Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Cricket World Cup - 1983 and thereafter

The Cricket World Cup – 1983 and thereafter - Aumlan Guha

An Indian Perspective for the ones uninitiated into the History of the Indian game accidentally invented by the British 

Aumlan Guha is a Cricket fan stuck in the corporate world.
In this issue, he provides a fan’s introductive course on the history of the Cricket World Cup ever since it became an absolutely Indian game.

 “Wake up, wake up!! We’ve won!! We’ve won!!”

It was June 1983, and I was enjoying a peaceful night’s sleep when my mom, clearly ecstatic, shook me awake. My senses not fully alert, I asked her what the matter was. She said that we had won the World Cup – what it meant I knew not then.

Indians get together after surprise win

The next day I resolved to find out what it was all about. If my mom, normally very calm and
composed, could get excited enough to shake me awake at night, with school next day, it had to be something really significant. Newspapers and friends helped me understand why it was such a big deal, and life was never the same again.

Till then, my only real passion had been reading, ever since infancy. However, in the afterglow of the victory, slowly but surely, cricket began to dominate a substantial part of my mindshare. 
And to my pleasantest surprise, I discovered that if I wanted to watch cricket, my otherwise-strict dad did not mind as long as I did my homework. So, I became a follower of the game, waiting patiently for the opportunity to return my mom’s favor, waking her up and telling her that
we had won.

Something very interesting also happened, around this time. Not exactly out in the open, but the outcome led to a paradigm shift in the way the game was played, perceived and marketed. In the wake of India unexpectedly reaching the final of the 1983 Prudential Cup, Mr. N. K. P. Salve, the then-BCCI President, and a Union Minister to boot, asked for some complimentary passes to the final. The request which was refused. Incensed at this, he pledged to uproot the tournament itself and take it to the subcontinent. Pakistan and Sri Lanka were easily convinced, and some extensive lobbying led to the Associate nations being ‘persuaded’. After many heated discussions, and in the face of much opposition, the 1987
tournament was awarded to the subcontinent, to be jointly hosted by India and Pakistan, with the final to be played at Kolkata.

Shorter days in that part of the world meant that the matches had to be curtailed from 60 to 50
overs per innings and so they were, and have remained ever since. Hoardings
at venues all through the tournament bore advertisements put up by Indian sponsors, and it has also remained thus ever since. The title sponsor also changed – the Prudential World Cup for the first three editions of the tournament giving way to the Reliance Group. Australia remain the only winners of the Reliance World Cup, defeating England by 7 runs, the closest difference till date in any World Cup final.  The tournament was an unqualified success, silencing all the Doubting Thomases about the subcontinent’s ability to host a glitch-free event of this scale.

Allan Border chaired after 87 WC

Mike Gatting's fatal reverse sweep in the final

The next edition of the World Cup saw it travel Down Under with Australia and New Zealand
co-hosting in early 1992. With the sponsor changing again, it was christened anew – the Benson and Hedges Cup. 
A controversial and plainly ridiculous rain rule aside – which saw a gallant South Africa bow out in the face of laughable resetting of target – this tournament remains, to my mind, the one with the best format. Teams were not divided in groups. Each side played all others in a round robin league, and the top 4 made the semifinals. 
India, however, did not go that far, stuttering all through. Pakistan, the ultimate champions, started off in first gear, but accelerated in time as the tournament went on, finishing with a bang in the final at Melbourne. In the process their talismanic skipper, Imran Khan signed off a glorious career on a high.

The Talismanic Skipper

Bowing to Advertisers-
SA walk back with 12 balls less to play in more than adequate conditions


The Ugly face of Eden 1996,

Come 1996 and the World Cup was back in the subcontinent, sponsored by yet another tobacco
company, Wills. This time, Sri Lanka joined India and Pakistan as co-hosts. Unfortunately fearing security problems, Australia and West Indies refused to make the trip to Colombo, preferring instead to give Sri Lanka a walkover. 
My mom’s sleep, however, remained undisturbed as India imploded spectacularly in the semi-final against Sri Lanka. At 120 for 8, they were on the verge of losing, when sections of the ever excitable Kolkata crowd started sharing their fruits with fielding Lankans, and following it up with water, often packaged in bottles.

After a couple of attempts to resume the match failed, the match referee Clive Lloyd awarded
the tie by default to the Lankans. It was the first default ever in an international cricket match, Test or ODI – till Darrel Hair’s obstinacy and Inzamam ul Haq’s nonchalance saw a repeat in the English summer of 2006.
The Lankans faced the Aussies in the final at Lahore, and, riding a superb all-round performance by Aravinda de Silva, sauntered home, remaining to this day, the only host (or co- host) to lift the Cup.

