| Chris Gayle and Vasbert Drakes celebrate their victory over South Africa at Newlands Sunday
Paarl: Dropping Steve Waugh during that crucial Super Six game in 1999 remains an albatross around Herschelle Gibbs’ neck. The immediate reaction then had been: “Gibbs has dropped the World Cup.” After Brian Lara’s superb 116 at Newlands, in Sunday’s 2003 Cup opener, Jacques Kallis will be praying he isn’t weighed down similarly.
That century not only facilitated a stunning win by the West Indies — though Sourav Ganguly, for one, doesn’t think it was an upset — it made a million South Africans skip multiple heartbeats.
While South African captain Shaun Pollock didn’t talk of that let-off, Lara himself felt a first-ball dismissal wouldn’t have “done justice” to the hard work put in over the past couple of months.
Lara, it may be recalled, was rendered hors de combat (owing to suspected hepatitis B) during last September’s ICC Champions Trophy and missed tours to India and Bangladesh. The World Cup-opener, therefore, was his comeback match.
It couldn’t have gone better — and MRF couldn’t have hoped for a more mileage-generating start to cricket’s biggest show ever.
Not surprisingly, Lara picked his Newlands knock as the best among his 16 one-day hundreds. “Given the position we were in and keeping the larger perspective in mind, it’s my No. 1,” the genius-like left-hander pointed out.
Lara acknowledged making a comeback wasn’t easy, but regularly working indoors (in Trinidad) helped him immensely.
“I knew I had to push myself, returning to a team full of confidence and hungry to do well... I wanted to play my part in giving the West Indies the best chance of winning the World Cup... This, after all, is the tournament, the world stage...”
Carl Hooper, the West Indies captain, complimented Lara and confirmed that the move to field seven batsmen would, for now, continue. Later, speaking to The Telegraph, a smiling Hooper insisted he “wasn’t much bothered” that just about everybody had largely been talking about Australia and South Africa only.
“Irrespective of what others may say, we know what our job is... A programme has been in place and the results are showing,” Hooper observed, typically not going overboard.
As for Pollock, the strain showed on his tired face and it will surely be some time before he can reconcile to having been docked one over. Whatever the hold-ups, the buck stops with the captain if the overs’ stipulation isn’t complied with.
But won’t it be tough to recover from such an early setback'
“No... We are a proud bunch and can lift ourselves... As captain, I’ve now got to get the best out of the guys,” Pollock responded, possibly aware that his survival as captain perhaps hinges on the South African show in the quadrennial showpiece.