was his rapport with the format. In 2007, he marked the advent of T20I into popularity with a century in the inaugural T20 world cup match. No other player dominated the format with such ferocity as Gayle did. He will walk off the field with an impeccable career and as the greatest T20 batsman.
Shoaib Malik always played the game with a smile. Starting as a Number 10 batsman, he aggregated over 11000 runs and 200 wickets in international cricket. He was exceptional against India in ODI averaging over 48. Four of his nine ODI tons were against India. The curious case of Malik is that he played all the champions trophy since his debut but missed 3 of the 5 world cups. 2019 will be his last world cup. eventually when he takes his pads off, he might feel underachieved but the ever-smiling Shoaib Malik always played the game in the right spirit. He will always be a paradigm for the gentleman's game.
In 2012, while being Pakistan's opening batsman in all formats, Hafeez became the number two ranked bowler and all-rounder in both limited over formats. Such immense was his talent in all facets of the game. He came to Pakistan team in their resurrection phase after the 2003 world cup fiasco. Even though the first half of his career has been inconsistent Hafeez started making his significance from the earlier part this decade. Scoring over 12000 runs and taking nearly 250 wickets, Hafeez became a late bloomer for Pakistan. In 2019 world cup he is entrusted with a key role in solidifying the middle order and keeping the opposition batsman dormant for few overs. Hafeez may bid adieu to the international cricket soon and will be remembered as "professor" among cricket aficionados for a long time.
Around March 2007 news has surfaced that a 21-year-old English fast bowler has offered a kidney to his father. For the sake of his son' s career, the father turned the offer down. In 2019, he is an important member of country's world cup campaign. Plunkett made his international debut in 2005 but for the most part of his career, he was out of the national team. He turned his career around in the last 4 years. Post WC 2015 only 6 bowlers have taken more wickets in ODI than his tally of 85. In England's venture to become the best ODI side after 2015 World cup debacle, he played an indispensable role. At 34, This may be his last world cup and If England comes out triumphant, he can raise the ball one last time with head high.
Earliest memory of Ross Taylor was his 128 against Sri Lanka in 2006. An innings characterized by his trademark slog-sweeps and cover drives. Even though he had to mute down his slog sweep later in his career, he continued his prolific run scoring. Ross Taylor is among the best batsmen of our time. Scored over 16000 runs with 38 centuries, Ross Taylor had a fairly consistent international career. Averaging in the higher 40s in both test and ODIs, he is yet to show any trace of senescence. Leading to the ICC world cup 2019, Taylor is in the zenith of his game. The fact that a 35-year-old Ross Taylor is the talisman for New Zealand imposes how great a player he is. Irrespective what happens in this world cup, he will retire as one of the best.
At age 34, what Dinesh Karthik accomplished in international cricket from 15 years is nowhere justice to the talent he holds. he had only scored around 3000 international runs. Apart from his nimble effort to stump Michael Vaughan and an improbable 8 ball 29 against Bangladesh, there aren't many memorable highlights in his career. Hopefully, he may turn around his luck in the future considering he has at least three or four years of active cricket.
Almost everyone must have tried his bowling action at least once. Lasith Malinga has over 500 wickets in international cricket since his debut in 2004. He is one bowler who played his heart out every time he picked up a ball. His 4 wickets in 4 consecutive balls against SA in 2007 world cup is an anecdote for the same. Similar to Chris Gayle, with due respect to his performance in longer formats Malinga was at his foremost in T20. He was like an artist in the shortest format. His deadly Yorkers and slower balls were top-hole. He will leave the field as the best T20 bowler ever. No cricket fan will ever forget his unorthodox bowling style and his arduous efforts. Present Sri Lankan team is of no match for the team he started his career with. Yet he will play the 2019 world cup to give his last bit for the team.
On 19 January 2011, when Bangladesh cricket team announced their 15 member world cup squad, there was berserk among the cricket fans in Bangladesh over the exclusion of Mashrafe Mortaza. The brave-hearted cricketer faced the media the next day with tears. 8 years later, he is leading his country for one last time. Made his debut back in 2001,unfortunately injuries were impediments throughout his career. In the career spanning 18 years, he scored nearly 3000 runs and took over 380 wickets in international cricket. He led the Bangladesh cricket team into the quarterfinals of ICC world cup 2015 and semi-finals of ICC champions trophy 2017. More than the stats, he will be remembered for his lionheart. The History of Bangladesh's flourish in International cricket cannot be abridged without mentioning Mortaza's name. He has played a significant role in almost all of the country's cricketing milestones. An impeccable captain, Mortaza will leave the field with roars of applause from the cricket fans. remember, what he has done to Bangladesh cricket is equivalent to what Sourav Ganguly or Imran Khan had done to their team.
What Amla brings to crease is his serenity. After struggles in the initial years, Amla ensured himself a place in the history books of cricket. He has scored over 18000 international runs including 55 centuries. Initially regarded as a test batsman, his illustrious ODI stats are parallel only to that of Virat Kohli. At 35, he is probably playing his final World cup and would like to cease the world cup misery for the country. He certainly deserves the cup which many greats from his country were deprived. He would certainly end his career as one of the contemporary greats of cricket.
Around 2005, during my early days of introduction to cricket, whenever a chase gets into a tense situation, the commentators cite a left-handed Australian batsman. They expect a Michael Bevan line innings for the batting team to win. 14 years later very rarely will anyone mention Michael Bevan in a similar situation. These days, an ever determined looking batsman from India epitomizes finishing the game under pressure. For MS Dhoni, Michael Bevan is among one of the few names he replaced in his 14 years long international career. With more than 17000 runs and 800 victims behind the stumps, he is among the finest in the game. As captain very few had tasted the level of success that he had. The greatest strength of Dhoni is his nonpareil equanimity. When he shakes hands and takes out the stump for one last time, the name MS Dhoni itself speak for what he has achieved. In 2019, MS Dhoni is still in his prime. If in this edition of world cup, there comes a situation akin to the 2011 world cup or the N number of instances where he came out to bat under pressure, MS Dhoni has procured enough confidence to save some air so that we can shout our lungs out while he finishes the game.
Also read - Most sixes in world cupPublished 10 Jun 2019, 11:00 IST