Graeme Wood is hit by a bouncer from Malcolm Marshall

Not seeing is believing: Graeme Wood is hit on the side of the head by a Michael Holding bouncer at Headingley in 1983

© Getty Images

The Jury's Out

The best World Cup

Two continents, three decades, four winners, many reasons: our panel of crack writers tells you which of the ten tournaments was the best of them all

1983
Hosts England
Winners India

By Christian Ryan

World domination is a very adult obsession. Maybe that quarter-explains the strangeness of this: the 1983 World Cup, which happened when I was nine, was the best World Cup yet on saying so I'm almost instantly picturing Julien Wiener of Victoria batting in a domestic cup, the 1981-82 McDonald's Cup, bareheaded, with yellow pads on his white-trousered legs, and the pads are at odds with the players' otherwise all-white outfits. Trevor Chappell, mole-like, keeps burrowing in to bowl. Wiener, loose-jointed, standing still, is steering balls off his toes.

The scorecard quarter-confirms it: Wiener made 108 of Victoria's 213 in a losing cause (next-best score was Richie Robinson's 28) against New South Wales. Also, Trevor Chappell was among the bowlers. Except: so was Gary Bensley. Bensley's face (curls, glasses) is a face I know, having glimpsed it many hundred times in a Ken Piesse paperback I was addicted to called The A to Z of Cricket. Makes for poignant rereading now: Bensley's "greatest cricketing moment" was "getting Graham Yallop out in first McDonald's Cup game" - i.e. that game I sat in front of on TV. Bensley played only four more times after that.

The catch here is it wasn't in my skin or consciousness that I'd ever physically watched Bensley bowl. And I did. It's a jolt. Which doesn't make me question my recollected gist of Wiener's innings - which was Atlas-like - but I am slightly second-guessing, now, the no cap/helmet detail, and the pads (although Peter Toohey unmistakably wore yellow pads on white pants during a run-a-minute 30 a fortnight later), and also how blurry are the boundaries between imagining/wishing/remembering the cricket I watched on TV aged seven to nine.

The TV guide in 31-years-yellowed issues of the cowboy newspaper of the frontier town I grew up in tells me what I knew. That I never watched Kapil Dev's firebombing of the rhododendrons at Tunbridge Wells in the 1983 World Cup. Nor Mohsin Khan's single four in 57 overs (the four was from a misfield) at The Oval against West Indies. Two channels we had, one with ads, one without, and both went off air about 10.25pm local time and before lunch hour UK time. A Michael Holding bumper landed Graeme Wood in Leeds General Infirmary. Non-striker was Kim Hughes. "Sssssss," hissed Hughes, goading Wayne Daniel, and hooking Daniel's first ball (coming at Hughes' head) for six. "Sssssss," repeated Hughes, and hooked Daniel's second ball (at Hughes' head) for six. Hughes was out moments later, for 18. Some things that happen in cricket go into the fan bone-deep. To see them, you don't have to have watched them. Watching is a bonus. Sometimes, watching shrinks things.

One reason why the 1983 World Cup was the best World Cup: the ending at Lord's. This was the climax of a magnificently formatted tournament, built for thrills

One concrete, non-hazy, watched ("Sports Special - Prudential Cup Cricket Final - commentators will be Richie Benaud, Peter West, Fred Trueman and Jim Laker") reason why the 1983 World Cup was the best World Cup: the ending at Lord's. This was the climax of a magnificently formatted tournament, one built for thrills. Eight strong teams, no weaklings, containing two-dozen-odd all-time giants of cricket between them, played six games each in 12 sun-sprinkled days. They were games of 60 overs. Then came two semi-finals. Then a final - and people still say what a shock it was and how India's chances were cactus after their all-out 183. People forget how the last 22 of them were pieced together by tenth-wicket pair Kirmani and Sandhu, the West Indian fielders' skins slowly going clammy before our eyes. The maroon patka under Sandhu's helmet was a red rag to bulls. Holding's steep-rising missile - Sandhu bent his body back horizontal to escape that one; but Marshall's followed him, and Sandhu lacked the technique to tear his head away and out of the road.

