Monday , 23 September 2019
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Legends set for last hurrah

London: One last World Cup. Sachin Tendulkar remembers his fondly, carried around the Wankhede stadium waving the tricolour in front of fans delirious with a first World Cup title in 28 years.

Imran Khan—suave, restrained, holding aloft the crystal trophy in 1992—will remember his as the day cricket in Pakistan came of age.

For some, those final World Cup moments were of heartbreak: a distraught Javed Miandad—who had made his debut at the first World Cup in 1975, and was playing his sixth and final one in 1996—exiting the ground while the Chinnaswamy stadium rejoiced. And perhaps no one cut a more forlorn figure than Ian Botham as Pakistan’s seamers scuppered England in the 1992 final. Whether in triumph or defeat, each of these legends left indelible memories at their last appearance at a World Cup. Who are the giants of the game we will miss as they make their final appearance

at a World Cup?

MAHI-WAY

Immediately after India had won the World Cup in 2011, MS Dhoni was in Bengaluru to attend an event. A sheepish lift operator asked him for a photograph but the India captain was already running late. Dhoni promised he would take a photograph with him later. When Dhoni returned to the lobby after the event had ended, he asked about the lift operator. On learning he had finished his duty, Dhoni went to the room where the operator was slipping out of his uniform, to leave for home, and fulfilled his request.

That’s Dhoni—despite years of being the face of Indian cricket, he remains the everyman, always ready with a disarming smile, to talk of his love for the armed forces, motorbikes, and dogs.

If he puts a guard up, it’s reserved for the media. Perhaps it’s about the flak he had faced after the Test implosions in England and Australia (losing 4-0 back-to-back in those two countries in the space of a year in 2011-12 could well be the lowest point of his career). Also unforgettable is his stoic silence when he had to deal with the IPL match fixing scandal in 2013, just before his team left for the Champions Trophy that they won.

Or how testy he gets whenever the R word—retirement—is brought up.

“I was hoping it was an Indian media guy because I can’t really ask you if you have a son or a brother who is a wicketkeeper. Do you think I am unfit, looking at my running?” Dhoni had once responded to an Australian journalist who had asked him if he intended to continue playing after India lost in the 2016 World Twenty20 semifinal to the West Indies.

Dhoni, who will turn 38 during the course of the upcoming World Cup, is one of the fittest players in the squad. And on the back of yet another fruitful Chennai Super Kings campaign in the IPL, there is little doubt that Dhoni continues to be on top of his game.

In 2011, Virat Kohli lifted Tendulkar on his shoulders for a lap of honour after winning the World Cup; perhaps this time he will have the pleasure of doing the same with Dhoni—his trusted advisor, the man he turns to in times of trouble.

THE UNIVERSE BOSS

Chris Gayle is 39 and never wants to run a single again. Does that make him any less potent with the bat?

“This is the most dangerous batsman they’ve ever seen in cricket,” Gayle said of himself in the lead-up to the World Cup, pointing out that bowlers are scared of him. “Can’t you tell? You go ask them…you ask them off the camera, they will say, ‘Yeah, he’s the man. Listen to me straight up, Chris Gayle is the man’.”

Brash, laidback, destructive, unhurried, two-time Test triple-centurion, a T20 gun-for-hire, successful entrepreneur and content family man—Gayle is many things to many people. But if you take his word for it, he’s also the ‘greatest player in the world’. At the World Cup, the ‘greatest player in the world’ has a point to prove—he’s never won the tournament, despite making four previous appearances. He almost did not make it to his fifth one.

For some 30 months after the 2015 World Cup, his international career came to a standstill as he, and several other senior players, refused to back down from a matter involving payments and central contracts. Gayle was then at the height of his T20 fame, and used his abundant free time to zig zag around the world and make his name as a T20-league specialist.

Just in time for this World Cup, a restructured West Indies cricket board and Gayle finally began to see eye-to-eye. Yet, with all the globetrotting, money-spinning ventures Gayle is part of, he need not have bothered, at his age, to return to the Windies fold—this decision is purely for him to have one last go at winning a tournament he never has.

In his 20th year as an international cricketer, Gayle isn’t the run-machine he once was in the format, but he still trusts his broad shoulders and hand-eye coordination to send balls rows back into the stands. Could he do it one last time in West Indies’ colours?

NARAIL EXPRESS

Mash to those he is close to, Mashrafe to his adoring fans, Bangladesh captain, a member of parliament—the 35-year-old fast bowler’s name and identities change with the turf, but cricket fans in his country will tell you that the person has remained the same. Mashrafe Mortaza is still that boy from the village, Narail, who yearns to one day retire and spend lazy Sunday mornings swimming in the nearby Chitra river.

For now, though, thoughts of retirement can wait. Giving his cricket-mad country a reason to celebrate—making the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup, if not going a step or two further—can’t.

Mortaza is a natural leader. And we are not just talking about his aggression while bowling or his chest-thumping celebrations. Back in the June of 2015, when the country was still seething at the no-ball reprieve given to Rohit Sharma at the World Cup quarterfinal, India landed for a tour. As the Bangladesh media and cricket fans went on a ‘revenge’ overdrive, Mortaza rose above the vitriol.

“We go to battle on the field but don’t take it literally,” Mortaza said to the gathered media. “It is hard to control people’s emotions but I would request them to keep cricket in its place.” One match later, Mustafizur Rahman bowled a series-winning 6/43 to hand Bangladesh a historic win; before this, Bangladesh had never won a home series against India.

Mortaza is all heart. No cricketer in this day and age welcomes a pitch invader but Mortaza once went well out of his way to escort a spectator—who had jumped the fence only to give him a hug—back to the boundary, all the while keeping the livid security personnel at bay. To say the people of Bangladesh adore Mortaza is, of course, an understatement. He was voted to power by 96 per cent of his constituency, Narail 2, on the last day of 2018. Eight years back, when an injured Mortaza couldn’t make the cut in time for the 2011 World Cup, it is said that his hometown came to a standstill.

That body, prone to injuries, hasn’t been holding up very well these days. He has declared that this will be his last World Cup.

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