World Cup and India: Two in the kitty so far

As the 2019 edition of the World Cup in England draws near, it is time to leap back in time and recall those heady days of 1983 and 2011 for India. Memory stirs, dreams take shape and fresh tales of valour beckon.

India’s captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni hoists the ICC World Cup 2011 after beating Sri Lanka in the final.   -  Reuters

India’s tryst with the World Cup started as a diversion that had to be endured in the 1970s. But once Kapil Dev held aloft the Prudential World Cup at the Lord’s balcony on June 25 in 1983, cricket’s leading silverware became an obsession with Indian fans.

The 1970s of black-and-white pictures and snail mail also ushered in the World Cup in England. Both in 1975 and 1979, India played with circumspection. In the first ever match in World Cup history, played at Lord’s, England dismantled India. It was a contest that also witnessed Sunil Gavaskar’s excruciating 36 off 174 balls! The maestro later said that he tried to get out but just couldn’t. If 1975 threw up dour batting and the inexplicable exit, 1979 was worse as India lost to rivals ranging from the mighty West Indies to the rookie Sri Lanka!

But the tide turned at Berbice in Guyana, a town known for sugarcane plantations and the ancient tales of indentured labour. In an One-Day International on March 29, 1983, India defeated the West Indies by 27 runs. That ambush sowed the seeds for the eventual high at Lord’s in the World Cup final. India gained a fresh batting milestone too: Kapil’s magnificent unbeaten 175 against Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells!

After the 1983 edition, the World Cup shifted to the subcontinent in 1987 and Kapil’s men seemed set for an encore. But England’s Graham Gooch swept the host out of the tournament and that semifinal in Bombay was Gavaskar’s last match for India.

An era had ended and it was time to dive into the 1990s under Mohammad Azharuddin’s captaincy while Sachin Tendulkar emerged as a luminous batting talent. However, in the World Cups through that decade, India only had disappointment in store. The few dregs of comfort were the stirring victories etched against Pakistan in 1992, 1996 and 1999.

There were contrasting moments aplenty, though — comical, as in the run-out involving Javagal Srinath and Venkatapathy Raju during the 1992 tournament; adrenaline, so obvious when Ajay Jadeja waded into Waqar Younis in the 1996 quarterfinal at Bangalore; and pathos, grimly reflected when a bereaved Sachin Tendulkar, who had just lost his father, scored a hundred on his return from the funeral and gazed at the skies with moist eyes in the 1999 event.

Yuvraj Singh was named the Man of the Tournament, while it was a dream come true for Sachin Tendulkar as he became a part of a World Cup winning team for the first time.   -  PTI

In the new millennium, India’s World Cup fortunes oscillated. 2003 witnessed a scorching run as Sourav Ganguly’s men went all the way to the final before succumbing to Ricky Ponting’s Aussies. That championship in South Africa also was witness to Tendulkar’s pulverising knock against Pakistan. The 2007 World Cup was, however, designed for grief. India slipped through a banana-peel tussle involving Bangladesh in the West Indies and crashed out.

Just as the so-near-yet-so-far fate seemed to choke the Indians, 2011 came with its share of dancing shoes. M. S. Dhoni’s merry troops, walked with a strut, and in an unforgettable summit clash at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, a sweaty April night turned magical. Sri Lanka batted well but India had the last laugh. Dhoni led from the front, finishing the game with a fiery six. India, champions again! Yuvraj Singh’s all-round skills, Tendulkar’s fierce desire to wrest one World Cup trophy and the skills of the rest formed a wonderful amalgamation that Dhoni capitalised upon.

Hopes were high when the World Cup moved to Australia and New Zealand in 2015 and India did well. But the semifinal against Australia proved to be a nemesis. And now as the 2019 version in England draws near, it is time to leap back in time and recall those heady days of 1983 and 2011. Memory stirs, dreams take shape and fresh tales of valour beckon.