Will the cup go to Zimbabwe?

Published: Wednesday, June 2, 1999, 5:30 [IST]
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When the great Clive Lloyd's West Indians made clean sweep of the first two world cups (1975 and 1979), the cricket world was not made to sit up and watch. After all, the limited - over cricket suited the West Indian style of approach - was the general reaction. Moreover the participants, including the West Indies, would not have believed that this version of the game was going to be a sell-out sport sooner or later. "Test cricket is the unlimited" - they all believed firmly. No doubt, the first World Cup final had an exciting finish with Australia going down by just 17 runs.

Then in the 1979 World Cup, there was a league match in which England got past Pakistan by 14 runs and / later in a semi-final the home team scraped past New Zealand by nine runs.

Anyway, the World Cup did not catch the imagination of the public in most part of cricket-playing world. Those were the days when big-time sponsors were not known, and, the TV net-work was not as wide as it is now in the modern era of cricket. So, with due respect to Clive Lloyd and his men it must be said that even the West Indies were hailed all over the cricket world more for their exploits in the Test arena rather than for those deeds in two World Cups.

Kerry Packer, the Australian tycoon, was initially called a pirate when he introduced a limited - over cricket with lights, colour, clothing, black sight-screen and above all 'white ball'. No individual venture was ever condemned as forthrightly as the one by Packer. But the concept seemed to have had the blessings of Almighty. It could not be defeated. And now this is the type of cricket, which the public, media, sponsors and the TV channels adore and pamper. From the 1983 World Cup (again held in England) the one-day cricket had become the most fashionable sport, especially in India.

Kapil Dev's Indians went to this championship without any pretensions, and returned with the Cup. In the final they crushed the West Indies which naturally tilted the cricket world upside down. Sine then, every world cup has been producing a new, unexpected champion.

In the first two world Cups, the teams were divided into two groups and at the end of the league the top two teams made the knockout semi-finals. In 1983, the eight teams divided into groups but met each other's twice before the knockout qualifiers were spotted. That certainly increased the competitiveness.

Moreover the format appeared fair to all participants. Indian made history consuming all giants on their way. The current domestic system is no doubt a well-planned one. Right from the under-14 age group there are Board tournaments in this country. But the complaint is: The gulf in the standard of the top 15 of 20 players of the country and that of the players in the lower rung is becoming wider and wider. Unless this is narrowed down considerably, this large nation had to depend on the class and ability of the top 15 or 20 for many more seasons to come. That is certainly detrimental.

In the next World Cup (1987) jointly organised by India and Pakistan, the same format was adopted. By this time, the cricketing world saw the One-Day Internationals assuming complete command. The Benson and Hedges World Series in Australia, the cricket in the Desert (Sharjah) became instant hits while all cricket tours included an one-day series. The media went to town, and, the public crowned the One-day heroes.

The 1987 too witnessed the emergence of a new, unexpected champions. Not that Australia could be rated as minnows but the favorite spot was shared by India and Pakistan. The Indian sub-continent dreamt an Indo-Pak final throughout the championship until the two oldest giants - England and Australia-stole a march over the joint-hosts.

England beat India in a semi-final and Australia got past Pakistan in the other. Eventually Australia took the Cup home. The next World Cup, 1992, went to the land of Kerry Packer. A poetic justice indeed. South Africa was back in the World sports scene, and the number of participants was nine. The format was changed. There was no grouping. The teams played each other once and the top four qualified for the semi-final knock out.

The rain rules which was later ridiculed and condemned. In fact, the rain-rules marred and even destroyed the form-book, and , an unexpected team - Pakistan - made the semi - finals and went on to win the Cup. Pakistan, after a poor show in the league, rose to great heights in the semi-final (New Zealnd) and the final (New Zealand) and the final (England) and the charismatic skipper Imran Khan, a motivator par excellence, lifted the Cup with pride.

So, in this Cup championship too, an unexpected team had won the title. South Africa was ruined by the rain rules which was later ridiculed and condemned. In fact, the rain-rules were changed thereafter in an effort to safeguard the reputation of the game. With Srilanka emerging as an attractive One-Day team, cricket particularly One-Day cricket, became the most glamourous pastime in the Indian sub-continent. Sponsors started knocking the cricket doors right through the 1980s especially after India had won the 1983 World Cup and 1985 Benson and Hedges World Series.

And of course, the Indo-Pak series in the Desert was growing in status and became a permanent fixture in the Asian cricket circuit. So, the three Boards of Control for Cricket in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka bid to stage the 1996 World Cup and got it. This World Cup was a tremendous success and strengthened the hands and status of the three countries in World Cricket. UAE, Holland Kenya made their debut in 1996 Cup and format was again changed. Two groups of six each played the league. The top four from each group came to the knock-out.

Australia and the West Indies refused to go to Sri Lanka and play. The result: Sri Lanka got full points and the turned to be a great beginning for the talented Islanders who did not look back. Arjuna Ranatunga led them to title triumph. Ironically enough, they defeated Australia in the final at Lahore. Now in the World Cup 1999, there bound to be a new champion as Sri Lanka had already been driven out of the championship.

There are three former champions in the Super Six in India, Australia and Pakistan. Right from the Day One of the championship South Africa and Pakistan are being rated as the favourites. But at the end of the preliminary league, there emerged a fresh and talented bunch which is threatening to take the Cup home this time. That is Zimbabwe. Right from the 1983 World Cup Zimbabwe are respected for their outstanding fielding and catching. They stunned the world by beating Australia in a league match in 1983 but they have never been a threat in the subsequent World Cups.


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