Awaiting Lords of Cricket

With any team now capable of besting the other, the World Cup tourney promises razor’s edge contests and excitement

By Author  |  Published: 26th May 2019  12:00 amUpdated: 25th May 2019  10:00 pm

How fast time flies. It seems as if it was only yesterday that India were celebrating their first-ever World Cup triumph at Lord’s, the Mecca of world cricket, when Kapil Dev’s men bested the mighty West Indies to lord over the game in England in 1983. That win over Clive Lloyd’s team is still considered as one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. It changed India’s perception towards one-day cricket.

As the manager of that World Cup team, Man Singh reminisces on one-day cricket being new to India till the 80s. “We always believed in Test cricket. Somehow, one-day cricket never caught the imagination of the Indians till Kapil’s Devils epic show in England. There was no video expert, masseur, physio, trainers, etc., nor was there any coach. The captain and senior members acted as coaches and I gave my opinion whenever asked. The simple message was give your 150%.”

Going down memory lane, Man Singh says the best part, unlike now when there is a lot of hullabaloo about the World Cup, the team quietly slipped into England. “There was no media glare. It was a quiet send-off and we landed in England with little hope of reaching the semi-finals. But as a team, we were confident of a good show as we had beaten the West Indies at Berbice that year for India’s first ever one-day win over them. It gave us a window of belief that Lloyd’s men are beatable. But no one gave us a chance of winning the World Cup. India’s poor show in the 1975 and 1979 editions put us in poor light.

The Elixir

Man Singh points out that the turning point was the hunger and bonhomie among the team members. “It was all about man management. There was perfect bonhomie and very few differences. We made it a point to keep everyone in a good frame of mind. My policy was simple. I took each individual into confidence. I knew their likes and dislikes. There was no disparity among the seniors and juniors. I learnt from the late Ghulam Ahmed, former secretary of BCCI and Hyderabad Cricket Association, who told me to be friendly with every member.’’

Though there were big stars like Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar, Man Singh handled these players tactfully. “I knew them from a young age and I made them comfortable. In fact, I was lucky that I knew every member of the team individually as they came for the famous Moin-ud-Dowlah Gold Cup or were part of the Hyderabad Blues team. The get-together suggested by me before the final against West Indies was a big success. We invited some Indian cricketers like Abid Ali, GR Viswanath and some English cricketers like Tony Lewis. It was indeed a fairy-tale run in 1983. Kapil’s Devils were rank outsiders but finished on the podium. We were fortunate to have bonded as a winning unit at the right time to beat the best of the teams. Lords turned out to a mini-India,’’ recalls Man Singh.

History at Home

It took 28 years for Dhoni’s men to repeat Kapil’s feat. But they too scripted history as they broke the jinx of a home team not winning the World Cup. Till 2011, no home team had won the World Cup. Between 1983 and 2011, the team grew in stature and the Board of Control for Cricket in India began wielding more power in the International Cricket Council (ICC). India became the superpower of world cricket.

The Indian team had stumbled in five editions with the best coming in 2003 when Sourav Ganguly’s side lost in the final to Australia in South Africa and the worst in 2007 in West Indies, when Rahul Dravid’s men failed to qualify for the knockouts in West Indies.

India also broke England’s hegemony of hosting the World Cup by staging the quadrennial tournament in 1987 and again in 1996. There was a lot of euphoria associated with India hosting the World Cup. Dhoni’s six that signalled India’s win over Sri Lanka in the final at Wankhede Stadium is still vivid. That six was the perfect finish. It gave joy to millions of Indians and there were celebrations at Marine Drive in Mumbai till morning. As coach Gary Kirsten said: “We played average through the tournament, we had a really good quarter-final where we were under pressure. In my head, I just thought we are not playing that well and winning. Imagine, when we play well.”

The nation came to a standstill when India took on arch-rival Pakistan in the semifinals in Mohali. Two-time World Cupper SL Venkatapathy Raju feels any match between India and Pakistan is special. “It is all about holding your nerves. There is some tension among the players. There is all excitement around the field before and during the match. It is called Big-Day. The Indian team has a unique record of not losing to Pakistan in a World Cup. That adds to the pressure on the players,’’ says Raju.

Tight Contest

In Mohali, India convincingly beat Pakistan before meeting Sri Lanka in the final. “It was tight all the way. We bowled OK. 274 is a really competitive score in the final. I thought the team was capable of overhauling it. I felt even if we lose a few wickets, we have got too many good players. That’s exactly what happened. We just had too many good players. Someone was going to get a hundred, and Gautam Gambhir got 97. We just had great players around,” stresses Kirsten.

But it was the masterstroke by Dhoni that proved decisive in the final. The skipper promoted himself ahead of Yuvraj Singh. “There was some thinking around … having a left-hand-right-hand combination against (Muttiah) Muralitharan. That’s why Dhoni was quite keen to go up the order. He just knocked on the window, and said, “I want to go in next and I’d be good for that. I was not going to say no.”

On English Pitch

Australia dethroned India in 2015 Down Under but the stage is now set for the 2019 edition in England. New strategies, new tactics and a new brand of cricket will be played during the English Summer. Expect close finishes, high-scoring matches and lots of excitement.

The format of nine round-robin matches will test the character of any team. The conditions in England have changed. If there is going to be anything at all on the pitches, it will be early in the game. The ball even tends to reverse during the later stages. There could be some cavalier batting tactics and fireworks from Andre Russell, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Jos Buttler, Jason Roy, David Warner and Jonny Bairstow, to name a few.

The bowlers have become street-smart. It is no more sheer pace but intelligent and canny bowling. The bowlers have learnt the art of variation with slower balls, yorkers, slow bouncers, etc, which confuses the batsmen. It is the likes of Jasprit Bumrahs and Malingas that we need to look out for. And, over the years, the wrist spinners have made a big mark. This year, it could be Rashid Khan, Imran Tahir, Kuldeep Yadav or Yuzvendra Chahal who can befuddle the batsmen.

The onus will also be on the fielding, which has sharpened over the years. Fielders like Ravindra Jadeja, Kohli, Faf du Plessis can be lightning on the field. There could be brilliant catches and run-outs. As Indian fielding coach R Sridhar says, the bar has been raised in fielding.

Dhoni, one of the senior most players of the tournament, will hold centrestage. Playing in his fourth World Cup, Dhoni is one of the fittest players. As far as wicketkeeping goes, he is among the best. Coach Ravi Shastri rightly says that Dhoni will have a massive role to play. “He is right there, his communication has been fantastic. As a keeper, he has shown over the years that no one is better than him in this format, not just in taking catches, inflicting those run-outs or stumping. These are little moments in the game which can change it on the head,” says Shastri.

Podium Finish

The next 45 days, starting from May 30, will see 48 matches at 11 venues. Indian skipper Kohli points out that it is a challenging tournament, especially because all teams will give their best owing to the round-robin system.

“Personally, it will probably be the most challenging World Cup I have been part of because of the format and also the strength of all the teams. If you look at Afghanistan from 2015 to now, they are a completely different side. Any team can upset anyone. Focus will be on to play the best cricket that we can. You have to play to the best of your potential in every game because it is not a group stage situation,’’ opines Kohli.

Many also feel hosts England will seriously try to cross the boundary. The legendary Brian Lara is of the firm belief that the hosts can win their first-ever World Cup. The stakes are high. The winners will receive a record $4 million. In all, a total of $10 million is on offer during the showpiece tournament.

All eyes will now be on the mega-event. Will Kohli bring back the World Cup to India? The expectations are high as the Indian team exudes confidence drawn from their good run in recent years.