Ranatunga exults after the WC win in 1996

Australians pull of f a victorious tie as Alan Donald panics into a run out

From the 1999 edition, there has been no title sponsor. It has remained the ICC Cricket World Cup. That year the World Cup returned to England after a gap of 16 years. This time round though, England were not alone as hosts. A few matches were played in Scotland (2), Ireland, Wales and the Netherlands (1 each).

India’s campaign never really took off and they exited from the Super Sixes, in part because they
did not carry forward any points to the second round of this strange tournament format. Australia won the Cup, partly because they were the one team to remain at the top of their game all through, and also because one Mr. Steve Waugh was in his element both as batsman and as captain.

Four years later, the World Cup traveled to Africa. South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya were the joint hosts. Unfortunately, owing to security reasons, New Zealand did not play in Kenya, and England refused to travel to Zimbabwe on political grounds. 
India started off their campaign in a rather lackluster fashion, inducing strong public outcry back in India, including vandalisation of the homes of some of the players. But, after the lack of energy in their first couple of  performances, a labored win over Netherlands and a meek submission to Australia, things began to look up. The batting began to come into its own, driven by a slew of sparkling knocks from Sachin Tendulkar, with able support from Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly. The seamers led by Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan started to hit the right spots. In particular the league match against Pakistan saw some sizzling cricket with a special hundred by Saeed Anwar and a 98 from Tendulkar. The latter gem had class stamped all over it, scored at a strike rate of 130.66, yet without an agricultural or inelegant stroke.

Soon enough, India was in the Super Six. Three matches and three easy victories later, India faced
Kenya in the semifinal. It proved to be the proverbial stroll in the park, with the skipper leading the way with a nice hundred. After 20 years, India was in the final again. The form book showed ample opportunity for me to awake my mother with the good news. 
 However, things proved to be different in the final against Australia though with pretty much everything going wrong, barring the toss.

Face Off - Shoaib and Sachin
Ganguly, in a debatable decision, invited the Aussies to take first strike. From the first over in which Zaheer went for 15 runs, Australia were always in control. Ponting played the most scintillating knock you can expect to see, an unbeaten 140, studded with 8 sixes. It made for great viewing, provided you were not rooting for India. The Aussies finished with a mammoth 359/2 and once Sachin departed in the first over, the match was as good as over, even though Sehwag fought gamely with a well made 82 before being run out.

Since 1999 it has been Australia all along

The 2007 edition was the first time that the tournament was held in the sun kissed islands of the Caribbean. Australia once
again proved their superiority in One Day cricket, remaining undefeated throughout, beating Sri Lanka in the final at Barbados.
India and Pakistan both exited in the first round, leading to large numbers of fans from the Indian subcontinent to leave early, thereby causing a massive shortfall in projected revenue.
India performed abysmally, losing to both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the Group stage, and their only win coming over minnows Bermuda.

The tournament also had more than its share of controversy and misfortune. Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan coach, was found dead in his hotel room a day after his team crashed out. Conspiracy theories held sway for the first few weeks, but Jamaican police have since come up with the official version that it was a death by natural causes. Another big controversy was the way in which the final ended, with the two teams playing out the last couple of overs in virtual darkness.

The current World Cup is the third to be held in the subcontinent, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are the co-hosts, with the final to be played in Mumbai. Pakistan, originally named as a co host, had their hosting rights were taken away following the unstable situation in the country – a decision influenced
specifically by the attack on the Sri Lankan team in March 2009 in Lahore, where seven of the team members, the assistant coach and a reserve umpire were injured, some needing hospitalization. On paper, the current edition of the tournament is the most open. 

As I write, there are at least 4 teams who could come out on top. We have just ended the reign of Australia in the quarter finals – and it is now that all the teams have to be at their prime.

The current edition of the World Cup is the tenth overall. I have watched six of the previous ones, beginning from 1987. In twenty four years however, there have been no decipherable change in my level of excitement.  Nonetheless, this time there is an added sense of anticipation and hope. Anticipation for the
Master’s century of centuries (he is just one short at the time of writing), and hope that our batting lineup is able to do enough to cover up our weaknesses in bowling and fielding.

A nation waits with bated breath. I hope that, close to 28 years since she disturbed my sleep to tell me that we had won the World Cup, I can return my mom the compliments.

No comments:

Post a Comment