Sport survives anything and anyone but replacing the greats is never easy
Successful sportsmen might feign a saintly detachment from criticism; they thrive on rising from their own obits.
Men like Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Sanath Jayasuriya, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and Rahul Dravid have ripped apart many a faultily constructed script.
Having been through the journey from touted wannabes to perceived has-beens, a final shot at the game's biggest prize is a big challenge. With tangibles like the muscles and the joints nearing sporting rigor mortis, intangibles like mental resolve and motivation assume greater importance. For
Tendulkar, Lara, Ganguly, Kumble, and maybe even Dravid, this could possibly be their last chance to live out an, as yet, unfulfilled dream from their pimpled boyhood days.
Not won the big one
It seems misplaced justice that two of the greatest batsmen of this generation have never won the big one. Tendulkar enters the showpiece event with a Cup baggage of 1732 runs at an average of 59.72 in 32 innings. Lara is not so heavily loaded, averaging 43.45 in 25 innings, with 956 runs. Unfortunately for both men, their respective peaks have been mostly spent propping up mediocre teams.
Tendulkar's exploits in 2003 deserved a title win, but possibly the worst bowling performance in a final destroyed India's chances.
The '99 edition saw him cope with his father's death, and it would have been unreasonable to have expected him to be mentally resilient throughout the tournament. India, as co-host in '96, let him down, with both his teammates and the crowds losing their heads after his dismissal in the semifinal against Sri Lanka. After an impressive Cup debut in the '92 edition, Tendulkar deserves a fairytale farewell. An `open' World Cup, as most call it, gives Team India its best chance.
Lara on the other hand, has somewhat mastered the ignominious act of sporadic self-destruction. The fact that he is still his team's mainstay and the captain at 37 shows what he means to West Indian cricket. His backlift hasn't lost its volume, and when in the mood, he can seem merciless. When not on song, mediocrity flows out of his potentially sublime blade. If the jinx of the host (Sri Lanka won as co-host) is to meet its end in 2007, Brian Charles Lara will have to find a way out of his caprice, for one last time.
For all his achievements in Tests, Kumble hasn't consistently shown his brilliance in the World Cup. Not surprisingly, his best performance came on amiable tracks at home. With 15 wickets in seven matches in the '96 edition, Kumble has the opportunity to make up for subsequent reverses, this time on helpful tracks at the West Indies.
Dravid, averaging 64.91, and Ganguly, averaging 56.26 in Cups, have played stellar roles in their two appearances so far. Chiselers-in chief in shaping the future of the Indian team, the two can be counted on to rise to the occasion.
A few others will also be doing the final act, like Inzamam ul Haq, Jayasuriya, Gilchrist, McGrath, Matthew Hayden and possibly, Stephen Fleming, Shaun Pollock, Shoaib Akhtar, Michael Vaughan and Marvan Atapattu.
Sport survives anything and anyone but replacing the greats is never easy, unless there's someone waiting in the wings, ready to silence his first critic.