by Aparajith Ramnath

As the World Cup inches closer, it is natural that all cricket discussion is dominated by it. Every run scored, every wicket taken, every selection made is viewed in the light of its implications for this Holy Grail of one-day cricket. While the pundits pontificate on these significant happenings and the whole cricket machinery gears up for the frenzy that will begin next month, let us sit back in our armchairs and allow our minds to wander back to earlier editions of the World Cup, pulling out those disjointed wisps of memory to see if they might not be stitched together.

 The earliest World Cup memories I have, for practical reasons, are from the fifth edition. Held in 1992 in Australia and New Zealand, it had, in many ways, all the trappings of today’s ODI culture: floodlights, coloured clothing, even a rain rule. And with just nine teams participating, it was a thorough tournament if ever there was one: each team played every other team in the league stage.

India’s opening match was against England. Subroto Banerjee was one of India’s quick bowlers in that match; aside of that I remember little of the first innings other than my father saying that India had given away a few runs too many in the final overs. In the end, India lost by nine runs. I remember distinctly that I went downstairs to play ‘compound cricket’ (i.e. cricket played in the building’s compound) with my friends, either as a reaction to the loss or towards the latter stages of the game when it seemed a lost cause.

New Zealand was, in many ways, the dark horse of that tournament. As I remember it, they played all their matches – at least in the league stage – at home, and won most of them. They were stopped by Pakistan and Inzamam’s superlative performance in the semi-finals. Enduring images from their campaign: Mark Greatbatch’s pioneering of the role of the pinch-hitter; Deepak Patel, the off-spinner, bowling at the start of the innings as a containing bowler; and the fact that the New Zealand matches would have the score on the corner of the TV screen displayed in English parlance (Runs/Wickets) as opposed to the matches in Australia, which used Aussie parlance (Wickets/Runs, which still causes much confusion for me during the early stages of an innings).

As an aside, the Australian style of reading out the score was imprinted on my mind by a typical Tony Greig passage of commentary during the Australia-South Africa league match, which I watched – partly at least – at the house of my grandmother’s neighbour: “Not a good over for [Meyrick] Pringle, nor for South Africa, Fooooiiiiive for One-Forty-One!” This was also a match in which I mused on the meaning of the term ‘breakthrough’ that the commentators seemed to keep using. I had assumed previously that this referred to the first wicket a team took in an innings; here they were using it to refer to the second wicket. The first had been a run-out, which led me to the assumption that the term referred to the first wicket taken by a bowler during the innings!

India’s campaign during that tournament was largely unsuccessful, their only victories coming against Pakistan (with a sterling performance by Tendulkar with the bat) and Zimbabwe, and another point from a rained-off match against Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, they had their bright spots. One especially was the match against Australia at, if I remember right, the ‘Gabba in Brisbane. India were chasing, and were rather unfortunate to have a tougher target set for them after rain had eaten into their innings (the rain rule – though it must be remembered that these were early days for this device – got to its most absurd point in the SA vs Eng semi-finals, when, after a rain delay, the Springboks found themselves with a target of, I think, 23 runs off 1 ball). Sanjay Manjrekar played a handy knock in the middle to late overs, and the match went down to the last ball, with, I think, four required for a win. Srinath was on strike, and clubbed the ball towards the long-on boundary. Steve Waugh – those were the days when he still fielded at the boundary – dropped the catch, but got the ball back in time to complete a run-out (was it Raju?) as the Indians scrambled for a third run. It was a good lesson for an Indian fan in the making, for such heartbreak was to become a regular feature when following the team’s fortunes.

In the end, Pakistan came from behind to win the crystal globe, with a match-winning performance from Imran Khan, who scored seventy odd and took the final wicket when Richard Illingworth skied a shot.

Those were the days before Australian supremacy, and I do not think that, before the tournament began, there was a clear favourite. None of the following World Cups could afford to have the same format, with the number of participating teams swelling; this year there will be a Super Eight stage following the league matches. Will there be parallels with the 1992 World Cup this year? With the West Indian pitches universally diagnosed as ‘slow and low’ nowadays, could this World Cup be a throwback to the days before the batting fest and the mammoth total became the defining features of the one-day match?

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February 13, 2007

by Amit Goyal

We have been nominated in the Best Sports Indiblog category for Indibloggies 2006. The entire team is thrilled and requests you to vote for us.

