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Big guns ready to boom
Mark Lamport-Stokes | February 07, 2003 23:48 IST
A selection of the most talented players in cricket history will be strutting their stuff in South Africa over the next six weeks as 14 teams battle for World Cup supremacy.
Shane Warne, Sachin Tendulkar, Muttiah Muralitharan, Wasim Akram, Adam Gilchrist, Brett Lee, Sanath Jayasuriya, Brian Lara, Shaun Pollock and others will be vying for the spotlight at the eighth edition of cricket's showpiece event.
Pakistan, the 1992 winners, bristle with exotic talent and several of their squad members are holders of at least one world record.
Wasim, in his swansong, has taken more World Cup wickets than any other player, while Shoaib Akhtar is the world's quickest bowler.
Off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq is one of only two players to take a World Cup hat-trick, and Inzamam-ul-Haq is the third highest run-scorer in limited-overs history.
Most of the other top sides taking part in the tournament have their share of world-class players, particularly defending champions Australia and their greatest challengers this year, hosts South Africa.
Following is a guide to some of the key players to look out for in the 2003 World Cup.
West Indian Lara and Australia's Matthew Hayden are two left-handers who like to dominate the bowling right from the outset, and both can be expected to impose themselves in style during the tournament.
Lara, holder of the world individual batting record at both Test and first-class level, has set his sights on finishing this World Cup as the top run scorer.
The diminutive Trinidadian averages 42.64 in 203 one-day internationals with 15 centuries, but has not managed to match the sheer quality and class of some of his test performances in the shorter version of the game.
Hayden is the world's top-ranked batsman and can dominate any attack from the opening ball with his blend of strength, aggression and confidence.
A prolific scorer who plunders runs quickly, he was named as Australia's player of the year in 2001 and has racked up 1,958 runs in one-dayers at a healthy average of 45.53. If he can stay in for the first 15 overs with his equally explosive partner Gilchrist, Australia can bank on a fast start.
Australia's Warne and Sri Lanka's Muralitharan are very different spin bowlers in type but both have the ability to generate prodigious turn from the type of bland surfaces prevalent in Southern Africa which generally favour batsmen.
Leg spinner Warne was named as one of Wisden's five greatest players of the 20th century and has been credited with saving the art of spin bowling at a time when pace was dominating.
A charismatic character, he is Australia's greatest wicket-taker in one-day internationals and was man-of-the-match in Australia's 1999 World Cup final victory over Pakistan.
Sri Lanka's most likely match-winner, Muralitharan has been rated by Wisden as the best off spinner in history and generates sharp turn through a unique combination of finger spin and wrist rotation.
His unusual action led to him being called for throwing during tours to Australia in 1995-96 and 1998-99 but he was cleared by the world's governing body after extensive bio-mechanical research. He will want to make an impression against Australia at this World Cup, should the two sides meet.
Pakistan's Shoaib and Australia's Lee are acknowledged as the quickest bowlers in the game, and they have a good measure of mutual respect.
Shoaib beat Lee to the magical 160 km/h barrier last year when he was timed at 161 km/h during a match in Lahore, while Lee had to settle for second best with a delivery clocked at 159.93 km/h in Cape Town.
Shoaib, dubbed the 'The Rawalpindi Express', is one of the most flamboyant players in cricket and was a key figure at the last World Cup, taking 16 wickets as Pakistan reached the final.
Lee has emerged as one of Australia's trump cards in their bid to become the first side to win a third World Cup, demonstrating his lethal finishing touch by spearheading his side to victory over England and Sri Lanka in the recent triangular series.
Shoaib and Lee will almost certainly square up in Johannesburg on Tuesday when Australia take on Pakistan in their opening Group A match.
South Africa's Jacques Kallis is probably the world's best all rounder and will be an indispensable figure for hosts South Africa, while Australia's Gilchrist, a wicketkeeping all rounder, is certain to be one of the tournament's most watchable batsmen.
Kallis, a barrel-chested man whose technique is matched by raw power, has piled up 5,902 runs in one-dayers while his batting average of 44.04 is the fourth highest among active players. He has passed 50 in just over a third of his innings.
Gilchrist, a free-scoring batsmen who opens in one-day internationals, has been tipped by former Australia captain Steve Waugh to become the first player to score a double century in one-day internationals.
The explosive left-hander boasts the second highest score by an Australian in a one-day international, with 154, and also shares the world record for the most number of dismissals in one-dayers, having claimed six in an innings twice.
Many fans are expecting a March 23 final in Johannesburg between South Africa and Australia. Should that happen, Kallis and Gilchrist are likely to be key figures.