1992
The cup that spawned  modern cricket
By Pablo Chaterji

Wasim Akram at his peak

Wasim Akram at his peak

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.

That 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 (Javed Miandad 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

Jonty Rhodes takes off

Jonty Rhodes takes off

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).

The 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.

Floodlights debuted in 1992

Floodlights debuted in 1992

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).

On 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

The crazy rain rule robbed South Africa

The crazy rain rule robbed South Africa

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, Kapil Dev, Malcolm Marshall and Ian Botham, all in decline but still capable of bursts of genius; Allan Border, Graham Gooch and Javed Miandad, cussed as ever; Wasim Akram 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, Sanath Jayasuriya 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; Javagal Srinath, all vegetarian food and blistering pace – these were just a few of the individuals who stood out.

This 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.


1987
When cricket found a  new home
By Ayaz Memon

Sunil Gavaskars dismissal silenced the large Mumbai crowd in the semi-final

Sunil Gavaskars dismissal silenced the large Mumbai crowd in the semi-final

Having reported on eight World Cup tournaments (two more than Sachin Tendulkar played in), to pick the most memorable is not easy. Witnessing India’s victory in 1983 rates as among my most cherished experiences in sports writing. Nobody gave Kapil Dev’s team a hope in hell. The result was totally unexpected and redefined cricket.

The win in 2011 under MS Dhoni was equally memorable, but for different reasons. India were favourites this time and also playing at home. Countering these advantages was the huge burden of expectations on the team. It had been 28 years since India had last won the World Cup, and their fans would not settle for anything less than a second title. There was a strong emotional pitch to India’s campaign as well for this was to be the great Sachin Tendulkar’s sixth and last attempt to be part of a World Cup winning team. How India achieved victory makes for one of the greatest chapters in the country’s sports history.

But, while these two triumphs are obviously watershed moments in Indian cricket history, purely from an experiential point of view, the 1987 Reliance Cup was unique. This was the first time, after three tournaments, that the World Cup had moved out of England, that too to the Indian subcontinent, where it was jointly hosted by India and Pakistan.

I got to cover the tournament in both countries, crossing over from Pakistan, where I was based for the major part of the tournament, to India for the second semi-final and the final.

My most vivid memories of the 1987 tournament are of the two semi-finals, played on successive days and involving Pakistan, first, then India. Both resulted in unhappy results for the host countries. In the first, at Lahore, Pakistan were beaten by Australia. Till then, Imran Khan and his side had looked unbeatable. This was a close match, but the result was unexpected and sent the entire country into grief.

The second semi-final was to be played at the Wankhede Stadium, in Mumbai, between India and England. The charter flight that was supposed to take the Pakistan team from Lahore to Mumbai, and then Kolkata for the final, was now empty. I managed to grab a seat and found myself at the Wankhede the next day, confident India would win. The team had looked in splendid form right through the tournament.

But, like in Pakistan a day earlier, there was a stunning upset. England, having done their homework well, stymied the spin threat from India through the sweep shot. Graham Gooch played this to perfection, scoring a century and leading his side to 254, a score that might seem easy picking these days, but was daunting then.

India’s response fell short of expectations. In his last international innings, the great Sunil Gavaskar fell for 4. Instead of recognising danger, the batsmen to follow adopted a cavalier approach that soon turned to panic as wickets kept tumbling. The last five wickets fell for 15 runs. India had been ejected from the tournament, causing nationwide gloom.

Instead of the two subcontinent giants taking the field at the Eden Gardens for the final, it was now Australia and England. There was some trepidation that disappointed Kolkatans might spurn the match. But, on the day, almost 90,000 turned up, much to the astonishment of the international media covering the match. This was the most significant sign that India was now the El Dorado of cricket.

The final was remarkable for the resilience and ambition of the Australians. Allan Border had under him a young side. He had become captain a few years earlier, when Aussie cricket was in deep crisis. This victory was to be a defining moment and laid the foundation for the great Aussie side that was to dominate world cricket for almost two decades after.

