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1975: The Begining

The summer was glorious, untypically British. The Windies expectedly won and an experiment worked.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2003 20:16 IST

The summer was glorious, untypically British. The Windies expectedly won and an experiment worked.

The initial reaction on looking back at my original assessment of the inaugural World Cup was to cringe at its hyperbole. It was, I wrote at the time, “Perhaps the boldest and most ambitious innovation the game has known since the legalisation of overarm bowling.” Yet, as we prepare for the eighth such tournament, more than a quarter-century on, it doesn't seem so outrageous after all.

Until the advent of limited-overs, single-innings matches in English domestic cricket in the 1960s, such a concept was simply impractical. A round-robin series of five-day Tests, even among as few teams as the six that then had Test status, was too time-consuming to contemplate.

It needed the development of the shortened version, with matches completed in a day, to give birth to the World Cup idea and the daring of the then International Cricket Conference, a body not usually credited with foresight, to implement it.

They chose England as the venue, a questionable choice only as far as the unpredictable weather but best qualified by virtue of its tradition, its facilities, its manageable size and the presence of a large, cosmopolitan, immigrant population of passionate cricket followers.

They found a generous sponsor in the Prudential Insurance Company, which paid £100,000 for tournament-naming rights. And they invited Sri Lanka, yet to reach their present exalted rank, and East Africa (a combination of club cricketers from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia) to take part with the Test teams of the day.

With everything in place, they set the process in motion on June 7 with matches between England and India at Lord's and Australia and Pakistan at Headingley.

For the following two weeks, the success exceeded the expectations of even the most cock-eyed optimist.

One of the main ingredients for its triumphant run was the weather. It remained glorious, untypically British, right through. Not a single ball was lost to the elements. A rousing final, at a packed Lord's in uninterrupted summer sunshine, was able to run until the final wicket fell at 8.41 pm on the longest day of the year. The West Indies completed victory by 17 runs over Australia after 118.4 overs.

Large, enthusiastic crowds thronged the six grounds for most of the matches. Thousands of joyous, enthusiastic West Indians, who transformed the Oval and Lord's into Caribbean carnivals with their drums and whistles, brought to the occasion a special excitement previously foreign to the game in England.

The World Cup had come to stay.

It has inevitably evolved so that the 2003 event in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya will be all but unrecognisable from what it was in that unforgettable English summer of 1975.

The innings will be restricted to 50 overs instead of 60. Fourteen teams bedecked in national colours will contest 54 matches at 15 grounds in three countries over six weeks, many under lights.

In the beginning, eight teams used the six main venues in England for 15 matches and got through the whole business in a fortnight.

Yet a few tenets were immediately established that have remained constant.

Above all, the value of fielding was repeatedly emphasised, especially in the final when the West Indies effected five run outs. Three were by Viv Richards, a dynamic 24-year-old athlete soon to become one of the greats of the game, who threw out three of the first four in the order.

Another certainty was also established. It was that, for all the inevitable scepticism of the traditionalists, the concentrated action of the abbreviated game made it hugely popular. Aggregate crowds of 158,000 paid over £200,000 to watch the matches, 26,000 of them at the final, where gate receipts were £66,000, then a record for a one-day match.

If these figures — and the prize money distribution of £4,000 for the winners, £2,000 for the runners-up and £1,000 each for the semi-finalists - appear laughably puny now, they were not to be scoffed at 26 years ago.

First Published: Jan 09, 2003 18:17 IST