Back in 1983, when I was a 9 year old kid who had just started to play “gully” cricket, my father introduced me to the “formal” cricket. It also turned out to be my introduction to reading newspapers, a habit that hasn’t left me even today. I wonder if my father had this plan all worked out — you know, introduce him to newspapers in the guise of teaching cricket and see if he stays abreast of news in general — but I digress!
At that time, India already won the world cup – a shocker to everyone – beating the West Indies (WI) in June 1983, and WI were to coming to tour India. I later came to know that WI were treating this as a “revenge” tour! And revenge they had. Marshall, Holding, Roberts, Davis destroyed India but Gavaskar and Vengsarkar seemed unperturbed and scored tons of runs. Kapil Dev put on a show with the ball had recorded his career best figures 9-83 in that series. In spite of that drubbing, India did ok in the coming years: won the World Championship Series in Australia in 1985 beating Pak in the final (Ravi Shastri was the “Champion of the Champions”), and Rothman’s Cup in Sharjah, again beating Pak. Oh wait, not quite! There was that Sharjah match in 1986 when Javed Miandad hit a six of the last ball from Chetan Sharma to seal a victory — an event that affected India so much mentally that they lost the next 15 or so matches there.
1987: World Cup moves out of England but white uniforms remain
It was world cup time again. It was staged outside of England for the first time, and Reliance (not Prudential) was the main sponsor. All teams still played in white uniforms. India were heavily favored and Kapil Dev was the captain. They played well during the league stages: Chetan Sharma recorded the first hattrick in a world cup and heck, Sunil Gavaskar even managed his first and only one-day century. Stars were aligned in their favor and in the semi-finals it was India vs Eng and Pak vs Aus and everyone anticipated India-Pak final. It is important to note that WI couldn’t make it to the semis because of an amazing act of sportmanship by Courtney Walsh against Pak where he refused to “mankad” Salim Jaffar to end the match and Abdul Qadir went on to knock in the required runs. My entire family watched the Ind-Eng match in our tiny living room and the destruction started as soon as Eng started batting. Graham Gooch swept and swept Maninder Singh and India to a huge score. India started the chase disastrously when Gavaskar offered no stroke to an incoming ball from Phil DeFreitas and lost his off-stump – you know nothing is going right for you when Gavaskar misjudges ball’s trajectory! Just when everyone thought India recovered were well placed, they imploded. Kapil was doing fine but perished when trying a repeat shot of Hemmings and Gatting had just placed himself at the right place to take the catch. Heartbreaking! In the other semi-final, Steve Waugh and Craig McDermott worked their magic to beat Pak. In the Eng-Aus final, which I watched anyway, England slipped from a winning position when Gatting attempted a suicidal reverse-sweep and lost his wicket. Australia went on to win the cup.
Arise all ye people…
Circa 1988, the name of a young talented cricketer was popping up frequently – SACHIN TENDULKAR. He eventually made his debut in the tour of Pak in 1989 against the likes of Imran, Akram, Waqar, and Aaqib. I watched live when he was hit on the nose by a Waqar bouncer. He refused medical treatment, got up and continued to play. Seeing Tendulkar smash him around in an exhibition match, Pakistan spinner Abdul Qadir predicted that Sachin will reach great heights, and boy was he right!
1992: Uniforms turn colorful, balls white, and venue crosses the equator
By the 1992 world cup, Tendulkar was already famous. But somehow, I don’t remember anything good about it except for India beating Pakistan in a league match and Kiran More getting under the skin of India’s tormentor-in-chief, Javed Miandad. I think India won only one other match. This world cup was more known for the heroics of Martin Crowe, Mark Greatbatch (both NZ), Imran’s leadership, Akram’s brilliance, and the sheer raw talent and rise of Inzamam-ul-Haq. Pakistan beat England in the final, thanks to Akram and Imran. India’s performance was pathetic and forgetful in that world cup!
