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March 23, 1999


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Cold comfort

Harsha Bhogle

The more I travel, the fewer people I meet who have any recollection of the first World Cup. It was a fantastic event, and generations of cricketers who earn their living playing the one-day game have much to thank 22 cricketers who played a historic match on the 21st of June 1975.

One day cricket was a little baby, all of four years old at the time, and some of the countries participating hadn’t even played 10 games. It was a small World Cup. Eight countries played in it, and teams that did not make the next stage got only three games. The winner got five, which is half the number of matches that the losing side in the Carlton and United series played this year!

 Mohinder Amarnath with
 Kapil Dev
The tournament was over in two weeks and doubtless, everyone got down to the business of playing some real cricket after that! And I am sure Prudential, who sponsored the event, did so more in a spirit of largesse than in anticipation of commercial gain.

Players looked upon it more as curiosity than as an opportunity to be part of history. Mohinder Amarnath has said that the Indian team looked upon it as a holiday, and Ian Chappell said they only thought about it seriously when they got to the semi-final. And that too, because they were up against the “Poms”.

 Viv Richards
But Prudential got their money’s worth because at least three of the matches achieved legendary status (a preliminary West Indies-Pakistan game and the semi-final between England and Australia being two of them). And the final must go down as one of the finest ever played. It began at 11 o’clock and ended at 8.42 pm, after 118.4 overs had been bowled on a lovely day.
 Clive Lloyd
Some great men played that game, Clive Lloyd produced a masterpiece (with Rohan Kanhai in dignified grey!) and Viv Richards showed why he was one of the great fielders of his generation.

There were no field restrictions -- in fact, apart from keeping each bowler down to a maximum of 12 overs, there were no restrictions at all! I distinctly remember listening on the radio to a brilliant phase in one of the league games, when Dennis Lillee was bowling bouncers with two men placed back for the hook shot and Alvin Kallicharan was hooking at all of them.

Those were really 60 over Test matches, and watching re-runs of the first final is like watching a movie on TNT.

Till as late as 1983, remember, the World Cup was played over 60 overs, and it only came down to 50 for the Reliance Cup because there is no way you can get 120 overs a day in India. It is only on the sub-continent that cricket is a “winter sport” and, with no lights available, it had to be down to 100 overs a day.

 High drama from the 1975 final
Interestingly, the country that pioneered one-day cricket still has no lights. To play an all-day World Cup in 1999 is, I must admit, a bit like cranking your car to start it in the modern era. But in terms of innovation, England are the laggards of the one-day game and the fact that they are allowing coloured clothing must in itself be a bit of a culture shock!

Oops, did I say one-day game? This World Cup may not even be all about one-day cricket because every match has a rain day and may be carried over. But unlike in other tournaments where a game has no legal status if either side has played less than 25 overs, this time the scores will be carried over to a second day if the match cannot be completed within a day.

I think that is shocking, because in the one-day game you always strive to create a situation where both teams have similar conditions to overcome. We might now have a situation where one teams bats on a cold, wet day with the ball seaming around and the other team comes out the next day with the sun on their backs.

The organisers may say it is inevitable given that the World Cup is being played in May and the weather is quite fickle in England at that time of the year. We saw that when India were in England in 1996, and there was no summer till the last Test in Nottingham. But the players may not quite look at it that way.

Another `summer’ like that of 1996 could seriously affect the tournament, and that is why I am not sure that the 14th of May is the right time to be starting a World Cup. I can think of two reasons why they are doing this. The first is that England want to have enough time to play a full season of Test cricket after the World Cup and so, the earlier it ends, the better it is for them.

I hope that is not right, because the World Cup must be pre-eminent and the best possible time should be set aside for it. A World Cup in July or August on slightly worn tracks and sunnier days would have been a great spectacle because summer in England with its long days is just fantastic.

I suspect too that England have learnt from the Australian experience of 1992, where the national team played so much cricket before the World Cup that they looked absolutely jaded. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, if that is indeed the reason, because England have always suffered from injury problems due to the amount of cricket they play.

A May World Cup would leave them with enough fit cricketers to mount a serious challenge. They can, if they believe in themselves a little more.

Harsha Bhogle

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