CRICKET / One was uncharacteristically monkish, one undiluted derring-do and one pure savagery

If such memory burrowers as Sachin Tendulkar's 98 (Centurion) and Adam Gilchrist's 149 (Bridgetown) fail to find a mention in this compilation, it is purely due to an abundance of treats to choose from. Among those that do make it, one was uncharacteristically monkish, one undiluted derring-do, and one pure savagery.

Aravinda de Silva (107 n.o., vs Australia, Lahore, 1996)

Seldom has a man imposed himself so conclusively on a World Cup final. Aravinda de Silva's hundred in Sri Lanka's successful pursuit of Australia's 242 was as deterministic of the Island nation's cricket uprising as Kapil's 175 was to India's in 1983.

Sri Lanka was two wickets down for 23 in the sixth over, following the loss of its tournament swashbucklers Sanath Jayasuriya and R. Kaluwitharana, when de Silva walked in to bat in what was Lahore's first day-night match.

Not for a moment did he appear affected by the simmer and boil of a World Cup final chase.

Curbing his Mad Max instincts, de Silva partnered Asanka Gurusinha for 125 invaluable runs in a third-wicket stand. The ball slippery with considerable dew, Shane Warne was rendered largely playable, as Gurusinha waded into him. At the other end, de Silva began with a textbook push on the onside and then targeted Damien Fleming, whipping boundaries to gain momentum. Later in the knock, he was happy just to dab the spinners around.

After Gurusinha was out to a wild swipe, de Silva ensured the safety of one end, ushering in a watershed day for Sri Lanka in the company of skipper Arjuna Ranatunga. The 124-ball essay, studded with 14 boundaries, was by no means his most vicious, but its glutinous nature was what held the Lankan chase together. The 5ft3in player was declared the Man-of-the-Final, the identity of whom was never in doubt after an unbeaten hundred was added to the three wickets and two catches de Silva had claimed during Australia's innings.

Steve Waugh (120 n.o. vs South Africa, Headingley, 1999)

There are several things that Steve Waugh will be remembered for. His composed bowling at the death in 1987 wearing, along with Simon O'Donnell, a circum-oral smear of sunscreen; his mid-pitch run in with Curtly Ambrose in Trinidad; his post-retirement charity.

But Waugh's unlikely century at Leeds surpasses them all. Australia needed 272 to win its last Super Six match against South Africa to proceed to the semifinals. But at 48 for three in the 12th over the target appeared one run too many. Waugh, in at three drop, turned a deaf ear to taunts from Herschelle Gibbs and dug in, bringing up his fifty off 47 balls. Filling in for an injured Jacques Kallis, Hansie Cronje and Nicky Boje conceded 79 runs in their combined role of a fifth bowler.

On 56, his team still 120 adrift, Waugh flicked Lance Klusener to mid-wicket where Gibbs hurled the ball skyward to celebrate, losing along with it, as the legend goes, the Cup itself. When Ponting fell in the 34th over, after adding 126 with the skipper, Australia needed 98 off 95 balls, six wickets in hand.

Cronje's last throw of the dice was to bring in Allan Donald, and hope for his blinding speed to cut through Aussie resistance.

But Waugh loosened the vice by crashing Donald for two boundaries and sweeping Steve Elworthy over mid-wicket for six. By the time Bevan was out, after partnering his captain in a vital 73-run fifth-wicket stand, Waugh was touching hundred, which he brought up in a total of 91 deliveries.

Victory was achieved with two balls to spare and off went Australia into the semifinals where, although it wasn't known then, the Iceman was destined to play another pivotal innings against the same luckless opponent, this time without any help from Gibbs.

Ricky Ponting (140 n.o. vs India, Johannesburg, 2003)

Blinders are a rarity. Rarer still is a rampage that continues all the way to a big hundred. Coming up with either in a World Cup final then requires an especially favourable arrangement of the planets.

Ricky Ponting was blessed with one such stellar pattern in 2003 when he put India on the rack in the final at Johannesburg. After Australia was sent in to bat by Sourav Ganguly, Ponting's assault ended the contest, and all it took was one completed innings, which began with Zaheer Khan's 10-ball opening over and ended with figures of 87 in 10 for Javagal Srinath.   

Granted a launching pad by Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden, ‘Punter' was watchful at the outset, reaching 50 off 74 balls with just one boundary. Nothing at that point would have prepared one for what was to come. A steady tick all along, the tempo changed menacingly in the 39th over, when Ponting bullied Harbhajan Singh out of the attack with consecutive sixes. The sardar's replacement, Ashish Nehra, was welcomed with a one-handed slog-sweep, which also went for six.

Ponting slammed 90 runs, including eight sixes, off the last 47 balls he faced. Australia accumulated 109 runs off the last 10 overs and 64 off the last five. “Intent and intimidate” is what Ponting called it, but don't' judge him by his grammar.

(Concluded)

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