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Cricket’s World Cup over the ages – Perspectives


International cricket’s showpiece, the WORLD CUP (Men), begins in little over two weeks when Bangladesh entertains India on home soil in Mirpur. In the issues leading up to this occasion, SEARCHLIGHT will provide its readers with some perspectives on this tournament.{{more}}


The very first cricket World Cup was held in England from June 7-21, 1975. Before then, cricket was one of the few international sports without a truly multi-national tournament which could be construed as a world championship. Though various teams, by conquering their opponents over a certain timespan, had laid claim to the title “world champion”, it was always prefaced by the term “unofficial”, since without a tournament as obtained in football, athletics or the Olympics, that was the status.

The main problem in organising such a tournament lies in the nature of Test cricket itself, then the only form of international cricket. The duration of each match, over a five-day period, means that any tournament involving several teams would last a fairly long time. To this date, Test cricket has not found a solution, though there is now international agreement as to a format for a world championship.

The emergence of one-day cricket, for first-class cricketers in the sixties, provided a ray of hope that a solution could be found. By then, first-class cricket in England, and Test cricket too, was becoming engulfed in boredom. Slow batting and negative tactics had resulted in a loss of spectator interest. English county teams found attendances falling off, thereby affecting revenue. The financial viability of the game was threatened. At international level too, the proportion of drawn matches had increased significantly, as is evidenced by the fact that during the sixties, almost 50% of Test matches played ended as draws, an increase of nearly 15% over the previous decade.

Clearly, the game needed a boost and a stimulus to revive spectator interest. An experiment was tried in England in 1962 with a series of one-day matches between some counties, on a limited-over basis. So encouraging was the response that sponsorship was obtained from the GILLETTE company (of shaving fame) for an English one-day competition in 1963, the Gillette Cup. A Sunday League, (cricket was not played on Sundays at the first-class level in England in those days), followed. Such was the success that at international level eyes began to be cast in that direction.

Thus, when on the English tour of Australia in 1971, the first three days of the Ashes Test in Melbourne were washed out by rain, it was decided to play a 40-over, one-day match for spectator satisfaction. This was the first-ever One-Day International (ODI), as we know it today. Forty years later, limited-over cricket has come to dominate world cricket, both in terms of frequency and spectator support. It was only logical that the sport would seize on the growing popularity to stage its first World championship. Interestingly, it was Women’s cricket which pioneered a World Cup, the first such championship having been held in England in 1973. The West Indies did not compete as one entity then, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago competing individually.

The same England was chosen as the venue for the first World Cup for men, two years later. Among the factors for the choice of venue, were the traditionally strong influence of English cricket at the international level, its experience in organizing one-day games, and a very convenient factor in that England was the only country playing cricket in the northern summer in those days, and therefore in the best position to host all the others. Sponsorship was also important, the big insurance company, PRUDENTIAL ASSURANCE, becoming the first sponsor.

England in fact hosted the first three World Cups, 1975, 1979, and 1983. It has since travelled south, going outside the United Kingdom for the first time in 1987, when it was hosted on the Indian sub-continent. The West Indies never got its chance to host until 2007, though the regional team played its first ODI at the end of the 1973 tour of England, losing a close encounter with England by one wicket at Headingley. A couple days later, the tables were turned at the Oval, with Roy Fredericks scoring the West Indies’ first century in ODI cricket.

(PART 11 on Friday, February 4)