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Impossible Is Nothing

February 13, 2007

By Rahul Misra 

In Feb 2005, an email with the following text landed in my inbox.

Instructions on the back of Maggi 2 minutes noodles pack:
Step 1: Boil one cup of water
Step 2: As soon as Ganguly goes out to bat, put the noodles in the boiled water and add the tastemaker.
Step 3: Stir till Ganguly is on the field.
Step 4: As soon as Ganguly is back in pavilion, your noodles are ready to eat.

What followed was a year long barrage of Ganguly-bashing. His batting form went from bad to worse and there were people out there who made a living out of creating jokes on him. Bulletin boards were filled with cries of his removal from the team, there were those who made bets on whether he’d reach double figures. I admit it, I made a few bucks myself doing that. Stats like 48 runs in 5 matches did the rounds over and over. And when we went to see the 2nd India-Pak test match in Bangalore, we were sure Ganguly won’t last more than 10 balls. He obliged us, handing the ball to first slip.

The end had to come, and it did. Many didn’t like the way it came, many didn’t like the way he was treated.. but through heated exchanges televised on the national channel to email which were leaked and gobbled up with glee which our sensation-loving media, in December 2005, Sourav Ganguly was shown the door out of the Indian Test team. I sometimes wonder how he would have felt at that point. The team management dead against him, the public not really that supportive either.. and his batting form had all but left him. He had been dumped in a coffin, nailed all around and buried six feet under. A cricinfo article talked about how he didn’t go without a fight. Oh boy, the author had no idea.

This was the most successful Indian team captain, one who had twirled his shirt around at Lord’s. And then, as fickle as public memory is, he all but disappeared. Youth was the order of the day now and except the abuses Greg Chappel got when he reached West Bengal, there wasn’t much else to remind us of him. And then, 6 months later, he was back. Dressed in a formal shirt, he sat on the steps of a cricket pavilion and talked to the camera in a Pepsi ad. He referred to the Indian team as “mine”, he talked about how he had been practising real hard. The timing couldn’t have been better, the cricket team wasn’t doing too well and the stage was set for the comeback of a lifetime. Sure enough, as the team got thumped in South Africa, Sourav Ganguly was recalled to bolster the middle order. It can be said that wouldn’t have gotten a reprieve if the collective Indian team form hadn’t slumped. But that thought is nothing more than a byline, fortune has always favoured the brave.

He must have walked to the pitch in that 4-day match with Atlas’ weight on his shoulders. He returned with the highest individual Indian score in the match. Not many expected it, hardly anyone predicted it. But there was no looking back and in the middle of the 3rd test, the Times of India headline read, “Ganguly leads India’s fightback.” A few days later, he was selected for the one-day squad, the comeback was complete.

The Prince of Calcutta was back on the throne.

The Indian squad for the World Cup was announced this weekend. I drove to my office listening to RJs discussing names like Sehwag, Yuvraj, Raina, Karthik and Kaif. In absolutely no one’s mind was Ganguly’s place in the squad in doubt. He is back and all of us know it.

A sport is supposed to be an extension of life. It throws at individuals similar challenges and gives us, those sitting on the sidelines, an opportunity to see how our heroes face them. We, in India, are often accused of putting our cricketers on the high pedestal, not realizing that it is after all “just a game.” For once, seeing this drama play out in front of us, I’m proud of our fanaticism. I’m proud that the youngsters in our country look up to someone who has it in him to be a real role model.

He didn’t swing on a spider web and rescue Mary Jane, he didn’t smash up Lex Luger after being pounded with Kryptonite.. and he didn’t vow to “smoke out” the Taliban. Sourav Ganguly did a lot more, he took all the hits, didn’t buckle, believed in himself, found strength deep within and came back the way not many can. He showed us that perseverance counts, that it’s not what others think or say that matters, and that with self-belief, it is always possible to bounce back.

A true champion has the ability to get up when others would stay down. He has that seemingly impossible iota of strength still left when all hope seems lost. By digging in that reserve, Ganguly showed us that he deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest. The Adidas executives should kick themselves in the backside, for more than any other brand ambassador they’ve got on this country, it is Sourav Ganguly who has earned his stripes in the World Cup squad and truly personifies the slogan – “Impossible is Nothing.”