While the ICC Cricket 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 growing up and I learnt a lot from bowling with him, touring with him and merely sharing a dressing room with him, watching him prepare and then go out and perform day after day. International cricket captivated me in one way or the other, and it was a dream come true to be both a part of the ICC Cricket World Cup and to be in a position to be bowling alongside Kapil.
I have been privileged enough to have bowled alongside three or four generations of India fast bowlers. While Kapil was and will remain my idol, I truly enjoyed bowling in partnership with Venkatesh Prasad. He was easily my best fast bowling partner. There was a sense of belonging in that Venky and I came from the same state, and since we knew each other really well, there was that synergy when we operated together. Venky started off his Test career very well in England in 1996, and that’s when I realised that if you have more than one good fast bowler in a side, it helps both the team and your own peformance.
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 the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003, an effort that was 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 of cricket, and, therefore, many 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 of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003, but India was up against a most formidable side that was playing really good cricket and had the added advantage of having played in the two previous ICC Cricket World Cup finals.
Just as Australia was used to the occasion, India was a little overawed, and it showed in the brand of cricket the two teams played. Ricky Ponting produced an absolute blinder, an innings that took the final away from us, and that really was that.
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 the art of batting appear ridiculously easy. But Ricky was perhaps the toughest batsman to bowl to, especially after he had played out the first 10 or 15 minutes. I always felt it was your form that determined what the batsman did. When you are bowling well, you felt that it was a very good challenge to test yourself against these quality batsmen, a kind of a battle within a battle that you keenly looked forward to.
I was part of four ICC Cricket World Cups, and each one was a unique experience. 1992 was quite overwhelming, because it was my first World 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 the first stage.
I thought we had a great team in 1996 and we were playing very well in our own backyard. Unfortunately, we lost pretty badly to Sri Lanka in the semi-final 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 it would do well and that 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 that 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 that was executed throughout the tournament.
The ICC Cricket World Cup is the stage that truly evaluates your performance in the four-year period between two tournaments. When you cross that stage at the end of one World Cup, you turn around and look at your performances in those four years, across all formats. It is crucial to perform well in the World Cup as it keeps you in the hunt. Many big names have lost their places in the national side after a poor World Cup, which alone is indicative of the fact that it is the pinnacle of all tournaments. To me, the ICC Cricket World Cup is the Olympics of cricket.
I had my fair share of success at the 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 teams, it was 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 ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 will be any different. The strengths of the two sides are immaterial when the two sides face each other. The keenness to win lifts the games of the players collectively, that will be the match to look forward to at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.
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