THIS will be quite a World Cup. The giants of the game are going to be here. Giants like Lara and Tendulkar, like Azharuddin and Waugh. As long as the giants are being giants, it will be a World Cup to watch. People pick their giants. Personally, I'm waiting to see Tendulkar. Haven't seen him since he was 17, when he played India vs England here at the Oval and at Lord's. I do hope his back is sorted out, he's seen the best doctor in the world for it. Yes, Tendulkar. To me there's no doubt: he's the best batsman I've seen in my life.
I think he's better than Viv Richards. I used to think Richards was the best batsman I have ever seen. Or Sobers. But now I think it's probably Tendulkar. I actually think he's better than Lara. Of course, you could argue this. Tendulkar has 19 Test centuries but interestingly never scored 200. Lara has 12 Test centuries, but has scored a 300 and a 200, he's scored a 200 twice actually. So it can be very hard to judge who is the better batsman. But I'm a Tendulkar fan.
I don't know what it is about Tendulkar. Not just the statistics, and no, not even the style. For style, you take Azharuddin every time. Azharuddin is the most stylish batsman in the world. He just is the most beautiful cricketer to watch. I saw Azharuddin score a century at the Oval when 96 of it was in fours. That's class. He just moves his wrist, and the rest happens.
The game has moved on since the last World Cup here in 1983. Some things will be different. The big thing in the last World Cup was Sri Lanka, and they taught us all that you've got to get a big score in the first 15 overs. No one seemed to have realised that earlier. By the end of the tournament, everyone did. They were hitting them over the top of the infield very quickly indeed and making a big score in 15 overs. And then living on it. That was very clever, and they did work it out first. And they had two or three of the greatest batsmen in the world. So we learnt that from them.
The game advances all the time. When the one-day matches first came along, everyone thought if you went second you were bound to win. That's not true any longer. It's almost the other way round now. Captains say they'd rather go first. It'll be fascinating to see how they play it this time. It can bring a new awareness of the possibilities of cricket as long as the standard is higher.
I suppose I would be supporting England but that doesn't mean it is my favourite team. I think the present Indian team is very interesting. The present South African team is fascinating—they have a well-balanced team. But for winning the World Cup, I'd put my money on Pakistan. They will come good on the day. You can think of all sorts of players but you think of Pakistan as a team. They've got a great fast bowler. And they've got two or three others. I think Pakistan will take it. Pakistan just seem to have luck. You do need a bit of luck in the end. You need one or two lbws to go your way, one or two catches to be dropped, whatever it might be.
England of course have a good chance of winning. They're on home soil. They should rise to the occasion all the time. So I would perhaps take England seriously. It's interesting, isn't it, how the look of the England team has changed. Ramprakash, Hussain, Irani, all English players. It says something about a new England. We are a multicultural race, a multi-ethnic race. So it's naturally going to be reflected in your cricket team. We have genuine West Indians, Indians, Pakistanis.Also, in the rest of the England team we have players with their origins outside in the sense that their fathers or grandfathers were not born in this country.
With the teams you're going to have fans from all over the world. A World Cup does become an occasion for expressing nationalism. It will be expressed in football if it isn't expressed in cricket. It's so much better that it gets expressed in cricket.
There's something about cricket. It is my favourite game, by far. I go to as many matches in the summer as I can. There isn't much in sport that can go quite as dramatically. You get that so often with one-day cricket. I can't go to all the matches of course, but I will watch many of them in the World Cup. Any sport gets exacting if it's going well and it's fun. But one-day cricket matches are always very exciting because they so often end in the last few overs or the last five minutes. And you have a result.
I don't know why, though, the game went immediately across the Commonwealth—and stopped. It was played only in countries that Britain governed and had some influence over. If we'd had real influ-ence at the time of cricket over, say, Germany or France, would they be playing cricket now? I don't know.
I have watched a lot of cricket but haven't written about it much. I wrote a short story called The Century in one of my short story books which was really based on Mike Brearley and a player at Oxford. But I can always say I've played with Viv Richards and with Botham. Let me end with that little story.
With Somerset at the foot of the championship table year after year, I assumed it would only be a matter of time before I ended up playing for my county. At a dinner in honour of Richards in London some years later, I remarked that I still awaited the selector's call for Somerset and England. I returned home to find a letter inviting me to play for the county in a testimonial match for Richards. I accepted by return of post, first class stamp, recorded delivery.
When the great day came for the match at Warborough, I was every bit as nervous as if it had been the Olympic trials. Somerset were invited to bat first. I had studied the scorecard: I was No. 6—Roebuck, Kenning, Rose, Richards, Botham, Archer. No wonder the opposition were terrified. I strolled around the ground signing autographs, ignoring the little boy who, studying my signature wedged between Richards and Botham, said in a voice that carried: "Never heard of him."
After Botham was caught at the deepest boundary, I went out to join Richards, then the greatest batsman in the world. He smiled and said: "Watch the ball carefully for a couple of overs." I grinned back. I'd never been known to last a couple of overs. I took guard, the only thing I could do with confidence, and survived 17 balls, in which time the score had advanced by 29. Richards had scored 26 of those and I had scored 3 from a thick edge over the slips. I prefer not to dwell on the fact that in the course of my first over I nearly ran the great man out and was informed testily by a yokel that the last stoning in Warborough had been in 1623. In the 18th ball, my stumps were shattered by a slow straight delivery.
When it came to bowling, the opposition scored two off my first over and three off my second. The fourth ball of my third over was short on the off side and slammed to the boundary for four. The next ball pitched in the same place, and I covered my eyes as the opening batsman shaped to repeat the shot, but Peter Roebuck had moved several yards to his right in anticipation and took a superb catch on his boots. I had removed the opening batsman. I leapt in the air with delight and looked forward to my next over, only to discover that Joel Garner was removing his sweater and polishing his ball.
Disappointed, I returned to the boundary, and as I passed Brian Rose, the skipper, he remarked: "One for nine. You can live with those figures for the rest of your life." I'm sure the English bowlers will do better.
(As told to Sanjay Suri)