Defending a small total against the mighty West Indies in the 1983 World Cup final, India sensed they could pull off an unlikely victory when the destructive Viv Richards was dismissed. The twice world champions lost their impact man while India sensed that the momentum had shifted towards them.
Ever since One-day Internationals began making rapid strides, it is men like Richards who have helped the format remain a spectacle, winning battles within the war. Players who take the game by the scruff of its neck, infusing high entertainment into a format which now has to compete for visibility with Twenty20 cricket's all-or-nothing aggression. Rule changes such as two new balls and powerplay overs imposing field restrictions are aimed at providing fans more entertainment, but it is those big players, the supermen of limited-overs cricket armed with their unique skill sets and a personality to match, who leave a lasting impression on matches.
When ODI cricket took roots, all-rounders were the perfect fit, giving rein to their natural aggression with the bat and chipping in with wickets, the likes of Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Ian Botham and Wasim Akram being examples of this new expressive order in the 1980s and 1990s. Sachin Tendulkar began setting the agenda after being promoted as ODI opener. He hit through the line, and often exploited the vacant area straight down the pitch, taking full advantage of field restrictions. The manipulation of the bowlers and field placements were of the highest order.
The players who are expected to impose themselves when the World Cup kicks off in Australia and New Zealand next month bring a different approach to try and give their team the momentum. Chris Gayle has a Test triple century but is the darling of the crowd world over thanks to his T20 exploits. His reach, range of shots and sheer power in his forearms that carry the ball well into the stands have made him a nightmare for the bowling sides. New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum deals with big shots in a similar fashion, his strike rate of almost 92 is even better than Gayle's, which is just under 85.
Even in this exclusive club, the one man who stands out is South Africa skipper AB de Villiers. Easily the most versatile sportsman in international cricket, the 30-year-old also plays rugby, tennis and golf. Be it with the bat, or keeping gloves or as a fielder, de Villiers has been simply superb in all three formats.
His innovative batting - be it the scoop, switch-hit or reverse sweep - does not allow the bowlers any margin of error. Batting in the middle-order, he still has 19 one-day hun-dreds and a staggering strike rate of 97.22 easily makes him the most valuable player in the game today. No wonder, Adam Gilchrist declared him the 'most valuable cricketer on the planet'. On Sunday, he served another reminder of what to expect at the World Cup by breaking the record for the fastest oneday hundred with a 31-ball century against the West Indies.
India have more than one player who can single-handedly decide the fate of a match. Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli as well as skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni have all proved themselves time and again. The skipper kept his calm at the biggest stage, in the 2011 World Cup final against Sri Lanka at the Wankhede, guiding India's chase with a sensational, undefeated 91.Although his best is behind him, teams would still be wary of the damage Pakistan's Shahid Afridi can cause, with the bat or with his leg-spin bowling while Sri Lanka skipper Angelo Mathews stands out in a team with three batting stalwarts. The all-rounder's consistency in all conditions will provide the X-factor for the 1996 winners.