TO the conformists there is nothing more enthralling than two evenly-matched outfits engaged in an engrossing battle for supremacy in the world of Test cricket. But over a period of time, the advent of other forms of cricket has seen the traditional format progressively losing the charm that used to draw people to the grounds in large numbers.
The success and growing popularity of limited-overs cricket has seen the money-generating Twenty20 version suddenly emerging as a major threat to the 50-over segment because it has all the ingredients to attract spectators wherever it is played. The instant success of this format has already lured the International Cricket Council (ICC) into holding three world championships since the last 50-over World Cup held four years ago.
But despite the electrifying pace of Twenty20, it is the extended edition of limited-overs cricket that still takes top billing, more so when the World Cup is on. The build-up to the quadrennial event is meticulously planned with competing nations eager to shine on the big stage.
Limited-overs cricket first came into limelight in 1963 when England launched a proper 60-over competition which was initially known as the Gillette Cup.
A league tournament confined to Sundays only began in 1969 with matches restricted to 40-overs per side starting at 2:00pm, while a further 55-overs event arrived in 1972 in the shape of the Benson & Hedges Cup.
Pakistan’s first known one-day tournament launched was the popular Wills Cup in 1980-81 as a 45-overs-a-side contest, which drew big crowds because of the involvement of top national stars and continued until 1997-98. But apart from that competition, domestic events here have never been continued for a prolonged period. In the subsequent years, one-day cricket on the national front has survived.
The One-day International (ODI) was born during England’s triumphant Ashes tour of Australia in 1970-71. Ironically, the 40th anniversary of this version was celebrated on Jan 5 this year.
The story goes that it was the lure of money that led to the introduction of one-day cricket on the world stage after the scheduled third Test of the six-match series was abandoned following incessant rain in Melbourne.
According to Bill Lawry, Australia’s captain at the time, it was the legendary Sir Donald Bradman, arguably the greatest batsman ever to play Test cricket in the history of the game, who floated the idea to make some money to cover up for the losses suffered due to the cancellation of the Test (although it was later agreed between the two countries to add an extra Test to the original itinerary, at the same venue).
Lawry remembers in a recent interview: “They attracted 46,000 people to the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the first-ever One-day International and generated over 30,000 Australian dollars, considered good money in those days. I don’t think there were any pre-sold tickets, just people walking up on the day after the Test match was abandoned on day three [Jan 2].”
Although Australia won the inaugural One-day International, most of their players know little of the nuances appended to limited-overs cricket. Even Lawry can’t recall playing the one-day form prior to that game! But he does, however, recall taking the first catch in ODI to dismiss Geoff Boycott off fast bowler Alan Thomson.
Unlike the modern-day schedules, one-day games were hardly planned on bilateral tours in the early days of instant cricket.
The idea to hold a limited-overs global championship was first thought to be put forward in 1969 by Ben Brocklehurst, a former cricketer and publisher who died in June 2007 at the age of 85. But it was in 1973 at the ICC’s annual meeting that the plans to organise the World Cup were officially tabled and the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) put together the first such event in 1975.
The inaugural tournament — as the next three competitions — was played in traditional white clothing and red balls. Respected West Indian cricket broadcaster-cum-writer Tony Cozier at that point in time described the introduction of the World Cup as a daring and remarkable innovation the game has known since over-arm bowling was legislated.
The tournament, although making small profits, turned out to be a great hit with the spectators and followers alike when it was played in glorious sunshine over a two-week period in June.
The first three tournaments hosted by England, initially considered the only country able to garner resources to stage such an event, were officially titled as the Prudential World Cup, the name after the sponsors Prudential Assurance, with eight teams participating including six Test-playing nations — the notable absentee being South Africa, banned from international cricket until 1991 due to apartheid policy — Sri Lanka, then not yet a full ICC member, and a combined team representing East Africa.
From 1979 onwards, the game’s governing body decided to hold a separate competition to select non-Test playing teams for the mega event. Sri Lanka won the inaugural ICC Trophy to qualify for the World Cup that year along with runners-up Canada. This tournament was later renamed the ICC World Cup Qualifier.
By the time the 1983 World Cup was staged, Sri Lanka had gained Test status while Zimbabwe joined the big boys after winning the qualifying tournament the year before.
The modern-day gimmicks such as coloured clothing with names — and numbers — printed on the back, white balls, floodlight matches, black sightscreens — were introduced in the 1992 World Cup much after Kerry Packer’s breakaway World Series Cricket in Australia had set the trend in the late 1970s.
Over the years, the World Cup family has not only grown in stature with more nations participating but also countries getting the opportunity to play as the hosts. India and Pakistan co-hosted the 1987 Reliance World Cup, followed by Australia and New Zealand who combined to host the Benson & Hedges World Cup 1992. Sri Lanka joined hands with Pakistan and India to organise the 1996 Wills World Cup.
South Africa, in collaboration with Zimbabwe and Kenya, had the honour to stage the new millennium’s first tournament in 2003 before the World Cup bandwagon moved to the West Indies in 2007.
From the 1999 segment onwards when England were once again the hosts, the governing body came up with the trophy presented to the champions known as the ICC Cricket World Cup, the replica of which has been presented to Australia three times since along with the ever-increasing prize money.
As the years went by, a number of changes in playing conditions were necessitated and rules amended from time to time with fielding restrictions and powerplays to make one-day cricket more stimulating. The concept of neutral or third country umpires — an idea put forward by Pakistan — was put into practice from the 1987 World Cup while match referees made their official debut nine years later.
The first three World Cups were played over 60 overs before moving to the standardised 50-overs format from 1987 onwards.
In between the showpiece event, the ICC has been organising the Champions Trophy, a tournament that now features the top eight teams in world cricket.