A Personal View of World Cups Past – 1
February 17, 2007
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?