Friday, September 30, 2016

Cup for bowling stardom

By V Ramnarayan

(From Madras Musings, February 1996)

The Wills World Cup promises to be a bowlers' contest for stardom more than any of its predecessors, with a number of exciting new talents emerging in the recent past. Veteran of 200 Test and 87 one-day international wickets, Shane Warne will certainly figure at the very top of the popularity charts unless he decides to skip India as well as Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Easily the most glamorous spinner of the Cup, the Aussie will face the sternest test of his career if and when he comes up against the Indians who have, in the past, succeeded in collaring him. The other wrist spinners, Anil Kumble and Mushtaq Mohammed, will almost equally be the cynosure of all eyes as they spring to their task to the accompaniment of deafening local roars.

The spin department may even draw more attention than all the others with Paul Adams of South Africa and his extraterrestrial bowling action providing drama of a kind not witnessed before. Muthiah Muralitharan will be another centre of attraction and his bowling action will be debated, until the cows come home, at cricket grounds and in drawing rooms across continents. For Aashish Kapoor of India, who learnt his cricket in Madras, this will be a great opportunity to display his flair for instant cricket. Besides his offspin, Aashish can bat attractively and innovatively. If the young man grabs his chances, he may achieve international celebrity status before the end of the championship. And let us not forget Venkatapathy Raiu, who may surprise the lot.

Among the quickies, it will be every Indian's fond hope that Javagal Srinath will enhance his reputation as one of the fastest improving bowlers in the world. His stint with Gloucestershine in the English county circuit was an education that helped the' Karnataka paceman's graduation into the ranks of the world's leading speed merchants. With experience has come the maturity to bowl within himself in limited overs competition. Perhaps Azharuddin will feel emboldened to bring him on in the slog overs instead of turning to his second string as he did last season. Venkatesh Prasad too is an improved bowler while Salil Ankola, if he finds a place in the playing eleven, may prove the surprise package of the Indian attack, to go by his recent track record.

I cannot escape the feeling that the World Cup may mark the beginning of the end of the road for veteran all- rounder Manoj Prabhakar, to judge from the decline in pace and accuracy noticed in the series against New Zealand. With Prabhakar, however, you can expect always the unexpected and he may well bounce back, stung by suggestions that he may be over the hill.

Dominic Cork, the new Botham whom England supporters want so desperately to live up to that expectation, is the only English paceman with the ingredients of charisma, though his relatively workmanlike colleagues may ensure yet another semi-final berth for their team with their professional competence. Even little fancied Zimbabwe can boast of a more colourful attack with the young Heath Streak improving by leaps and bounds. Dion Nash and Danny Morrison of New Zealand are worthy performers in both kinds of cricket, but fall short of the aggression and precision of their trans-Tasman counterparts, McDermott, McGrath and Reiffel.

Pakistan has Akram and Waqar Yunus and New Zealand has Chris Cairns. These are three pace bowlers who can be expected to turn matches upside down with their aggressive bowling.

Man to man, however, no other side in the competition appear capable of matching the South African combination of Allan Donald, Fanie De Villiers, Shaun Pollock and Brian McMillan. Young Pollock, one of the world's most exciting young fast bowling prospects, some say he's the fastest bowler in the world, will be keenly watched by the critics to see how he fares on the placid wickets of the subcontinent.

"Never make the mistake of writing off the West Indians", is probably the most sensible piece of advice you can offer anyone going into the World Cup. The old firm of Ambrose and Walsh, supported by new partners, can wring life out of the deadest of playing surfaces. Smarting under recent reverses, the West Indians will be thirsting for success in the Cup. With Lara back in the side, their fast men will be bowling with their tails up.

Sri Lanka has a sharp new pace attack consisting of Vaas, Wickremasinghe, and Pushpakumara. While Wickremasinghe came into his own in the WSC matches in Australia after a relatively indifferent Test series, Pushpakumara has impressed one and all with his persistent pace. But their left-handed partner, Chaminda Vaas, has been the pick of the Lankan attack. If I were to pick the one quickie likely to emerge as the strike bowler of the World Cup, I'll put my money on this talented left armer. It will be a shame if the threat of violence denies this fine young athlete the chance to bowl Sri Lanka to glory in the Wills World Cup.

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