For all those cricket lovers, whose first vivid memories of a cricket World Cup are from the one held down under 23 years ago -- the one that introduced coloured shirts, day-night matches and an enterprising South Africa side -- there is but one image that will last forever and a day: Of a red-faced Brian MacMilan gently stroking the last delivery of the 43rd over from Chris Lewis for a single and of his befuddled teammates looking lost for words at the team balcony of the iconic Sydney Cricket Ground.
That moment, televised across the world and replayed endless time since whenever the Proteas embark on a knock-out phase of the World Cup -- had set in motion South Africa's date with destiny; a long and painful one which lasted 23 long years.
In the course of the last 23 years, South Africa had come into five more World Cups with the favourites tag, yet in some uncanny manner – call it choke or bad luck or just coming up against a better side on the day – they simply failed to get past the knock-out stage. So when they were up against a Sri Lanka side beaming with confidence and pitted at scene of their most tragic moment, many South Africa fans probably feared: All over again. And when AB de Villiers lost the toss and faced the task of batting second, on a deck which had plenty of turn and bounce on offer – those fears might have become manifold. But credit to the Proteas, those fears and tribulations were put to the bed with a masterful display of spin and pace. The game was all but over by the end of the first innings.
A beaming de Villiers and Co. replaced the awestricken Kepler Wessels and his class. It is only good for world cricket that South Africa, the team with the best win/loss ratio in ODI cricket and endowed with a long list of iconic players, did shed the unenviable tag of chokers. And how fitting that it came at the Sydney Cricket Ground!
While the South Africans will feel that this is the new beginning for their cricket, could the same be said of the Lankans, who were seeing the last of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene – the dynamic duo who had propped up Lankan cricket on their broad shoulders for more than a decade?
The Lankan team is in a transitional period and will be there for quite some time to come. Their main bowling weapons -- Lasith Malinga and Rangana Herath – have reached the twilight of their careers. In a couple of years, when these two are gone too, the Lankan team could very well drift towards mediocrity, unless they manage to unearth some gems from somewhere.
Times like these had come before for the Lankans. Ever since their maiden triumph back in 1996, Sri Lanka have produced players like Sangakkara and Jayawardene – not to mention Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralidaran and Chaminda Vaas – to sustain their success over lengthy periods of time. Who knows: maybe Lahiru Thirimanne and Dinesh Chandimal will step into the shoes of Sangakkara and Jayawardene. Maybe Tharindu kaushal will turn out to be the new Murali and Dushmantha Chameera the new Malinga. Hope springs eternal.