Every time Australia plays a heavyweight opponent in the world cup, many here in the Caribbean sit down to watch the game hoping for a miracle. In fact, the common perception is that it is time Australia is beaten. A monopoly is never good; more so in cricket, and can make this already dull world cup even more boring. However, not all prayers are answered. More if there are a bunch of brutal professionals doing their best to prevent them from coming true. Face it: the Australians are way ahead of any other cricket team in the world. Even if the South Africans or the Sri Lankans beat them in the semi-final/final, this perception won’t change. Rather, such an outcome will be considered an upset, and perhaps the upset that will have finally made CWC 2007.
While there’s hardly a flaw to be exploited in the Australian line up, fortune too seems to be with them. Why else would the Sri Lankans opt to rest Murali, Vaas and Malinga? Cricket, we all know is about winning and winning, we all know, is a habit. And such habits, the Australians have proved time and again, die-hard. Further, how is it that Shane Bond, the man who has troubled the Australians more than any other bowler over the past few years, fall prey to a gastric problem on the eve of the Australia match? And this was when the other spearhead, Jacob Oram, was already out with a heel injury. Fate sides with the brave they say. Can’t be more true than in the case of the Aussies it seems in hindsight.
So can the Australians under Ponting be beaten and is there a way to prevent an Australian hat trick? This is the question doing rounds the world over. Answers against the Australian challenge, we all know, are hard to find. The optimist in me is, however, hopeful. For why else would CLR James say, “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” Can’t there be a day when Jayasuriya fires and Mahela follows up? Silva is already in great touch and Dilshan and Arnold can certainly finish it off against Tait and Bracken. Hogg, it is time is taught a lesson and who better than the Sri Lankans to teach that lesson? With 250 on the board at Kensington Oval, Malinga can be unleashed on the brutal Hayden and the deadly Gilchirst. Murali, the biggest enigma world cricket has seen, can then do the trick for one final time.
Even as I write this, I tend to feel I am asking for a bit too much. It is like a C grade Bollywood film, which, even the village audience in India would reject. The Australians can’t be beaten by a team for there’s no team capable of standing up to them. What can in fact do the trick is an exceptional display by a few true greats of the game, when their greatness reaches the highest level possible. And that’s where Jayasuriya, Vaas and Murali come in to the picture.
Sanath has already won Sri Lanka a world cup. He has already retired once to reverse the decision soon after prompted by a never say die attitude and an unfinished hunger for runs. He has already crushed all opposition including Australia many a time and he already holds the mantle of Sri Lanka’s greatest one-day player. The bottom line- he has nothing to prove and is having fun, sheer fun in the West Indies. And that’s what makes him different from the conventional good players who, when pitted against Australia, lose steam.
Murali too has achieved every conceivable target that he may have set for himself since he started leading the Sri Lankan attack in 1992. He answered racist insults by bowling Sri Lanka to victory against Mark Taylor’s Australians in 1996. And now when the cricket world is still asking the question as to who is the greatest, Murali or Warne, and with Warne stealing a march with his performance in the recently concluded Ashes, it is time Murali stands up one more time. Also, Warne has one world cup in his kitty and it is befitting that Murali sets the record straight by winning another.
As for Vaas, his record against the Australians in key world cup games speaks for him. A decent 1-30 in 1996 and a superb 3 for 34 in the 2003 semi-final followed by a 21 not out with Sri Lanka in totters.
Finally, all of them, Vaas, Sanath and Murali know what the pressure of a world cup final is like and know what beating Australia in a world cup final is like. They have also experienced what it is like to lose to Australia in a world cup semi-final after restricting them to a modest 212. Many still feel a more responsible knock from Jayasuriya and a better bowling display from Murali (he did not pick up a single wicket in his ten overs) with Australia down to 3 for 51 could have won Sri Lanka the 2003 world cup semi-final. For the record, that was the last time Australia looked like they could lose a world cup match. And I am willing to suggest, at the risk of being proven an idiot that pitted against Vaas, Murali and Sanath in yet another world cup clincher, Ponting and his men will slip.