The pinch-hitter theory was doing the rounds through the early 1990s, with Mark Greatbatch assuming the role to devastating effect in the 1992 World Cup. Therefore, it can be said that we did not really reinvent the wheel as far as the strategy of attacking in the first 15 overs is concerned.
The crucial element that we added was the fact that it was now attack from both sides. That is, the pinch-hitter did not have a stable partner who dropped anchor while he went hell for leather. In 1996, Romesh Kaluwitharana and I were both licensed to play without worrying about getting out and that was a strategy that has come to become part and parcel of one-day cricket and possibly was the germ for Twenty20 as well.
The Sri Lankan opening pair of Kalu and myself became popular after the 1996 World Cup win, but it was a partnership that was born in Australia, a few months before the World Cup. Our coach Dav Whatmore and manager Duleep Mendis wanted to throw the Australian bowlers off balance by attacking them early in the innings, from both sides. That series is one of the most important reasons for our success at the 1996 World Cup. It was a cocktail of tough cricket and relentless controversy. Muthiah Muralitharan was called and the controversy and statements thereafter toughened and united us. It was the glue that bound us and the cause that inspired us. We were suddenly not just playing a game of cricket, we were fighting for a teammate and we were fighting for our country.
Mix it up
The opening gambit was a success in Australia and Tony Greig made 'little Kalu' and myself popular, and when we came to India, people were watching us with interest. Personally, the game that made us dream of the trophy was the one against India in New Delhi. It was a wicket that played true right through the day, and we had stiff target to chase after a superb century by Sachin Tendulkar. The target made it obvious that we would have to maximize in the first 15, and I did just that. Looking back, that innings was important because it taught me that with a mixture of aggression and shot selection.
Nothing kamikaze about it
I need not just get the team off to a blazing start, I could also play a long innings and actually even play through the innings. The opening role was no longer a kamikaze act for me, I could contribute more. That win gave the team immense confidence and was critical to our campaign.
Sachin, Viru and Gauti
There have been many wonderful opening pairs since, but the one I really enjoy is the Sachin Tendulkar-Virender Sehwag combination. Sachin was a pleasure to open with during the IPL and his hitting is always based on sound technique, even when he is innovating or slogging. Viru on the other hand has a hand-eye coordination that is spontaneous. He can be unorthodox and conventional in two successive balls, and believes in attacking the bowling from the start. I will be looking out for them as well as Gautam Gambhir in this World Cup.
Twenty20's made batsmen fearless
If our opening combination brought a new dimension to one-day cricket, the T20 effect has completely transformed the game. Batsmen are now fearless and don't mind taking risks. This fearlessness makes them feel that no total is out of reach and they can now bat at the same tempo for the whole 50 overs. The second batting powerplay adds to the batsman's advantage, which makes him more confident of hitting in the air.
Favourite? Can't say
All these factors suggest that batsman are going to enjoy the forthcoming World Cup. The Indians are looking a strong side and seem more confident about handling the pressure and expectations. The Sri Lankans are also a very good side with an extremely balanced attack. However, each tournament has its own energy and trajectory and it's hard to predict a favourite till a few games have been played.