The World Cup will see a winner from the subcontinent after a gap of almost 15 years. There will be fireworks and celebration on the night of April 2 which will be celebrated by either a billion people or a small island nation. Whichever the case, this World Cup has effectively vouched for the 50-over format.
As the 2011 World Cup reaches it finale, let’s look back at three teams which truly displayed the spirit of cricket in this competition – Pakistan, New Zealand and Ireland.
Ireland came to the World Cup with a reputation of providing stinging upsets and enthusiasm, but everybody expected those to be more of an off-day for the giants rather than pure skill on the part of the Irish. Yet, they rallied Bangladesh, bullied the Saffers and the Indians, nearly got past the West Indies, and comprehensively deflated England.
Ireland were fit and hungry for recognition. They were positive and they played like a family. In doing so they were able to attract the imagination of the entire cricketing fraternity and talks about them being awarded the Test status started to make rounds. But with the lack of a proper cricketing infrastructure, the dream seems to be far from completion. However, the effervescence they brought into this tournament was really refreshing and gives us more reasons to blood cricket at the associate levels.
New Zealand came to the World Cup after being through a very rough season. They didn’t make the final of the tri-series in Sri Lanka, and were humiliated 4-0 by Bangladesh, before being trashed 5-0 by India.
Things didn’t clear up on their return back home and they lost the series against Pakistan as well. Their batting wasn’t clicking and lack of depth players was hurting. Add to it, their bowling looked unimaginative and toothless in the absence of Shane Bond.
Mark Greatbatch was sacked and John Wright was appointed the coach of the beleaguered team. Under Wright, the team started to regroup once again. But their recent record in the subcontinent was poor and teams from Group B expected an easy quarter-final if they managed to top the group, because they thought Kiwis would be easy meat for them.
Then one fine evening Ross Taylor found his silent bat talking and it talked in such a way that Shoaib Akhtar was forced into retirement. Tim Southee suddenly became a venomous swinger of the cricket ball and Jesse Ryder started showing signs of maturity and purpose. With this new-found confidence they first slayed the Group B toppers, South Africa, in the quarter-finals and then raised visions of entering the final.
The World Cup campaign for the Kiwis ended, but not before they became the only team to have featured six times in a World Cup semi-final. The notion of them putting a ‘larger-than-life’ show every time in a world event, remained intact and they went back with their heads held high.
With Wright and Taylor in command, New Zealand a bright future awaits them.
Pakistan came to this World Cup with all sorts of controversies. Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammed Aamir had just been handed a 5-year ban for spot-fixing and players had to play home matches in alien countries on account of a volatile environment back home. The extreme situations had earlier prompted the ICC to strip Pakistan of the rights to hold matches during the World Cup.
Pakistan had captain in Shahid Afridi who was not a popular with the PCB at that time. His position as the captain was not confirmed till two week before the first ball was bowled at Mirpur. Nobody, including Afridi himself, expected to make the final at any stage.
If there was any team more battered, they would have stopped playing cricket, but not Pakistan. They came, and for most part of the tournament they were just unbeatable. They ended the 34-match winning streak of the Aussies in the World Cup and then conquered the high-flying Sri Lankans in their own backyard, before loosing to the Kiwis – their only defeat in the league stages.
Enter the quarter-finals, and they demolished the West Indies as though they were some school cricket team. Then they ran into a well-planned and composed Indians to finally bow out of the tournament. Afridi accepted the blame for the semi-final loss but was justifiably was proud of his team.
There was faith in his words and hope that Pakistan will climb the trough of the past and move forward towards a crest which will see them as champs, and not cheats. Afridi, Waqar Younis and the others have done a great job in catapulting a demoralized team into a winning unit.
The bowling of Wahab Riaz, Umar Gul and Afridi himself and the promise, Ahmed Shehzad, Asad Shafiq and Mohammed Hafeez have shown in the tournament were standouts and should stand Pakistan in good stead for the future.
All in all with these teams looking to climb the crest of glory, the future of world cricket looks competitive and exiting.
(Baiju Joseph is a Bangalore-based Junior Scientist at a Bio-Informatics firm who is deeply passionate about cricket and likes to bowl fast whenever he gets an opportunity to ply his cricketing skills)
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