I see Srikkanth on one knee square-driving Roberts in front of point, and Kapil's first over to Greenidge: leave-alone, block, maiden. Viv Richards ripped seven fours, each a refresher course in audacity. Mostly I see tense longueurs, and a nine-run, 18-minute stand between Lloyd and Gomes, joined together at 57 for 3, one sunhatted, the other unhatted, with an Afro, every twitch and flicker mattering, TVs fogging up, and Gomes, his nerves murdered, eventually poking at a ball too close to poke at.

This was no new genre of cricket, more a bittersweet short twist on an already existing, ingeniously devised five-day genre. It is not beyond reckoning that 60-over cricket's day might come again.

Christian Ryan is a writer based in Melbourne. He is the author of Golden Boy, Australia: Story of a Cricket Country and Rock Country

****

1999
Hosts England
Winners Australia

By Tim de Lisle

The World Cup: it's just a majestic concept. When cricket finally got round to it, after 98 years of Tests, it seemed like a format that couldn't go wrong. Perhaps it was: the original structure - eight teams, two groups, top two in each go through to the semi-finals - did a fine job for two tournaments, and then the administrators started mucking around with it. Like certain companies they would later seek as sponsors, they took a sensible portion and replaced it with something bloated. The upshot is that there hasn't been a great World Cup in the 21st century.

But at least the last one of the 20th was a cracker. The final may have been the mother of all anti-climaxes, but that was only one day: judging a World Cup by its final, as football fans know, is like judging a meal by the hot drink at the end. The task of a tournament is to keep us enthralled for weeks, and the 1999 World Cup did that.

Do or tie: Lance Klusener bludgeoned 31 off 14 balls only to trip up in the end in the unforgettable 1999 semi-final

Do or tie: Lance Klusener bludgeoned 31 off 14 balls only to trip up in the end in the unforgettable 1999 semi-final © PA Photos

It obeyed four golden rules. First, the favourites must falter. Steve Waugh's Australians were a phenomenal team, with Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne acting as two bowlers each, both spearheads and shields, and a batting line-up, led by Adam Gilchrist, that could afford to leave Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer at home. Yet the Aussies lost two of their first three games, to New Zealand and Pakistan, and were left, like Imran's cornered tigers seven years before, facing a series of cliffhangers.

The second rule is that at least three teams must be worthy winners. South Africa, under Hansie Cronje, before his fall from grace, were immense; Pakistan, under Wasim Akram, were on fire; India, under Mohammad Azharuddin, were more than useful. England, under Alec Stewart, were less than useful, but you can't have everything. (India and England both had better captains in the ranks - Sourav Ganguly and Nasser Hussain. They soon acknowledged as much.)

Third, you need underdogs who bite as well as bark. Zimbabwe, the only team in their group to beat South Africa, reached the Super Sixes, trumping England and Sri Lanka, the hosts and the holders. The dank spring air made heroes of mortals like Geoff Allott, and New Zealand wibbled and wobbled all the way to the semi-finals.

There was one unforgettable day, as good as a great final. The Edgbaston semi-final had it all: ebb, flow, duels, contrasts, unbeatable drama

Fourth, there was one unforgettable day, as good as a great final. The second semi-final, played at Edgbaston by Australia and South Africa, had it all: ebb, flow, duels, contrasts, grit, guile, gormlessness and unbeatable drama. Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald took 9 for 68 between them; Warne replied with 4 for 29. Michael Bevan played a superb finisher's hand; so did Lance Klusener, whose discerning bludgeon was blazing a trail for T20. He came in with 39 runs needed off 31 balls and hit 31 off 14, which left South Africa needing only one off the last four. He and Donald survived a run-out chance (bungled by Lehmann), only to succumb to another one off the next ball. The match was tied, which let Australia through because they had a higher net run rate in the Super Sixes. It was Bob Woolmer's last game as South Africa coach, and it was full of pathos and bathos.

