Nothing explodes like a magical delivery. A graceful cover drive fleetingly enthrals, like a feathery leg glance or a text-book straight-drive. But they can’t have cult status like an artiste’s single — like John Lennon’s Imagine or Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. That’s the reason there exists a ball of the century, and not a shot of the century. They evoke an immediate mental reel — a casual reference and the entire sequence plays out in front of the eyes. In that sense, this World Cup is blessed. In no particular order, Mohammad Shami’s nip-backer to Shai Hope, Mitchell Starc’s yorker to Ben Stokes and Kuldeep Yadav’s floating beauty that foxed Babar Azam.
Generally, it is the quality of the ball and context of the game when it is bowled that determines how long they are remembered. So, first the quality. Shami’s ball swerved in the air before it seamed in. More dramatically, Starc got it to curl away with the angle before it swung back deviously. As for Kuldeep, his flighted delivery drifted away before spitting back into Babar. Now the context. India weren’t defending a formidable total and Shami nailed West Indies’s anchorman. Stokes was digging England out of trouble when Starc struck. Babar had added 104 runs with Fakhar Zaman when Kuldeep beat him.
These game-changing deliveries gave a fillip that this World Cup desperately required. Disturbed by showers and disenchanted by one-sided matches, monotony had been gnawing at cricket’s biggest event. Some felt it was too long, some quibbled at the quality, others called for revoking super sixes and eights. Interest in the slow-burning tournament was dying a slow death. But before the clouds cleared up, the meek started fighting and the bowlers began to turn on the magic, so much so that even if the World Cup is long forgotten, these three balls (maybe a few more) would live to tell the tale.