The Unfortunate Heroes Of The World Cup

It’s the quadrennial cricket carnival again whereby TV channels as well as marketing companies are having a field day, raking in the commercial moolah.

The sports channels all over the cricket playing nations especially the Indian subcontinent are broadcasting all the features and editions of the previous World Cups featuring ex-cricketers presenting their side of the story of their respective campaigns.

You have Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan and others presenting the crests and troughs of the emotions they underwent during their successful campaigns. No doubt these are all heartwarming stories of the triumph of the human spirit.

While some of these success stories are based on coming back from the brink of elimination (such as Pakistan in 1992 and Australia in 1999) others are based on the perusal of continuous excellence (such as Australia in 2003 & 2007 or Sri Lanka in 1996).

However in all these stories we often forget or tend to underrate the importance of the forgotten heroes - the unfortunate ones whom destiny is yet to smile on. South Africa, England and New Zealand perhaps symbolise a tragic hero of a movie or mythology that may never be short of will and spirit, but just fall short of that magical moment which tilts the tide in their favor.

While South Africa making an exit during knockout games has caused heartburns to all its fans, be they South Africans or not, England often end up becoming a joke due to their inability to carry off one of the three World Cup finals they have featured in.

England - pictured here in 1999 - have struggled since last making the final in 1992

England - pictured here in 1999 - have struggled since last making the final in 1992
©REUTERS / Action Images

This joke tends to become a greater paradox as this wonderful game had been introduced by the English themselves. While England developed the penchant of losing finals, New Zealand has been left high and dry at the semi-finals stage on four occasions - 1979, 1992, 1999 and 2007.

An entire nation was left weeping in 1992 owing to the brilliance of Inzamam-ul-Haq at Eden Park in Auckland. World Cup 2015 brings us back to a full circle where each of these nations suffered heart break owing to a mix of bad luck and destiny.

While South Africa’s elimination was a stroke of mathematical stupidity (rain rule), New Zealand and England, despite being the best teams in that World Cup, ran into a marauding Pakistan who actually woke up like Rip Van Winkle just at the right time.

Honestly speaking one gets an impression that at times, these three nations have yet not recovered from the doldrums of the pain that their elimination caused to the mindset of the entire nation. While South Africa kept finding unique ways to lose knockout games (the tied semi-final v Australia in 1999 or the so-called "Duckworth/Lewis" tie against Sri Lanka in 2003) you just can’t help feeling that the South Africans reminds one, of Star Crossed Lovers who are never meant to be with each other (in this case South Africa and the World Cup).

South Africa's 2003 World Cup ended in disappointment following a misread Duckworth/Lewis sheet

South Africa's 2003 World Cup ended in disappointment following a misread Duckworth/Lewis sheet
©REUTERS / Action Images

England, on the other hand having made it to three finals always seemed to lack the x-factor which their opposition had. While Viv Richards and Wasim Akram shattered their dreams in 1979 and 1992, England only had themselves to blame when they lost to Australia thanks to Mike Gatting’s masterstroke of the reverse sweep.

New Zealand’s best chance to make it to the finals came in 1992 and they seemed well on course except for one fatal hour where Inzamam and Javed Miandad slid the carpet beyond their feet. With their in-form captain and statesman off the field due to a hamstring injury, Martin Crowe just saw his team mates and his entire country in tears as the men in green ran helter skelter in the stadium to celebrate their win.

New Zealand lost out in the semi-finals for the fourth time in 2011

New Zealand lost out in the semi-finals for the fourth time in 2011
©REUTERS / Action Images

If these three teams want to look for inspiration as far as turning the tide is concerned, there perhaps cannot be anyone better than Sachin Tendulkar who for the first time since 1992 will not feature in this marquee tournament. Tendulkar endured the embarrassment of a first-round elimination (1992 and 2007), a mid-round elimination (semi-finals in 1996 and Super Sixes in 1999) and the ultimate heart break of losing a final in 2003.

Tendulkar symbolised what an entire nation went through as far as dealing with a World Cup elimination was concerned. His team was crucified in 1996 by an Eden Garden crowd while in 2007 death processions were taken out.

Cricket history has been replete with sportsmen who have faded away gradually after suffering the pain of such an elimination (be it Lance Kluesner in 1999 and 2003), Vinod Kambli (after 1996) or Martin Crowe (after the 1992 World Cup injuries slowed him down).

But it is also throws up jewels like Sachin Tendulkar and Imran Khan who displayed a penchant of coming back every four year better and stronger in their attempt to bring the cup to their country.

While most people talk about Tendulkar having kissed the trophy in his last World Cup at the age of 38, not many are aware that Imran did the same once he crossed 40 (42 to be exact). Imran Khan stands not only for a suave and successful leader, but also a workman who just kept at his craft despite the physical barriers of age.

Considering that he had announced his retirement after the 1987 world cup, people like us who have never played the game cannot even comprehend the intensity of his willpower that propelled him to stick at it for another five years to have another shot at his dream.

It also underlines another harsh truth of life - nothing succeeds like success. Had Pakistan not even qualified for the World Cup semi-finals, those very same critics who showered praises on Imran Khan for his resilience to play the sport despite having passed his prime would have questioned his integrity had Pakistan failed.

Nobody better than Tendulkar can understand that emotion when people questioned his decision to continue playing after the 2011 World Cup.

Coming back to the 2015 World Cup, it is time that the unfortunate heroes of the world cup (South Africa, New Zealand and England) ensure that not only do they play an attacking brand of cricket, but they also play this tournament for the joy of playing cricket rather than thinking about the goal i.e. the trophy itself.

This way not only do they take the pressure of themselves but they would also absolve from themselves the previous emotional baggage and history that they carry.

New Zealand has always been known as a team who has punched above their weight in premier tournaments like the World Cup. With the likes of Corey Anderson, Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson and Tim Southee in good form, for the first time New Zealand look like a world class team who can not only give their opponents a run for their money but also beat them black and blue as they have done with Sri Lanka and Pakistan recently.

South Africa has a point to prove with regard to their ability to withstand pressure. England are complete underdogs with the recent captaincy change and their major reshuffling post the KP era.

All in all since 1992 this appears to be the most open World Cup where most teams appear to have an equal chance of overpowering each other. Sri Lanka seems to be the only team to have veterans like Kumar Sangakara and Mahela Jayawardhane at the forefront.

Since the 2011 World Cup most of the cricket teams have undergone major metamorphosis throwing in a bunch of new players about whom not much is known. One just hopes just as 1992 announced the arrival of Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Inzamam on to the world stage, 2015 propells the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Williamson and David Warner to the next level.

Let’s hope that the charm of the beautiful game of cricket becomes stronger with age, just like wine.

© Cricket World 2015


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