TIM BLAIR and APARISIM GHOSHSANATH JAYASURIYA, 29, Sri Lanka
Sanath Jayasuriya, from the remote village of Matara on Sri Lanka's south coast, led a revolution in ODI tactics with his blazing opening batting; where openers previously sought to build a solid base on which their team could build, the short, balding Sri Lankan thrashes at the bowling from the outset.
When it works, Sri Lanka almost always win. In the 1996 World Cup, a sequence of barnstorming opening hands took the team unbeaten to the final and earned Jayasuriya the tournament's most-valuable-player award. Later that year, he tore 100 runs off Pakistan in just 48 balls, a then-world record. I played my normal game and got runs, he said after that innings. I believed in myself.
ADAM GILCHRIST, 27, Australia
Shell-shocked bowlers can blame Sanath Jayasuriya for the emergence of Gilchrist, brought into the Australian team in 1997 as a specialist one-day opener to replace former captain Mark Taylor. A left-hander like the Sri Lankan, Gilchrist was given a similar brief: to hit hard, early and often.
On occasion he has out-smashed the batsman who inspired his selection. In January at the Sydney Cricket Ground Sri Lanka set Australia the ground record target of 260 to win. Most considered the task impossible, but Australia made it with overs to spare--courtesy of 131 runs from Gilchrist, who sent one delivery to the upper level of an SCG grandstand. Against the same opponents one month later Gilchrist hit an Australian record 154, which also established a new world record for a wicketkeeper in an ODI. That was on the vast Melbourne Cricket Ground; on the smaller English fields, the Western Australian could challenge the all-time ODI record held by Pakistan's Saeed Anwar at 194.
LANCE KLUSENER, 27, South Africa
Klusener's nickname, Zulu, refers to his fluency in that language, which reflects the fact that he grew up in rural South Africa. As a result, almost uniquely among modern international cricketers, he never played representative cricket as a junior. Once his abilities were noticed, during a provincial practice session in 1993, it took him a mere four years to become an established member of the national team.
It's easy to see how Klusener would have impressed. Frighteningly strong-he doubles as one of South Africa's main fast bowlers-he wields a massive bat with unexpected finesse. New Zealand discovered the extent of the all-rounder's power and temperament in March; faced with the task of hitting four off the last ball to win the match, Klusener instead hit it for six.
SHAHID AFRIDI, 19, Pakistan
One of the new breed of specialist one-day cricketers, Afridi had played 66 one-day matches before he played in his first Test match, in 1998. This extraordinarily brutal hitter blasted to world attention in 1996, when--aged just 16--he hit 100 runs off just 37 balls against Sri Lanka. In that innings, Afridi hit the ball over the boundary 11 times.
Given Afridi's background, the belligerence of that century (the fastest in ODI history) should not have come as a surprise. Afridi is from a region of northwest Pakistan noted for periodic violent uprisings; there, his achievements on the cricket field are reportedly celebrated with gunfire. Conventional fans, entranced by Afridi's good looks and skill more than his Pathan background, jam Pakistan stadiums with thousands of lifesize posters bearing his image.
SACHIN TENDULKAR, 26, India
The Bombay Bomber's blazing batting performances have earned him comparisons with Diego Maradona--it helps that they are both short, stocky and curly-haired. But unlike the Argentine ace, Tendulkar is a level-headed, even bland professional who does all his hell-raising at the wicket. He wields the heaviest bat in the game, both literally and figuratively, and is a quick reader of bowlers and wicket conditions. Ask Shane Warne: regarded by most batsmen as unplayable, the leg spinner was brutalized by Tendulkar throughout the 1998 Australian tour of India. Later, Warne said he had nightmares about Tendulkar's flashing blade.
It's difficult to single out a standout Tendulkar performance, as there are so many--and so many to come. He already owns the record for the most ODI centuries, and he has at least 10 playing years ahead of him. Gulp!
BRIAN LARA, 30, West Indies
Every year or so, West Indian captain Brian Lara is dismissed by pundits as a has-been. Earlier in 1999 this happened during Australia's four-Test tour of the West Indies. Lara's response was breathtaking: in three matches he scored three centuries, including one innings of 213 which effectively won his team the Second Test.
Lara may have heard similar comments before the West Indies' quarter-final against South Africa in the 1996 World Cup. The South Africans, favorites to win the Cup, had not lost an ODI for 11 straight matches before Lara hit a blinding 111 off only 94 balls to steal the game and rescue his reputation. After a low-scoring ODI series against the Australians, Lara is again being described as out of form--but who would dare believe that at least one team won't be destroyed by his batting in the '99 World Cup?