January 28, 2015

THE PLAYERS WE WILL MISS...

AT THE 2015 WORLD CUP

The 2011 World Cup is extremely special for all Indian cricket fans, me being no exception. With India winning international cricket's most coveted title after a gap of 28 long years, the scenes of captain M S Dhoni sealing the victory in the finals over the Lankans with his trade mark 'helicopter shot' or that of Harbhajan Singh and Virat Kohli carrying batting legend Sachin Tendulkar post the prize distribution ceremony on his home ground at the Wankhede in Mumbai still fill our chest with pride. Overall, the entire 45 day tournament hosted by three Asian countries was hailed as a major success, generating millions of dollars in revenue apart from the display of quality cricket from players of the 14 participating nations. As the next edition of the series co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand is all set to kick-off in the next couple of weeks, here is a look at the five players who we will miss at the 2015 Cricket World Cup.

(5) Muttaih Muralitharan: For the legend that he is, the spin wizard from Sri Lanka did not set the stage on fire, at least in the manner that he and millions of his fans would have wished, four years ago. With the world cup being held in the Sub-continent which is known to favor the spinners, a lot was expected from him considering that he had already announced his retirement from international cricket at the end of the tournament. Of course, that does not mean that the Lankan spinner did not leave his mark on the 2011 edition of the tournament. In the nine matches that he played for in the series, he picked up 15 wickets at a bowling average of 19.40. His best 4 for 25 came against New Zealand in a group match. Facing a confident Indian side at the finals, he was expected to turn the match in favor of the islanders by destroying the Indian middle order which was known to have problems with the turning ball, after Malinga had sent back openers - Sachin and Sehwag. However, Dhoni who was Murali's team mate in the IPL side Chennai Super Kings, negotiated him well, thereby helping India lift the cup. The highest wicket taker in both ODIs and Tests, he called it a day at the end of the world cup, a tournament that he had won way back in 1996. Truly, for the kind of bowler that Murali was, Rangana Herath has big shoes fill in.

(4) Jonathan Trott: The stylish right handed batsman was England's most prolific run getter in the last edition of the world cup. Having scored five half centuries and ending with an excellent average of little over 60, he was fourth on the list of the highest run scoring batsmen, behind some of the best batters of our generation including Sachin Tendulkar and Kumara Sangakkara. In 2011, he became synonymous with 'consistency'; top scoring in 4 of the 7 matches that England played in the series including a brilliant 86 against Sri Lanka in the fourth quarter finals that saw the end of English efforts to win their maiden world cup. Possibly, the only thing that Trott could have done was that he failed to convert his starts into big scores. Battling stress-related issues since 2013 that even saw him pull out of the Ashes midway, the 33 year old was left out of the list of 30 probables for the tournament in a move that surprised many. It is now up to the young guns - Morgan, Root and Ballance to shoulder responsibility of the English batting order in absence of ace performers including Trott and his then captain Andy Strauss.

(3) Zaheer Khan: At 32 years, the left-arm pacer was in peak form in the summer of 2011. Spear heading the relatively mediocre Indian bowling attack, he proved to be a match winner, snapping 21 wickets, finishing as the joint highest wicket taker along with Pakistani all-rounder Shahid Afridi. He bowled about 81 overs in the tournament, the highest by any bowler, showing how fit he was back then. An average of below 19 and a strike rate of 23.2 portray his ability to pick up scalps on the 'dead' pitches of the Sub-continent that are considered to be the 'graveyard' for fast bowlers. Apart from striking early, he also displayed the unique ability to get scalps with the old ball when he came in for his second or third spell in the death overs. In the course of the tournament, he was Dhoni's go-to guy whenever a partnership was going strong. He took three wickets against four different teams in the qualifying stages - England, Netherlands, Ireland and West Indies. He produced another brilliant spell in the finals, taking three wickets in spite of conceding 60 runs in his 10 over quota. Though he won a lot of praise for his role in India's world cup triumph, his slump began immediately after the tournament when he injured his hamstring in first test in the disastrous tour of England. To be frank, we have still not found a replacement for the old war horse as yet; Yadav, Kumar and Shammi still have a long way to go.

(2) Sachin Tendulkar: There is hardly a list which the batting maestro from Mumbai does not top. Still, I rate him the second on this count down. Anyway, international cricket's greatest batsman who like Murali was playing his final world cup always has a penchant for delivering on the biggest stage of them all. Featuring in all editions of the tournament since 1992, he is the highest run scorer in world cup history having amassed a staggering 2278 runs. Of this, 482 came in 2011 when Sachin emerged as the second highest run getter behind Dilshan. The batting legend scored two centuries, both of which came against quality oppositions. An innings of 120 against England and another ton versus South Africa, the only match that India lost in the series. Besides, he went past the 50 mark on two occasions. Playing the final in front of his home crowd in Mumbai, he was out cheaply. Nonetheless, appreciating his contribution to Indian cricket as a whole and for inspiring a generation of Indians across different streams, the young brigade honored Sachin by carrying him on their shoulders in the post match celebration while he waved the tricolor. With this win, he achieved the only laurel that had eluded the Little Master for so long, silencing his few remaining critics. There is no doubt that India is going to miss its greatest cricketing son in this edition of the world cup.

(1) Yuvraj Singh: Battling bad form, inconsistency and mostly importantly - Cancer, Yuvraj fulfilled his true potential in world cup 2011 where he was adjudicated as the 'Man of the Series'. He scored 362 runs in the series at an outstanding average of over 90, the next best only to Kumara Sangakkara. This included a ton against West Indies and four half centuries. His innings of 57 against Australia saw the Indians show the door to the defending champions. It was his bowling performances though that played a crucial role in India's triumph. With 15 wickets in his kitty, he was fifth on the list of highest wicket takers in the tournament. His best bowling performance of 5 for 31 came against the minnows Ireland. However, that in no way belittles his superlative performance in the series. In every match, he chipped in either with the bat or the ball, justifying his tag as an 'All-rounder'. In a team comprising of match winners like Sachin, Gambhir, Sehwag and Zaheer, Yuvi shone like the Pole Star. Unfortunately, he was over-looked in the squad for this world cup with the selectors preferring young Stuart Binny over him.