Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Muttiah Muralitharan and Jacques Kallis, we have the last of them at World Cup © Getty Images

 

By Akash Kaware

 

The quarter-finals of World Cup 2011 are done and dusted. We saw two pulsating contests, two thrashings, one upset and the end of a dynasty. The four matches involved four legends who were probably entertaining us on the World Cup stage for one last time. And we already have had to bid goodbye to two of them – Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis. Sachin Tendulkar’s hope of being part of a World Cup-winning Indian team stays alive while Muttiah Muralitharan has the opportunity to be in yet another World Cup champion side. But one thing is quite clear: we have, in all likelihood, seen the last of the four legends on an ODI stage.

 

Watching Ricky Ponting at Ahmedabad was like watching cricket’s version of Rocky IV. He was up against a better team, his team’s and his own powers were on the wane, and he was up against a partisan crowd that greeted every little success of his with silence, and every little failure with deafening roars. But while Rocky managed to win over the icy Russians by the end of the fight, the Ahmedabad crowd did itself – and the nation – a disservice by booing the fallen hero even at the presentation after India had won a hard-fought match. Ponting is no sage, but playing in India for the last time, he deserved a more respectable send-off.

 

His international career might not yet be over, though one gets the feeling that if he is stripped of the captaincy, he might be dropped from the team too. Players losing their captaincy but carrying on as players might be an option in other countries, but that’s not the Australian way of doing things. It would be a sad way to go, because if his Ahmedabad century is anything to go by, he still has a lot to offer as a batsman. He has often talked about getting inspired by Tendulkar’s second coming. There is no reason why he cannot get a second wind himself if he is relieved of the burdens of captaining a side in decline. Australia might do without Ponting the captain, but they still need Ponting the batsman.

 

Unlike Ponting, Jacques Kallis’s place in the South African side is under no immediate threat. By his standards, he had a quiet World Cup. But his value to the side is evident from the fact that it was his dismissal, along with that of AB de Villiers, which triggered the collapse to add another chapter to his nation’s infamous “C” list. Since South Africa’s exit, there have already been reams written about how devastated Graeme Smith is, and understandably so since he is the outgoing captain. But spare a thought for the man who has seen the same horror story being played out not once, not twice but five times! Yes, five! Only the really heartless would find it in themselves to poke fun at the South Africans at this moment.

 

From the moment the ball left his bat, which had essayed a seemingly good pull shot, to the moment it settled in Jacob Oram’s large hands at the mid-wicket boundary, many thoughts must have passed through Kallis’s mind. And the scary thought that a familiar story was about to repeat itself must’ve been one of them. He must’ve hoped that the young brigade, youngsters not haunted by the ghosts of the past, would finish off the far-from-daunting chase. But that wasn’t to be. He will soldier on for South Africa until his body and mind allow, but he seems destined to join the list of great players who never won a World Cup, a list in which he will find many of his distinghished compatriots.

 

Muttiah Muralitharan, of course, is retiring from the international stage after the World Cup. He still has a chance to add to the fairytale triumph of 1996. He was a shadow of his wily self against England in the quarter-final, but even at nearly 39, his fierce competitiveness hasn’t deserted him. He is a smiling assassin usually, but the sight of him screaming at Rangana Herath for dropping a catch off his bowling against England, will remain etched in memory as one of the images of this tournament.

 

The umpire must be able to hear his shoulder creak every time he bowls, and the hamstring has reduced him to hobbling to the crease. The ball doesn’t buzz anymore on its way to the batsmen, nor does it fizz off the pitch like it once used to. But he still has enough tricks in the bag for 120 more deliveries, and it would be one of cricket’s more romantic stories if the last international act of that aching shoulder is lifting the World Cup over his head while flashing that toothy smile.

 

If New Zealand and Pakistan don’t spoil the party, then the man most likely to stand in the way of Murali’s perfect swansong might be a 37-year old, who is in the form of his life. Sachin Tendulkar turns the clock back every time he goes out to bat these days, or more correctly, brings most clocks in India to a standstill! In fact, if India fails to win this World Cup, Tendulkar might be good enough to stick around until the next one! Jokes apart, what do you say about a man with 99 international centuries that hasn’t already been said? One just hopes that India does win it this time, so that Tendulkar can happily retire from the one-day game and prolong his Test career which still has some unfinished businesses, series victories in Australia and South Africa and a triple century to name a few.

 

One-day cricket almost seems to work in four-year cycles. One ends with the World Cup, and another begins. Even after this World Cup, a lot of captains will step down, and some will be sacked. Many players will retire, and many will be shown the door. Many coaches will depart, and some administrators too. Most teams will be settled again by the time the next World Cup rolls around and new heroes would have emerged. But without the likes of Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis, Muttiah Muralitharan and Sachin Tendulkar, the tournament will be much poorer.

 

(Akash Kaware is an Indian IT professional, who would’ve been a successful  international cricketer if it hadn’t been for an annoying tendency to run towards square-leg while facing tennis, rubber or leather cricket balls hurled at anything at little more than genuine medium-pace! Watching Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid convinced him that breaking into the Indian team was not going to happen anytime soon and hence he settled to become an engineer and MBA, who occasionally wrote about cricket. A few months ago, sensing his uselessness and constant use of cricket websites at work, his company banished him to Canada. His hopes of playing international cricket have, thus, been renewed!)