Where India and Pakistan were concerned, the disappointment of losing in the semi-finals was overcome to a great extent by the mere fact that they had successfully collaborated to host a World Cup. Cricket had succeeded where politics had struggled, to engage the two countries in a joint endeavour.


2011
A tournament made by fans
By Abhishek Purohit

Fans celebrate Indias win in the final

Fans celebrate India’s win in the final

I was five in 1987, when the World Cup was held in India for the first time. The only memory, a hazy one, I have is of India going down in the semi-final and the sweep shots played by Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting. I had just entered my teens when 1996 came along. The defeat of Pakistan in the quarter-final was greeted with much screaming, and the capitulation to Sri Lanka in the semi-final with many tears.

I was no longer just a fan by the time the 2011 World Cup happened. I was six months into my job with ESPNcricinfo, a fresh journalist watching the tournament with a mix of objectivity and fandom. Soon after India and England played out their heart-stopping tie in Bangalore, a chance to witness a World Cup game live took me to the Chinnaswamy Stadium. It turned out to be the night Kevin O’Brien stunned England and the rest of the cricketing world. The fervour of the Irish fans that night in Bangalore was memorably infectious.

Fans make or break a tournament, and that this edition of the World Cup would be a hit was evident on the evening of the opening ceremony, in Dhaka, itself. There were said to be as many people outside the Bangabandhu Stadium as inside it. No other place on earth is more passionate about the game than the subcontinent, and starting with that Dhaka evening, fans in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India showed that passion again. It is a continuing tragedy that fellow lovers of the game in Pakistan had to miss out.

Some of them managed to make their way across the Punjab border to Mohali for the second semi-final, which had a full-blown political and diplomatic attendance, with the prime ministers of India and Pakistan watching. The province with so much shared history between the two nations was an apt location for the match.

When Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar fell early in the final, I had almost given up hope. But, MS Dhoni hadn’t. I was based in Bangalore then. After Dhoni hit the winning six and the revelling crowds descended onto Marine Drive next to Wankhede Stadium, I dearly wished I could somehow have been part of that unforgettable celebration in my home city. I returned home that night to find my usually composed room-mate, also a long-time friend, sobbing uncontrollably, overcome by what had happened. How can that not remain one of the moments of one’s life?


2003
India show they have bouncebackability
By Sharda Ugra

The famous huddle of 2003

The famous huddle of 2003

Could 2003 be a favourite World Cup? How on earth could it be for an Indian? India got hammered in an embarrassing final. Yet, it is. Because in 2003 India offered their fans a “bouncebackability” that made following them utter fun.

Their itinerary was not restricted to the big South African cities. They travelled to wine country in Paarl, Pietermaritzburg, with its memory of Mahatma Gandhi, lived in Pretoria when playing in Centurion, and travelled to Zimbabwe while some teams refused to do so in protest against President Robert Mugabe’s politics. After an early, crushing defeat to Australia, one Indian said, “To get two points, we’ll go to the dark side of the moon.” The star batsmen may have been dazzling, but in the 2003 World Cup, India’s seam bowlers were the surprise package, quick, stinging, harrying opposition (bar one of course) and backed by fielding we’d never seen before. This was a World Cup at which India were out of their “comfort zone”, but went about busting some myths. About what was possible and what could be made to happen. Many days after the final ended in tears, it was discovered that after India’s bowlers had been pounded by Australia, Anil Kumble (not in the playing XI) told the gloomy batsmen that 360 could be chased — one boundary per over and 160 runs in the remaining 250 balls. The daring of it. That was them.

On the eve of the tournament, travelling Indian journalists were surprised to be invited by the team management to their Cape Town hotel for high tea. With one rider: no cameras, no mics, no recorders, no pens, no paper, and certainly no stories out of any chats. Turn up, ask whatever you want to whomever you want. It was made mandatory for every single player and support staff member to spend an hour putting up with the beastie boys (and girls), and they did. This was a World Cup before Indian cricket’s age of entitlement set in. It was a pre-IPL, pre-cricket bully, pre-big three World Cup. And, the team reached the final playing like hard-charging cavaliers.