Though the seeds for one-dayers were sown courtesy an aborted Ashes Test in 1971, it took four more years for the inception of the format’s crown jewel. Sixty overs, red balls and white jerseys, soggy daytime English weather; the men’s World Cup was still a hesitant, nascent extension of the puritan format.
You don’t really need to go further than the fact that the event was called just the Prudential Cup, with no “World” sandwiched between those two words. Teams were still coming to grips with the approach that the format needed, if that Sunil Gavaskar 36 not out is anything to go by.
But the insurance brokers had pumped in a fair bit of money to promote “The world’s greatest summer of cricket”, one that also saw the enlisting of Walt Disney character Jiminy Cricket coupled with a specially designed logo. The captains did meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace before the event, but that high tea build-up was eons away from the current one that happened on Thursday, sans the gazillion glaring spotlights affixed on Virat Kohli and his rival skippers.
That West Indies were the obliterators-in-chief of the first two editions was not surprising. They’d been a major force in the longer format and it wasn’t surprising to see their dominance flow over into the shorter format in 1975, 1979 and even 1983.
The event, even from an overall perspective, was still an ensconce for the elite; eight teams hashing it out against each other in 15 clashes stretched out over a fortnight. But the first three editions did set the ball rolling for what the World Cup would go on to mean by the turn of the next millennium.
Hip Hip Hue-rray
Even as Kerry Packer busied himself in 1977 in trying to break the iron grip that traditional broadcasters had, it took the biggest tournament of the world 15 more years to embrace the idea of “pyjama cricket”. That history-defining, odds-defying World Cup win in 1983 had served as a big catalyst for the rise of the format’s popularity in India; also in the subcontinent, as an extension. Thus the 1992 edition turned out to be the perfect springboard to dive towards the adrenaline-toting version that the World Cup would go on to become.
The whites that players used to wear started bleeding colour. The red ball that they used to throw around lost its. Floodlights came by to ensure that the night would still be young. Power was added to play — even though the baptism actually happened in 2005 — courtesy the rule restricting the number of fielders outside the 30-yard circle to two for the first 15 overs. It was also the first where bowlers could hurl only one bouncer in an over.
Everybody was playing everybody for the first time. Even the addition of South Africa added spice to how things would turn out to be courtesy another first: the Most Productive Overs method for calculating shortened targets. Pinch-hitters started to come into being. Spinners started to open the bowling. Even those field restrictions sparked a new wave of fearless openers who had no qualms in taking the aerial route right from the start, an approach that Romesh Kaluwitharana and Sanath Jayasuriya would embody perfectly in the next edition.
Imran Khan’s lifting of the trophy also inadvertently served as a foreshadowing of the rise of Asia — mostly India — in the format in the years to come.
From its wiry teenager avatar, the World Cup had by 1992 transformed into a strapping, broad-chested man; one that had started to creep up to the stature of its football counterpart, and even the Olympics. Gone were the days when the organisers of the inaugural edition were hoping that they wouldn’t be saddled with losses before the Ashes. That the broadcast rights for the 1996 World Cup had zoomed to $14 million was a story in itself. Not to mention Wills shelling out $16 million more to be the official title sponsors, more than thrice of what predecessor Benson & Hedges had done four years ago. Heck, Coca Cola burned a $3.8 million crater in their wallets just to become the official soft drink of the event.
All this time, ICC was a peripheral presence in terms of organisation, one that hardly had a finger in this monetary pie. It was in 1997 that the tide turned for the international body, with Jagmohan Dalmiya taking over its reins. ICC’s agenda shifted its gears from mellow to profit-driven; it wasn’t just content with framing rules and regulations any more. And the first target its crosshairs centered in on was commercial and broadcast revenue.
Two years later, ECB went about the usual administerial rigmarole for getting the hosting rights for a World Cup, but they were up against a new caveat: surrender half of its broadcast, commercial, and ticketing income to ICC.
The world body had just reared its ultimate golden goose, one that would go on in 2003 and 2007 to lay eggs worth more than $1 billion. Not a surprise that they eventually had enough of scrounging around their office at Lord’s, and in 2005 shifted base to a more sprawling one in the plush locales of Dubai to escape from the more stringent tax laws of Great Britain.
Then and now
The crown jewel of 50-over cricket has spanned a long, historic sojourn, but even as it is less than a week away from making a dozen, criticism has made that a bit dirty. Apart from coming a full circle in terms of format — 1992 was the last time when the group stage was a round-robin one — this iteration will also go down in cricketing history as the first to not feature an Associate nation. While the latter has proved to be fodder for quite a few brickbats, the former has made quite a few captains label this
World Cup as “tough” and “challenging”.
But then again, time is perhaps the best healer; in some cases, the best leveller of the field. Halfway through that final involving Kapil Dev and his men, the punters at Lord’s pegged their odds of winning at 100:1. Even as Virat Kohli and his men get ready for this World Cup, that figure now stands at 5:1. A brave new world beckons.