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Champions now and then

A competition plagued by controversies may turn out to be the saviour of the one-day game when curtains go up in South Africa, writes Kadambari Murali Wade.SPECIAL COVERAGE

cricket Updated: Sep 20, 2009 01:34 IST
Kadambari Murali Wade

It was October 1998. Ajit Agarkar, not yet 21, was India’s bright new hope and VVS Laxman, on the verge of 24, had not yet been rudely booted out of one-day cricket. Surprisingly, given how today’s India is populated by the young and the restless, they were the only under-25 players in Mohammad Azharuddin’s squad.

Final Glance
Nov 1, 1998
South Africa beat West Indies by 4 wkts at Bangabandhu Stadium, Dhaka:
West Indies’ opener Philo Wallace scored a 102-ball 103. Jacques Kallis scalped five for 30. It was skipper Hansie Cronje, who made an unbeaten 61, steered his team to an
international title six years after SA made their ODI debut. They overhauled Windies’ 245 with three overs in hand.
Oct 15, 2000
New Zealand beat India by 4 wkts at Gymkhana Club, Nairobi:
With the Kiwis at 109 for four in pursuit of 265 came Chris Cairns who scored a 102 not out off 113 balls and put to shade a blazing start India had from openers Sourav Ganguly (117) and Sachin Tendulkar (69).
Sep 29, 30, 2002
Sri Lanka and India shared the trophy at Premadasa Stadium, Colombo:
After a fortnight of rain-free tournament, the clouds opened, making a sham of the final. No clear winner emerged despite having a reserve day. The rules did not allow for the match to be continued. India and Sri Lanka shared the podium after 110 overs were possible — Sri Lanka making 244 and India replying with 14-0 when rain interrupted on the first day and on the second, Virender Sehwag put India on track, chasing 223 but in the ninth over, rains brought a halt.
Sep 25, 2004
West Indies beat England by 2 wkts at The Oval, London:
England had begun celebrating after restricting West Indies to 147 for 8. The West Indies still required 71 from the last three in 16.2 overs. Wicket-keeper Courtney Browne (35 n.o.) and Ian Bradshaw (34 n.o.) guided Windies to a two-wicket win.
Nov 5, 2006
Australia beat West Indies by 8 wkts at Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai:
The final was devoid of all the excitement. In a rain-marred tie, Australia made it a one-sided affair after skittling Windies out for 138 and reaching the target in less than 29 overs. Damien Martyn ushering out the BCCI president Sharad Pawar from the stage after the presentation left a bad taste.

Those were the days when Azharudin was still a successful captain, not a politician in search of redemption, and match-fixing, as yet, was just a quickly-hushed rumour.

Javagal Srinath was the Indian attack’s lynchpin, not a man who had crossed the fence to become a match referee and judge his peers, while pace partner Venkatesh Prasad was still years away from handling what is unarguably the best clutch of fast bowlers India has ever had.

Robin Singh was not a coach struggling with the world’s worst fielding side, Caribbean cricket had not yet reached its nadir, Zimbabwe was still a cricketing country and no one had even dreamt of saying that one-day cricket was dying.

So much has changed since the first mini-world cup, officially called the ICC Knockout Trophy, began in Dhaka. The intent was noble — to make money for the development of cricket in non-Test playing nations, but it was against the backdrop of the century’s most destructive floods in Bangladesh, which killed over a thousand died and rendered 30 million homeless.

It was a controversial start. Questions were asked about whether the country should celebrate when millions had been devastated, but things settled down with 10 per cent of the money made from the event being promised to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. As a matter of fact, Bangladesh joyfully embraced the concept and its people officially began a turbulent love affair with the game.

While the South Africans walked away with their first ICC tournament win post apartheid and India lost in the semis to the West Indies, our men (not yet dubbed Team India by Pepsi’s ubiquitous campaign) posted what would be the event’s only 300-plus score as Sachin Tendulkar almost single-handedly thumped Australia, making 141 and taking 4-38.

Eleven years on, Tendulkar is coming off being man of the series in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Lanka tri-series, while Ricky Ponting is the only survivor from that mauled squad under Steve Waugh. But the Australian will still have the pleasure of walking into this year’s edition on Tuesday as both defending champion and captain of the world’s No. 1 team — if his team beats England in Sunday’s Chester-le-Street one-dayer.

In the years in between, the tournament’s importance has waxed and waned while the International Cricket Council experimented with formats. It has also, continually been dogged by controversy, except perhaps in 2000, when New Zealand’s all-round team effort took them past Ganguly’s run-riot to an unlikely Knockout crown in Nairobi.

In 2002, the contracts controversy saw India almost send a second-string team (much like the current West Indies dispute) to the renamed Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka, while rains ensured the neighbours shared the Trophy.

In 2004, England exhibited little enthusiasm, hosting a listless event that was eventually redeemed only because the West Indies beat England under shadows in the final and gave us hope that Brian Lara, the captain, would stem the rot that had set into what had once been cricket’s greatest team.

In 2006, though Australia polished off the competition, they gleefully rubbed the sheen off their crown when they gracelessly pushed BCCI president Sharad Pawar off the dais. And the 2008 event of course, was moved back a year after everyone else refused to play in poor, terror-ravaged Pakistan.

Now, what lies ahead is crucial. The onus of convincing sceptics that one-day cricket has a lasting place in the future of the game falls on this Champions Trophy, and the world’s top eight teams. Let the cricket begin.