A World Cup in any sport is the absolute pinnacle. It's the event which every sportsman dreams of playing in, and, for me, the ICC Cricket World Cup was always special.
Long before the mega event, I would plan extensively, as I always wanted to be at my peak because I knew the whole world was focused on an event which only comes every four years. If you do something special in this showcase event you become an instant star.
As children, we used to play our own street World Cup in Lahore. As a teenager, I remember playing one of these tournaments in the famous Mazang area to the backdrop of radio commentary of the 1983 World Cup. My first memories are of Kapil Dev hitting an astronomical 175 against Zimbabwe. That inspired me a lot and the desire in me to play in an ICC Cricket World Cup multiplied.
Four years later, I was playing in World Cup matches in my own country. I can't forget the buzz around the event. When it's World Cup time, it's totally different from any bi-lateral series as we have to think of various opponents and not one. You have to keep your focus on every game, every opponent, every stage and take into account the different conditions of various grounds.
For me, it got even better when it came to the ICC Cricket World Cup 1992 and we won the event from nowhere. We were written off right from the start and a string of defeats hurt our chances, but our skipper Imran Khan's resolve to win the World Cup was unwavering. The manner in which we qualified for the semi-final and final is still an incredulous memory for all of us. Inzamam-ul Haq became a hero overnight in the semis, and lady luck smiled on me in the final, highlighting the fact that a good performance in the ICC Cricket World Cup can make a player an icon.
A professional cricketer dreams of not only playing in the World Cup but, as it happened to me, excelling on the big stage. Some players never get a chance to play in a World Cup and that is very unfortunate. It is a lifetime opportunity as it comes once every four years, so no professional cricketer wants to miss it. Playing an ICC Cricket World Cup in your country's colours is the biggest source of pride, and winning it is a priceless treasure.
Personally, I think a World Cup triumph completes the career of a professional cricketer. And the testament to this are the reactions of Sachin Tendulkar when he lifted the ICC Cricket World Cup in his sixth attempt in Mumbai in 2011. These were an expression of total satisfaction from a modest and humble player who wanted to win the World Cup so desperately. On 2 April 2011, Tendulkar engraved his name in gold as the greatest, most accomplished and complete cricketer.
In contrast, there are some of the modern day icons who have never tasted World Cup success. Ask Brian Lara, Rahul Dravid, Saurav Ganguly and Jacques Kallis, and they will tell you what is missing from their distinguished careers. Likewise, talk to Mike Gatting and he will share his regret of playing a reserve sweep shot in the ICC Cricket World Cup 1987 final, and I am sure the drop catch of Steve Waugh in Headingley in 1999 still haunts Herschelle Gibbs. Similarly, Waqar Younis will be cursing his early career fitness issues which forced him to return home just before the start of the ICC Cricket World Cup 1992.
I am excited about the event returning to the vast lands of Australia and New Zealand, as cricket dominates the summer in both countries. The ICC Cricket World Cup will make this summer extra special. The exotic locations of Australia and New Zealand, the excellent facilities - which have been upgraded for the event - and the challenging conditions will combine to make this 11th edition of the ICC Cricket World Cup the highlight of the sporting year.
I would like to see the sides making optimum use of the time in the lead-up to the event so that they are best prepared for the event, which will be an extremely challenging and difficult one, and will test the skills, fitness and mental strength of the players to the limits. Go to Australia and New Zealand early to try to adjust to the conditions. Once you adapt, life is much easier.
I am anxiously waiting for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 to start, and, throughout the event, I will be itching to go out and bowl myself. It will be tough for me not to go into flashback mode and remember my magical deliveries at the MCG, which I consider as some of my very best.
It is time though for this generation of cricketers to prove themselves and I hope that when the final comes around on March 29, it will be as memorable an occasion as it was when we lifted the Cup at the same venue 22 years ago.