All good things have to come to an end

For quite a few maestros this will be the last World Cup. Over to S. Dinakar.

You can picture Glenn McGrath, his lean frame taut and ready for action, his gaze straight and sharp, his thin-lined visage giving away little.

He shoots to kill — he must have been the quickest draw in the Wild West.

McGrath, poised for a quiet life in the New South Wales outback after April, faces another challenge. Cricket's feared scalp-hunter has one final job.

His pace has slumped, he extracts less bounce, and, there already are worried faces in the Australian camp. Can his ageing body withstand the strain?

It was in the West Indies (1995) that McGrath assumed the mantle of Australia's pace lynchpin. Craig McDermott, undone by a freak injury, flew home and McGrath took flight.

And now, 12 years later, he returns to the Caribbean for a final tilt. His accuracy and big match temperament will be his greatest assets.

Keeping it simple can be a hard job when both the conditions and the situations vary. McGrath rarely errs in length and direction, is persistent around the off-stump. His precision and control are unmatched. You count somebody like him out at your own peril.

This will also be Adam Gilchrist's swansong. The explosive wicket-keeper batsman is also among the fairest sportspersons in contemporary cricket. He `walked' in the 2003 World Cup semifinal. He will now walk into cricketing eternity.

His influential opening partner, Matthew Hayden, will also make his last World Cup appearance, fitness permitting. Now, to the Lankan Lions, Muttiah Muralitharan and Sanath Jayasuriya. Muralitharan of the unique wrist action has the batsmen in knots, with the big-spinning off-spinners, the doosra, the straighter one, the arm ball, and the flipper. Skipper Mahela Jayawardene realises his value in the middle and end overs. Despite years and years of bowling, the batsmen of the world are still unable to pick him; this, in several senses, is Muralitharan's greatest triumph.

Jayasuriya has proved the doubters wrong. He still, remarkably, creates room to slam the ball square of the wicket with short arm jabs. The power his wrists can generate is still extraordinary. His left-arm spin is still effective and, on the field, he still is a cat on the prowl. What a cricketer!

Tendulkar's gifts are known to all. The maestro, will take one final shot at World Cup immortality, this being his fifth championship.

His scorching square-cut off Shoaib Akhtar, bowling full throttle, in the Super Six game at Centurion, 2003, ignited a nation. The intrepid blow encapsulated the spirit of Tendulkar's batting.

At some point in the Caribbean, he could resume his famous rivalry with McGrath. Despite the passage of time, sparks could fly.

Brian Lara will be chasing a Caribbean dream. In fact, he would be spearheading it.

The West Indian campaign will be fuel-driven by the desire to recapture past glory. Lara can be an innovative captain, he can be even more creative with the willow; slicing open attacks with deft touches.

Looking beyond numbers, his efforts are conjured more than constructed.

From one left-hander to another. Sourav Ganguly travels to another World Cup. The Dada's stirring comeback reflects his hunger. He has been dominant in the past. Ganguly can find the gaps in the Power Play overs, and clear the field effortlessly later.

The much-celebrated leader of men will not be leading the side this time. The fact that he will be playing in the World Cup after overcoming a torrid period is a tribute to his spirit.

Shaun Pollock will also be signing off from the mega-competition. Arguably, the straightest bowler in the world, Pollock's ability to cut the ball both ways from around the off-stump, puts the seeds of doubt in the batsmen's minds; he exploits the resultant tentative footwork. Forget the drop in pace, appreciate these subtle variations.

Last time around, Pollock, the skipper then, was in tears on a rainy night in Durban. The team-management had got the Duckworth and Lewis equation horribly wrong. Now, he can make amends, under Graeme Smith's captaincy.

And let's not, for a moment, forget his languid batting. He can so easily dump the ball into the stands.

Inzamam-ul-Haq accomplished that too when he emerged as a bold new force in the triumphant Pakistani team of 1992. Now, in his last World Cup, he is the captain of a side rocked by injuries and controversies. The side is without its premier pacemen for varying reasons. But then, the Pakistan skipper's batting has a sense of timelessness and timing about it; the big man plays with a delicate touch. Inzamam still captains a strong batting line-up. If Greg Chappell's prediction about the World Cup being won by the top six batsmen turns true, then Pakistan has a chance. Of course, much would also depend on Umar Gul slicing open the innings, Danish Kaneria building pressure in the middle-overs, and Mohammed Sami being able to achieve reverse swing. Inzamam will strive to have his finger on the pulse.

The West Indies should bring happy memories to Anil Kumble. The leggie bowled India to a Test series triumph there last year. He can strangulate in the middle-overs with his consistency and variations. And pressure creates wickets. Kumble's past World Cup campaigns have been mixed. Now, he and India seek glory.

The cricketing world would miss these cricketers in the subsequent World Cups. Greatness cannot be bought off the shelves.

But then, memories will remain... forever.