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ODI World Cups: How role of all-rounders has evolved from 1975 to 2019

Lance Klusener and South Africa will never forget the events of June 17, 1999, in Birmingham.

Four days after conceding a victory to Australia in the Super Six stage of the ODI World Cup, the Proteas had whipped up a superb bowling performance in the semifinal against the same opposition. However, a 214-run chase progressively began to slip out of their hands before Klusener built a climax for the ages, arguably among the greatest sporting finishes in history.

With 38 required off 31 balls and four wickets to spare against a spotless Aussie bowling lineup, the match was only headed one way until Klusener, in blazing form, set out to fire once again. A barrage of boundaries helped ‘Zulu’ tie the scores in the final over. He dared to cross the line single-handedly. However, his lesser-gifted batting partner, Allan Donald, stood petrified in the face of a quick single, one that would have put South Africa in its maiden World Cup final. Klusener had one glance behind after he waltzed through to the non-striker’s end. Adam Gilchrist had shattered the stumps and a booming yellow brigade thickened pitchside in jubilation.

“Donald did not go, Klusener came,” and Australia was through to the final based on previous results.

If not for Klusener, it is hard to picture an incarnation of that fiercely fickle moment — exhilarating and heartbreaking at two ends at the same time. That his unbeaten 31 off 16 deliveries came on the back of a rare wicketless showing in that World Cup illustrated Klusener’s class and the might of cricket’s pedigreed all-rounder.

Klusener ended the campaign with 281 runs (11th-highest), unbeaten on six occasions while clocking runs at a strike-rate of 122.17 — years ahead of the times. His 17 wickets ranked him fourth, with a 26.76 strike-rate at par with the best of the tournament. While he did not top the charts in either department, Klusener bagged the Man of the Tournament award, as Sanath Jayasuriya did in the 1996 World Cup with his captivating evolution as a hard-hitter and left-arm spinner.

In his first World Cup as an all-rounder who opened the batting, Jayasuriya fired with the blade in the initial rounds before chipping in with three crucial wickets in the semifinal win against India at the Eden Gardens. Though the final belonged to another champion, Aravinda de Silva (107 n.o., three for 42), Jayasuriya’s haul of 221 runs and six wickets was acknowledged for its belligerence.

Specialists win you matches, but all-rounders can unlock riveting passages of play. Pure all-rounders are increasingly rare in the modern game. One cannot expect to see someone conjure an unbeaten 175 off 134 balls at number six and follow it up with 11 overs for a wicket or two, let alone marshalling the side to the World Cup title anymore.

The feats of true-born all-rounders like Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Ian Botham and Klusener are not to be replicated readily on the World Cup stage.

Perhaps, the 2011 World Cup, the last before a new set of ODI rules led to higher scores, was the last time cricketers built on their primary skill. Yuvraj Singh added 15 wickets to his vital 362 runs and was adjudged the Player of the Tournament, while Shahid Afridi, the lower-order marauder, ended up as the joint-highest wicket-taker with 21 scalps.

ODI cricket has since been fast-tracked into a new realm. England’s bohemian revolution of the format has thrown light on the modern all-rounder. Confined to their elemental traits and yet chipping in through other skills, players like Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes have added immeasurable depth. No wonder then that Stokes can come out of retirement for the 2023 edition as a specialist batter, having been restricted from bowling due to a nagging knee injury.

Kapil Dev sends Bob Willis’ stump for a walk in the semifinal match against England in the 1983 World Cup.

Kapil Dev sends Bob Willis’ stump for a walk in the semifinal match against England in the 1983 World Cup. | Photo Credit: THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

All-rounders across sides now play a similar role. Australia primarily depends on Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis for bludgeoning the ball in the top-order and the death, respectively. They act as a cushion for a surging pace trio led by Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, not a part of the lead cast of a lineup like Shane Watson and Jacques Kallis of yore.

From the beginning of 1990 up until the 2011 World Cup final, 12 players amassed runs in excess of 2500 with a 30-plus average and also bagged more than 100 wickets with averages comparable to specialists — Kallis being the only recurring name to achieve the mark twice across both decades.

The numbers have dwindled drastically after the 2011 World Cup, with only one player — Shakib Al Hasan — qualifying for the same standards. Genuine seam bowling all-rounders have seen a major slide too, with just five players achieving the double of 1000-plus runs and 50-plus wickets since the 2011 World Cup; India’s Hardik Pandya, Stokes and Marsh being the only active players to the mark.

However, as the World Cup returns to spin-friendly conditions in India after 12 years, the definition of an all-rounder could be repurposed, with spinners gaining momentum again.

Regulars such as Ravindra Jadeja and Shakib will be integral to their teams’ balance, while part-timers like Glenn Maxwell, Aiden Markram, and probably even Joe Root will boost the depth of their respective sides to keep the clan of the all-rounders alive.

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