There's a song by Elbow called "One Day Like This", a great ball of warmth that has become popular at weddings. "One day like this a year'd see me right," goes the chorus. One day like that in a career would see me right. It was the best game I've ever covered - or seen.

Tim de Lisle is a former editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly, wisden.com and Wisden Cricketers' Almanack. He now edits Intelligent Life magazine

****

1975
Hosts England
Winners West Indies

By Tony Cozier

"Perhaps the boldest and most ambitious innovation the game has known since the legalisation of overarm bowling." In hindsight, my immediate assessment of the inaugural World Cup in England appears somewhat hyperbolic, influenced perhaps by an excess of euphoria over West Indies as champions, but in spite of the game's spectacular transformation over the intervening 40 years, I'm sticking to my guns.

As 14 teams prepare for the 11th tournament, contesting 49 matches at 14 venues, over six weeks in two countries, with $4 million as first prize (as against £4000 back then), 1975 is, indeed, an unrecognisable anachronism. For all that, it added a new dimension to the most traditional of all sports. The unequivocal success of its prototype guaranteed its future, much as so many of the rudimentary inventions of the 19th century have led to the technological wizardry of the 21st.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the inaugural World Cup was effectively one-day Test cricket. England had pioneered domestic limited-overs competitions, experience of which gave West Indies a considerable advantage; their entire XI in the final had got the hang of it through their time with various counties. India were so clueless about its contrasts, they eked out 132 for 3 from 60 overs in their opening match, against England; the great Sunil Gavaskar batted through the innings for 36. There were 60 overs an innings, ten more than the 50 that were standard by the time the Cup moved out of England to India in 1987. The ball was red, team kits were white, helmets were a couple of years away, floodlights a fantasy. Players were not adorned with tattoos, shiny gold chains and designer sunglasses. Stud earrings would have immediately prompted speculation about a player's sexuality.

Happy days: the 1975 World Cup is remembered as much for the unrestrained celebrations of the West Indian immigrants at Lord's and The Oval as for the heroics of the team they supported

Happy days: the 1975 World Cup is remembered as much for the unrestrained celebrations of the West Indian immigrants at Lord's and The Oval as for the heroics of the team they supported © PA Photos

Just eight teams competed. Africa was represented not by its strongest - white-ruled South Africa and Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe then was - but by East Africa, an amalgamation of outclassed weekend club cricketers from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia. Bangladesh was a long way from recognition as worthy of international cricket.

England, with its short distances, its long summer days and its large immigrant populations from the cricket-playing Commonwealth, was the obvious venue. Its notoriously capricious weather was a worrying factor that never materialised. It remained gloriously warm and sunny throughout; not an over was lost. West Indies' triumph over Australia in an unforgettable final at Lord's was completed at 8.43pm on the longest day of the year - also among the hottest. It was a fitting climax.

The memories of the highlights of the day and the tournament remain strong after 40 years. The video footage through the wonder of YouTube reinforces them. For me, fortunate to be one of the BBC's radio commentators, the most vivid are not so much the outstanding matches and individual performances, as plentiful as they were, as the typically joyous, uninhibited celebrations of thousands of immigrant West Indians at Lord's and The Oval, in the very heart of London's Caribbean community.

As Alvin Kallicharran assaulted the feared Dennis Lillee in the first encounter with the Aussies at The Oval, seemingly every West Indian from south London banged a drum

At the game's revered home of cricket, they cleared the perimeter ropes at every boundary and every wicket to cavort across the hallowed outfield as their champions advanced to their title on captain Clive Lloyd's 85-ball 102 and young Viv Richards' athleticism and laser-sharp accuracy, which ran out three of the top four Australians, among them the dangerous Chappell brothers. As Alvin Kallicharran assaulted the feared Dennis Lillee in the first encounter with the Aussies at The Oval, seemingly every West Indian from south London banged a drum and bellowed advice and support in an unmistakable Caribbean accent. The absence of such expressiveness, thanks to security-obsessed regulations, would devalue the spirit of future tournaments.

