The bigger the pie, the more the number of mouths looking for a share of it. World Cup cricket ceased to be just a game pretty early on in its history. It became a business, a money-spinner that could line individual pockets. It also became a handle that could be used for political leverage, to win goodwill and votes, and force policies and decisions on others, whether those others wanted it or not.
The first tournament saw nothing more than cricket, and controversies, if they could be called as such, were related to the batting, bowling and fielding.
There was the odd whimper about batsmen batting too slowly, totally indifferent to their skipper’s plea --- yes, echoes of Geoffrey Boycott and our own Sunil Gavaskar. There were those who claimed this was just not cricket. But then, even the steam engine and telephone had their detractors.
Matters changed before the next World Cup. From then on, all the meets, apart from the rather sedate 1983 chapter, were wracked by major wrangles that had nothing to do with the gentlemen’s game, and many moments on field that had nothing to do with gentlemen. Some of these issues and instances are more deeply etched in memory than moments of celebration. We take a look at a few.
Australian media baron Kerry Packer’s series of parallel cricket rattled the smug establishment with one simple message - money talks. In came coloured clothing, white balls and floodlights and the game was never the same. This explosion reverberated in the Prudential World Cup as well, as England and Australia went in with under-strength teams as the lure of the lucre pulled many big guns away from the ‘real’ to the ‘pyjama’ game.
India and Pakistan managed to get the right to host the World Cup after a prolonged wrangle with the ICC as Australia and England were opposed to the idea.
South Africa’s appearance in the World Cup, finalised barely three months before the tournament, ended in agony due to the controversial rain rule. Needing 22 off 13 deliveries in the semi-final against England in Sydney, rain forced the teams off the field.
On resumption, South Africa were docked two overs, but no runs were reduced from the target. That left the debutants leaving just one ball to achieve the target.
Earlier, matches between India and Australia, Zimbabwe and New Zealand. Pakistan, dead and buried against England, salvaged a point when the game was rained off, and made the semi-finals.
India too suffered, the game against Sri Lanka in Mackay being abandoned and the asking rate against Australia increased, leaving them high and dry.
A bomb blast in Colombo caused Australia and West Indies to decide that they would not visit that country. Despite all efforts, and also a ‘solidarity’ team consisting of Indian and Pakistani teams playing a game in Colombo to show it was a safe place, Australia and Sri Lanka did not go and forfeited points. This was seen as more than a security issue, as more of a race thing by the Sri Lankans. Anyway, Sri Lanka made most of the points gained. Poetic justice saw them wallop Australia in the final in Lahore.
Sri Lanka also saw the semi-final at Eden Gardens become the first match in World Cup to be awarded to a team due to crowd trouble.
Pakistan went berserk when Wasim Akram cried off the quarter-final against India in Bangalore, with the population screaming foul play. The Pakistani team did not return to Lahore to face an angry reception, going to Karachi instead, where Akram tried, fruitlessly, to profess his innocence.
No less castigated was Aamir Sohail, who got into a verbal duel with Venkatesh Prasad, only to lose his wicket off the next ball.
Money was by now a big thing, and all of India waited anxiously as the issue of television rights in India between Doordarshan and Sky Sports almost threatened to take the tournament off the screen. The tournament also saw the first corporate wars, with Pepsi and Coca-Cola having a go at each other.
The spectre of match-fixing all over the World Cup. Pak-Bangla and India-Pak matches came under the shadow. The India-Zimbabwe league game, when India incredibly lost it, and the Zimbabwe-South Africa match also had suspicions surrounding them.
With the event yet to begin, the ICC contracts’ issue has already created confusion and charges and counter-charges have flying around. The competition between a multitude of companies, all keen to make maximum mileage from the World Cup, have made this look more like a corporate takeover than a cricket tournament.
While India reeled under the issue, its southern neighbour had its own share of money problems. A pay dispute between the Sri Lankan Board and players that had Lanka mulling over whether to send a second-string team or even boycott the Cup was settled just a few days ago.
Then comes the political stand on playing in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe’s policies have been denounced by the West, and Australia and England debated whether or not to forfeit their matches in that country. After a strong stand by the ICC, they’re playing but the matter is still being hotly debated.