Ei, bugger, he’s allowed to do that or what?” I yelled. My 14-year old eyes, unable to believe what they had just witnessed, bulged; my arms were still above my head, in the ‘Howzat!’ position adopted by most young boys whenever they see a wicket fall. My brain had registered that Inzamam-ul-Haq had just been run out by Jonty Rhodes, but what it could not fully acknowledge was the manner in which Rhodes had effected the dismissal. I remember the sequence of events clearly, as if I were still sitting in the television room of my boarding school up in Ooty, with a bunch of equally flabbergasted friends. Brian McMillan sends one down towards leg stump. Inzamam tries to flick the ball all the way to Multan. He misses and is hit on the pads. The ball squirts away to backward point. McMillan turns for an optimistic appeal. Inzy, astonishingly, believes there’s a run in it and takes off, thereby establishing standard operating procedure for the rest of his career. Imran Khan, the non-striker, thinks Inzy is bloody insane and sends him back. Inzy stops, turns like an oil tanker and scrambles for his crease. He sees Rhodes soaring through the air, ball in hand, his body parallel to the ground. All three stumps are blasted out, and Steve Bucknor’s finger goes up. Inzy trudges back to the pavilion, unable to quite comprehend what has just happened; incidentally, his jersey has ‘Mushtaq’ printed across the back, ratcheting the WTF level up to 11.

159452124That piece of athleticism, the kind that I had hitherto associated only with football goalkeepers and rhesus macaques, was so wickedly audacious that it bordered on chicanery – just ask Inzamam whether he felt he had been the victim of some kind of subterfuge. Rhodes’s heist was, for an impressionable cricket fan like me, the highlight of the 1992 World Cup (JavedMiandad yanking Kiran More’s chain came a close second). It was also the inspiration for innumerable copycat acts on the part of my friends and I, almost all of which ended with mouthfuls of dirt, vividly bruised ribs and scraped knuckles.

One supernatural run-out does not a best-world-cup-ever make, however; many more ingredients went into the pot that was the Benson & Hedges World Cup, and together they resulted in a richly satisfying tournament that, as far as I’m concerned, has never been bettered by any other World Cup (at least not the ones I’ve witnessed — I didn’t exist in 1975, was two years old in 1979 and rather more concerned with mischief-making than cricket in 1983 and 1987). What exactly were these ingredients, then?

Innovations – lot of them
Outlandish as it must have seemed, the concept of having the teams play in coloured clothing, with each player’s name on the back of his jersey, was a novel one. Kerry Packer and his World Series had thought of it earlier, of course, but 1992 was the first time that a global audience was exposed to an all-colour World Cup. For me, the tournament became that much more exciting to watch, and being able to individually identify each player was great (except when someone like Inzamam wore Mushtaq’s jersey).

87267614The use of two white balls, one at each end, was also a first (the sightscreens were thus black in colour). This meant that there was plenty of swing to be had, leading to keen contests between bowlers and batsmen, with most matches seeing relatively moderate scores (there were exceptions, of course, with Sri Lanka memorably chasing down 312 against Zimbabwe, at the time the highest chase ever).

Batsmen didn’t need to feel discriminated against, though. The 15-over rule was also put in place for the first time, allowing only two fielders outside the circle for the initial 15 overs. This gave birth to the role of the pinch-hitter. That Mark Greatbatch (a man who had once batted for two days to save a Test match) was the first to adapt to the role was deliciously ironic. New Zealand threw in another innovation of its own, opening the attack with the offspin of Dipak Patel, in order to combat batsmen trying to smash the ball over the infield in the first 15 overs; it worked, too.

Then there were the floodlights, another first for a World Cup — matches took on an entirely new visual dimension at night, and the different weather conditions also affected the state of play. Importantly, the nine teams all played each other in the tournament, with very close results, thus creating several possible scenarios for the semi-finals. This gave meaning to every single match and reduced the role of luck, an inveterate part of World Cups such as the 1996 and 2011 ones, in which a team could top their group in the first round and then lose a quarter-final to a team that had got through just by beating minnows (South Africa in both 1996 and 2011).

1641151On the flip side, a new rule was devised for matches curtailed by rain, involving the calculation of factors such as the telecast schedule of Neighbours, the high-tide mark in Bournemouth and the amount of salt in a packet of potato chips; or, at least, these could have been paramount considerations, for all the sense the rule made to the average spectator. Ironically, this set the field for Messrs Duckworth and Lewis to come up with a more scientific calculation, later on.

Today, all of this reads like a statement of the obvious, but back then, these were significant changes; they set the tone for what modern limited-overs cricket has evolved into; even as a non-expert, I could tell that cricket would never be the same.

Moments of magic
For me, to see a brand new cricketing nation emerge onto the world stage was amazing, and that South Africa ‘wuz robbed’ in its semi-final against England only made the event more poignant. Every team seemed to have an established legend in its ranks, or a player or two who would go on to become one. Imran Khan, KapilDev, Malcolm Marshall and Ian Botham, all in decline but still capable of bursts of genius; Allan Border, Graham Gooch and JavedMiandad, cussed as ever; WasimAkram at the peak of his powers, winning the World Cup in the space of two balls; Mushtaq Ahmed, the best leggie on the scene; Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, SanathJayasuriya and Inzamam-ul-Haq showing that the world would soon be theirs; Chris Cairns and Andy Flower gearing up to become stars in their own right; Allan Donald, all zinc cream and blistering pace; JavagalSrinath, all vegetarian food and blistering pace – these were just a few of the individuals who stood out.

87265680This was also the first World Cup to be held in the southern hemisphere, and it was memorable for the cheeky irreverence that the Aussies are so well known for. The commentary was witty, with tongue firmly in cheek, and the fans held up banners that were downright hilarious. The television coverage was the best I had seen, and in general there was a cheery lightness to the proceedings that made me want to wake up early to watch every match. Sport is nothing if it doesn’t grab you by the gut and refuse to let go; already a cricket buff at the time, the 1992 edition made me fall heavily in love with the game. I’ve never felt that way about the editions that have succeeded it.