According to captain Ian Chappell, what interested the Australians more than the newfangled game was the four-Test Ashes series that followed. They might not have liked single-innings cricket; they liked losing less. Most satisfying was their low-scoring semi-final victory over England on a brute of a Headingley pitch; they came mightily close in the final.

It was all over in two weeks, to unanimous acclaim, not least from the initiators, the ICC, who swiftly scheduled a repeat in England four years on. Since then, it has become the game's main event: 1975 was its genesis.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for 50 years

****

1996
Hosts India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka
Winners Sri Lanka

By Telford Vice

Galle Railway Station is steam-powered nostalgia, from its "Retiring Room" to the sluggish chug and pained squeal of ancient steel to the wooden board on which hand-painted names of destinations are set beside clock faces fitted with static hands denoting departure times. On these platforms, heavy with still, sticky air, time itself feels static. Just where in the past it is stuck is difficult to fix - somewhere between 1505, when the Portuguese arrived and declared the place theirs, to January 22, 1901, when Victoria, faraway queen and coloniser, died.

At the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo, no such uncertainty prevails. As such places do, it creaks with heavily varnished Anglophilia. Moth-eaten waiters somnambulate between tables in smart waistcoats and shabby shoes. No male top lip, whether in the paintings and photographs on the walls or under a living, breathing nose, is without its regulation-issue moustache. The ground staff live in dormitories too easily visible to reporters climbing many, many stairs to reach the press box. Modernity seems almost as far away from this place as it is from the 426-year-old Galle Fort, much less the railway station. But here the past has nailed its number to the mast. Here it is always March 17, 1996.

The Eastenders: Perceived as less talented little brothers to India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka were unfashionable winners in 1996

The Eastenders: Perceived as less talented little brothers to India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka were unfashionable winners in 1996 Graham Chadwick / © Getty Images

It is impossible to walk more than a few steps inside these corridors and offices without being beamed at by Arjuna or Aravinda - or both, or someone else - getting cosy with a certain trophy in photographs. The trophy itself is also there: the 1996 World Cup is alive and gleaming in a glass case at the SSC.

Before the 1996 World Cup, Sri Lanka had won only 61 of their 210 one-day internationals. They had played 25 World Cup games and lost 20. They had never beaten Australia, West Indies or Pakistan in the tournament. This time, Pakistan were not in their group and West Indies forfeited their match out of concern for their players' safety. On March 17, 1996 in Lahore, in the World Cup final, Arjuna, Aravinda, Sanath, Romesh, Asanka, Hashan, Roshan, Kumar, Chaminda, Pramodya and Murali conquered Australia - by seven wickets. In other words, properly.

Sachin Tendulkar and Mark Waugh scored more runs than anyone else in the tournament, but they also scored them more slowly than Sanath Jayasuriya, Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva. Sri Lanka's bowling was not as flashy - 14 bowlers took more wickets than Muttiah Muralitharan's and Jayasuriya's seven each, most of them at better averages - but there was no buckling a bridle on the wild horse that was their batting.

1996 marks the spot on the map of cricket's journey where East looked West in the eye and did not blink. Instead, East winked and said, "Try to keep up"

For the first time, the World Cup champions were not West Indies, India, Australia or Pakistan. Not for the first time, the winners surprised many. India and Australia won in 1983 and 1987 in defiance of the ebb in their general cricketing fortunes. In 1992, Pakistan won from the brink of elimination.

But in 1996 the winners were different. They had played their first Test just 14 years previously. Sri Lanka were unfashionable: from a Western perspective, they were not as skilled as India and not as explosive as Pakistan. From an Eastern perspective, they were little brothers.

This was the World Cup that turned the game on its head - the best thing that has happened to it since Kerry Packer. It marks the spot on the map of cricket's journey through history where East looked West in the eye and did not blink. Instead, East winked and said, "Try to keep up."

Before the tournament, whether two often-at-odds (sometimes at war) countries and a smaller, less regarded third could host it successfully was doubted. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka did so with plenty of the Asian verve that to other eyes looks like chaos. And then the wrong team went and won the damned thing. How dare they.

Telford Vice is a freelance cricket writer in South Africa

 

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