Less than 90 days remain for the start of the ICC World Cup. By the time next month ends, all the uncertainties, that are an eternal part of any major sporting event, would have paled into the background. The participating sides would have completed their run up and preparations for the championship and the selectors would be getting ready to shortlist the final 15 who will make the trip to England. In short, the real countdown for the biggest spectacle that cricket has to offer is under way.
At this juncture, one’s thoughts go all the way back to 1975 when the first ever World Cup was held in England. A tournament involving all Test match playing nations (then six in number) was a new concept. Even more novel was to get the sides to play against each other matches lasting 60 overs a side with restrictions on the number of overs that a player could bowl. Cricket world was used to Test matches played between two countries which lasted five days and often ended without a result. Hence it was with considerable apprehension and amusement that lovers of the game greeted this new entrant to the world of international cricket.
Cricket matches lasting one day had hitherto been played almost entirely in England. Those cricketers from other countries who had the good fortune of playing county cricket in England had exposure to this version of the game. Since most of the foreign cricketers in county circuit were from the West Indies and Pakistan, it was expected that these two sides would also do well in the tournament. Thus, in the pre-tournament ranking, England and the West Indies appeared as the favourites to win the Cup. Pakistan, on account of the experience of their players in this format and Australia, then the strongest side in Test cricket, looked most capable of pulling off an upset.
So far as India were concerned, this new format was almost alien. Among the national players, only Farokh Engineer and Bishan Singh Bedi played county cricket, while S Venkataraghavan had turned out for one season with Derbyshire. When India had toured England in 1974, two One-Day Internationals were played between the two sides after the three-Test series. It came as no surprise that the visitors were routed in the two games, with the lack of exposure to this format being as much a cause of defeat as the general apathy brought about by the drubbing received in the Test matches. Hence, cricket fans in India had very little expectations when the side led by Venkataraghavan embarked on the journey to England to play in the inaugural World Cup.
Luck of the draw favoured India as they found themselves in the same pool as the hosts, New Zealand and East Africa. The other group was definitely the tougher one as it featured the West Indies, Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. But despite this stroke of good fortune, India crashed out in the group stage itself losing their matches to England and New Zealand. Though the sole win, against the lowly East Africa, was achieved in style by a margin of 10 wickets, the side earned more brickbats than bouquets for their performance. This was mainly on account of the inexplicable run crawl during the opening match against England, which brought tons of shame on the entire squad.
A game to forget
Batting first, England ran up a huge total of 334/4, helped by a century from opening batsman Dennis Amiss, a solid 68 by Keith Fletcher and a breezy unbeaten 51 by Chris Old. In reply, the Indian batsmen could not get going and allowed the England attack to subdue them into absolute capitulation. Sunil Gavaskar was the one most guilty in this regard as he batted through the entire innings scoring only 36 runs after facing 174 balls. Other batsmen did not fare much better, though they made attempts to push the scoring rate, and India ended up with a score of 132/3 after the allotted overs. Gavaskar found it difficult to live down the opprobrium generated by this bizarre display of batsmanship in the inaugural match of the World Cup for a very long time.
India got a chance to recover some of their pride when they met East Africa in the next match. Bowling first, they bundled out their opponents for a mere 120. The highlight of the Indian bowling was the spell by Bedi which mesmerised the East African batsmen who could barely put the bat to ball. Bedi returned miserly figures 1/6 of his 12 overs, out of which eight were maidens! It would remain one of the eternal ironies of Indian cricket that Bedi, despite his experience in limited overs cricket, did not find a place in the playing eleven in the match against England! India faced no difficulties in reaching their target, with the openers Gavaskar and Engineer scoring unbeaten half-centuries.
In their last match against New Zealand, India found themselves in a must-win situation in order to qualify for the last four stage. Though India posted a decent score of 230, thanks to a spirited knock of 71 by Abid Ali, New Zealand won the game easily by a margin of four wickets. Indian bowlers did not have any answer to the brilliance and experience of Kiwi skipper Glenn Turner, who guided his side home with an unbeaten 114.
Southpaws on song
For the connoisseurs, the hallmark of the 1975 edition was the superb displays of two left-handed batsmen - Clive Lloyd and Alvin Kallicharan of the West Indies - and the exploits of Australian left-arm medium-pacer Gary Gilmour. West Indies captain Lloyd had a ordinary tournament with the bat till the final. When he walked into bat in the final against Australia, his side was in trouble, having lost three wickets, including that of Kallicharan, the man in form, with only 50 runs on the board. In the company of veteran Rohan Kanhai, Lloyd tore apart the Australian attack and raced to a century off a mere 82 balls. By the time he was dismissed for 102, which was struck off 85 balls and included 12 fours and two sixes, he had ensured that his side had reached a total of 199. Kanhai, though senior to him, was very much a subdued partner during this stand. In fact Kanhai was as much a spectator as the other West Indians watching the match at Lord’s, and went through 11 overs on the trot without scoring, having wisely allowed Lloyd to keep the strike and go after the bowling!
When England met Australia in the first semifinal, the hosts were the distinct favourites to win the tie. However, their hopes were dashed by a brilliant spell of seam and swing bowling by a hitherto unknown Gilmour. In conditions favouring seam bowling at Headingly, Gilmour knocked the stuffing out of England by dismissing six of their top order batsmen for a mere 14 runs. When Gilmour finished his quota of 12 overs, England were six wickets down for 36 and could recover to a total of 93 runs only because he could not turn his arm over again in the match. England struck back strongly when it was their turn to bowl and had Aussies on the mat with the score at 39/6. However, Gilmour walked in at this point and struck a quick run-a-ball 28 to carry his side to the final. It is no wonder that this tie is remembered as “Gilmour’s match”. Gilmour also picked up 5/48 in the final which Australia lost by 17 runs.
Kallicharan's dazzling knock
The match between the West Indies and Australia in the league phase was expected to be a high octane one with both sides having won their ties against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The West Indies bowlers did a commendable task in restricting Aussies to a total of 178. After Gordon Greenidge was dismissed early, Kallicharan joined Roy Fredricks in the middle. Normally one would have expected fireworks from Fredricks who had a reputation for fearless strokeplay, but Kallicharan surprised one and all by unleashing a series of dazzling shots all around the wicket. He was particularly severe on Dennis Lillee who tried to unsettle him by bowling bouncers. Kallicharan did not flinch and took the battle to the opposition camp by employing the hook shot fearlessly. The shorter and faster Lillee bowled, the harder he was hooked so much so that his last 10 balls cost 35 runs. Kallicharan finally fell to Lillee after playing an unforgettable innings of 78, which included 14 boundaries and one six, but the West Indies had the match in their bag by the time he was dismissed.
It was the success of the first World Cup in terms of spectator interest and quality of matches that prompted the Imperial Cricket Conference (predecessor of present day International Cricket Council) to think in terms of having the tournament at regular four-year intervals. Cricket lovers the world over should thank these three southpaws for their superlative performances which added to the lustre and sparkle of the competitive spirit on display. There is a saying that well begun is half done and the World Cup of 1975 proves this correct this in every aspect. Besides being the opening attempt at having a tournament involving all major cricket playing countries, the first edition will also be remembered for laying the foundation for building the future structure of limited overs cricket as well. This fast paced and result oriented version of the game that produced edge-of-the-seat excitement found a place in hearts of followers of the game and this love has only deepened with passage of time.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)