1996: More teams, more expectations, more controversies
The 1996 world cup was held in the sub continent again. By that time, I had finished college and moved out of my hometown. Tendulkar was in supreme form but then so was Lara, and the entire South African team. There was some security related controversies, and Sri Lanka and South Africa topped their respective groups, the latter by performance but the former by some forfeited games. India met Pakistan in the quarterfinals in Bangalore. There was a great build up for the match with the press going crazy. And boy, what a match it was! Akram pulled out because of injury. Ajay Jadeja unloaded on Waqar Younis, something that was never done until that stage and India scored 280+. Pakistan started strongly with Anwar and Sohail going great guns. Memory of the match — Sohail hitting Prasad for a boundary thru extra cover and arrogantly asking him to “go fetch the ball”, and Prasad getting rid of him the next ball, clean bowled and sending him off. That image still gives me goose bumps! India went on to beat Pak and met Sri Lanka in the semi-finals. And what happens in the semi-finals? Heartbreak, again! India won the toss, elected to field, restricted SL to 250 odd but when India started the chase, the pitch deteriorated, and India unfolded to Jayasuriya’s spin! It was a horrible watch and I switched off the TV and went for a walk. I later learnt that the Eden Garden fans disrupted the match anyway — not that India had any chance to win — and match was awarded to SL. In the final, SL went on to defeat Australia for the cup. Well deserved win for them and proving a point against Aus.
1999: Chokers, mental disintegration, and the beginning of a dynasty
Circa 1997, match fixing allegations were made and all that crap turned me off from cricket but when the 1999 world cup again, I was back at watching it. Work had taken me to Melbourne, Australia and with the matches happening in England, watching at odd hours started again! In the build up to the world cup, pundits said how this world cup was tailor-made for India, the swinging conditions best fit for our bowlers, etc, etc. Our media never lets go of an opportunity to write something, isn’t it! India’s campaign started disastrously again with Zimbabwe beating them! Then Tendulkar lost his father, flew to India, did the final rites, and flew back immediately to play against Kenya. And what did he do? Go bonkers! He scored a big century and India won. I don’t remember the chronological order but Ganguly and Dravid destroyed Sri Lanka, and India beat England square and fair. In the match against Pakistan — seemingly the only thing India seemed to be worried about in the world cups — India batted first and didn’t score too well. Staying awake thru the night, I remember Indians unable to touch Akram but making Akhtar and Saqlain look listless. When Pakistan started the chase, Azharuddin seemed to have the magic touch. He rotated the bowlers very well and turned to Prasad whenever India needed a breakthrough and Prasad obliged. After beating Pak, India seemed to have thought they’d won the world cup already and relaxed a bit too much. I don’t remember anything good or bad after that — just the fact that they didn’t make it to the semis while Pak, NZ, Aus, and South Africa did. I was back in New Delhi watched the semis and finals with friends. It is that world cup where Steve Waugh famously said to Gibbs “Mate, you just dropped the world cup” when the latter dropped Waugh. The Aus-SA semifinal ended in a tie due to Klusener/Donald blunder and Aus advanced on the virtue of having beaten SA earlier. In the final match, or a mis-match rather, Aus easily beat Pak for the world cup and the Aussie dynasty had just begun and it would dominate for the next two world cups! Steve Waugh’s Australians would sledge the opposition incessantly and call it mental disintegration, and South Africans could not get over the choker tag!
Winds of change in Indian cricket
This world cup ended up being Mohd. Azharuddin’s last. Late 1990s saw the arrival of new promising players like Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, and Harbhajan Singh. These players were nurtured by the soon-to-be captain Sourav Ganguly. This new breed were not tied by traditions and customs, had cut their teeth in a cricketing world that was beginning to see India’s financial power and Ganguly no nonsense, give-it-back-to-them approach on sledging really saw the new beginnings and 20th century indeed ended on a positive note for Indian cricket!
Continued… part II