What it takes to win the cricket World Cup

What it takes to win the cricket World Cup

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A world cup winning team must have a solid, performing core. That much is obvious. Performing is the operative word here. Else, India, with a line up boasting Sourav Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan, would not have returned without clearing the group stage in 2007, and South Africa, more often than not kicking off the tournament as serious title contenders, would have a better world cup record than they do. That said, there are other things that lift winning sides, especially when they are short of the kind of aura and ammunition the West Indian sides of 1975 and 1979 and the Australian ones of 2003 and 2007 possessed.

An inspirational leader, for starters. Kapil Dev was perhaps the lone Indian cricketer who went into the 1983 edition with any degree of conviction that his side had a shot at the title. This was oddly optimistic on the man’s part given the Indians’ limited exposure to the rhythms of the shorter format and their sad world cup record – a solitary win versus whipping boys East Africa in 1975 and none in 1979, including an embarrassing loss to then minnows Sri Lanka. But then Kapil was twenty-four and, well, Kapil. In 1992, the back-from-retirement Imran Khan’s self-belief rubbed off on a Pakistani side with perennial talent management issues, missing (Saeed Anwar and Waqar Younis) and semi-fit (Javed Miandad and Imran himself) stalwarts, and an awful tournament start.

If Kapil and Imran imbued their squads with self-belief, other captains gave their men a sense of higher purpose. Arjuna Ranatunga’s 1996 side fought for Lankan respect, needled by mouths which refused to acknowledge the island nation’s rise and a humiliating Australian tour where the iconic and much-loved Muttiah Muralitharan was called out for his bowling action and labelled a cheat. Allan Border’s 1987 side was intent on proving that Australia still had the wherewithal to recapture its heydays after the Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh era had passed.

Not to be ignored is the tipping point performance, wins snatched from precarious situations that revive sagging teams, throw them lifelines they end up making most of. India’s 1983 campaign would have drawn confidence from its opening win against tournament favorites West Indies, but it took Kapil’s unbeaten 175 versus Zimbabwe to resuscitate it after losses to Australia and West Indies (in a second encounter; the sides would meet one more time in that memorable June 25 final at Lord’s) and the looming prospect of a third with the scoreboard reading 17/5. With only one win in their first five outings and having set a modest target earlier in the day, Pakistan was all but out of the hunt in 1992 before leggie, Mushtaq Ahmad triggered an Australian collapse with his dismissals of a settled Dean Jones and skipper Border. They didn’t look back after that, going on to win the next five games and the title. For all the muscle they packed in 2003, Australia would not have made it to the Super Six but for Glenn McGrath’s five-for versus the West Indians.

Last but not least are the crunch-time shows in the semis and the finals, where the last ones standing have to put their best foot forward for a place in history. It doesn’t matter whether they have stormed or sneaked their way to the tournament’s business end. The stakes are high, the slates have been rubbed clean, and it is time to fire because there will literally be no tomorrow.

A late charge from the unsung Mike Valetta (45 not out off 31) gave the Australians a total that just about managed to elude England in 1987 final. Inzamam-ul-Haq’s 60 off 37 balls in the 1992 semi-final dashed the hopes of an exciting and brilliantly-led New Zealand side that had done little wrong till then. In another edition (2015) the Kiwis shone in, Australian James Faulkner would put paid to their hopes, breaking a threatening partnership between Ross Taylor and Grant Elliott. Shane Warne brought down South Africa in the 1999 semi-final, shutting out what looked a comfortable chase till Steve Waugh threw the ball at him. Matthew Hayden’s early stepping out to Zaheer set the tone for 2003 final, Ricky Ponting rubbed it in with a blistering unbeaten 140 and India, worthy finalists never recovered.

What does this mean for the ongoing edition? Each of the surviving sides (Afghanistan, South Africa and the West Indies are out of the reckoning at the time of writing) would have a point to make. Australia may be looking for an upper after Sandpapergate, England to signal a switch to a free-spirited style of play they haven’t really been known for, India to announce their on-field supremacy over a game that they rule financially, New Zealand to add a trophy that they have often come achingly close to, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to reclaim their respect amidst the many off and on-field challenges hobbling them.

Only time will tell how effectively their leaders channelled and sustained these quests and the men who will make the difference in the decisive stages of the tournament. However should a Pakistani or Lankan be holding the trophy on July 14, we know it was Haris Sohail and Lasith Malinga who kept the door ajar for their sides just when it was perilously close to shutting.

(Manish Dubey is a policy analyst and writer.)

The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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