Cricket World Cup may not be in the same league as the football World Cup but for those, who love cricket, every detail and past statistic is a treasure of immense value. The game was gifted by English rulers to their subjects and became popular in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and wherever else, the British Monarchy had its dominating influence. The long laid-back 5-day format was not welcomed by industrial Europe and the colonies that came up under the French, Dutch and Portuguese control. That is why one doesn’t see cricket in these nations. As years passed, cricket got ingrained in the lives of a large number of people in Asia, Australia/New Zealand and the Caribbean. By virtue of South-East Asian nations of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh constituting nearly 40% of world population, cricket derived higher volumetric exposure. In later years, cricket was to become an engine of business growth as commercial houses realized the unmatched impact that cricket could make on their fortunes. At the cost of killing other sports, companies promoted cricket unashamedly. They couldn’t have found millions of spectators rooting for their heroes at any other place. The game first underwent a change of formats just before the 1975 World Cup and then it was completely transformed to suit the business interests of promoters, advertisers and media. Colored clothing, white balls, pitch microphones, cheerleaders and highly sophisticated broadcasting software came to rule the game. It was a win-win situation for everyone and no one seemed to mind the changing sequence of events. The instant cricket created instant heroes in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, some of whom became millionaires in a blink. But old-timers and die-hard followers are still nostalgic and they fondly remember the game, as it existed 40 years ago and how the transformation came about.
When the decision to hold the first World Cup was taken, West Indies under Clive Lloyd were nearly invincible. Those days, business participation at modern-day scale was unthinkable and England was the only nation that could afford the expenses. They also roped in Insurance Company Prudential, who sponsored the event. Six test playing nations; Australia, England, West Indies, Pakistan, India and New Zealand along with ICC nominees Sri Lanka and East Africa participated. These were 60-over matches with red balls and traditional white uniform and since there was no concept of day/night matches, all matches were played during the day.
Expectedly, West Indies emerged the winners in 1975. In the final at Lords, Lloyd used his bat like a sledgehammer to reduce the best of Australian bowlers into a pulp. But the climax came, when West Indies thought they had won and fans invaded the field even as Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson were still there. They were chased off by umpire Dickie Bird but West Indies took an eternity to bowl the entire Australian team out after scoring 291 and reducing Australia to 233/9. The 40-run tenth wicket stand from Lillee and Thompson frustrated West Indies, before they could eke out an 18-run victory. Another notable fact from the 1975 World Cup was Sunil Gavaskar scoring 36 not out after playing 60 overs on trot and one frustrated spectator threw his lunch box on Gavaskar’s feet even as the Indian walked back to the pavilion.
Next two World Cups were also held in England in 1979 and 1983. In 1979, Canada and Sri Lanka qualified to join the regular six test-playing nations and once again West Indies won the Trophy. In the final against England, Viv Richards scored a century and Collis King hammered 86 off 66 balls. In reply to West Indies’ 286/9, England were bowled out for 194 with a great performance from Joel Garner, who claimed 5/38.
In 1983, Sri Lanka had become a test playing nation and Zimbabwe qualified through the ICC Trophy. In an amazing turn of events, dark-horse India emerged victorious against West Indies. The English bookies had given an odd of 66 to 1 for India before the start but India achieved the impossible. Batting first, India ended with a paltry 183 that looked like a child’s play for West Indians. As Richards led with 50/1, West Indies began the celebrations. But in an amazing turn of events, Madan Lal and Mohinder Amarnath took three wickets each and dismissed the titanic West Indies for 140. India won by 43 runs, much to everybody’s utter disbelief. In 1987, the World Cup came to India and Australia won for the first time at Kolkata beating England, who many believe lost the match because of Mike Gatting’s reverse sweep.
The 1992 World Cup was hosted in Australia and New Zealand and brought many changes to the game like colored clothing, white balls, day/night matches and new field-restriction rules. For the first time, South Africa participated after the end of their international sports boycott. Pakistan defeated England by 22 runs at MCG and Imran Khan’s popularity soared to sky.
In 1996, World Cup came back to the India sub-continent but the event was marred by several avoidable mishaps. As Sri Lanka headed to crush India in the first semifinal, after India slumped to 120/8 in pursuit of 252, riots broke out in Kolkata and the match was awarded to Sri Lanka. In another semi-final at Mohali, Australia defeated West Indies. In the end, Sri Lanka won the 1996 World Cup by defeating Australia by seven wickets at Lahore.
In 2003, South Africa staged the tournament just nine years after Nelson Mandela had become president. While South Africans fell on the way, Sourav Ganguly’s India met Ponting’s Australia in the final. Playing like a true captain, Ponting blew India out of the Wanderers to win the World Cup for the second time.
The 2007 World Cup was held in the Caribbean but the event was marred by lack of communications and transport, unfinished stadiums, unaffordable ticket prices and many other factors. Australia won again as Adam Gilchrist empowered them to beat Sri Lanka in the final just as Ponting had done four years ago.
In 2011 the World Cup came back to Indian sub-continent for the third time. It was Tendulkar’s dream and Dhoni’s miracle. Dhoni was undergoing pressure situations for a while and Tendulkar was playing his last World Cup. They wanted the Cup at all cost. Dhoni raised his game, when it was most needed. In the final against Sri Lanka, he made 91 0ff 79 balls and with 4 runs required for victory he hit a six off Kulasekara. It was simply Dhoni’s best World Cup performance.
As the 2015 World Cup gets underway, one would question; “who will pull off the miracle in Australia and New Zealand?” there are no easy answers. One has only to wait and see.