What is in store in 2015?

New Zealand captain Martin Crowe was quite innovative, strategywise, in the 1992 World Cup.-V. V. KRISHNAN

K. C. Vijaya Kumar finds some remarkable strategies that were adopted in the World Cup over the years.

The World Cup has come a long way since June 7, 1975. On that epochal day, the tournament’s first match was played at Lord’s with England taking on India. The host amassed 334 for four in 60 overs with Dennis Amiss scoring 137 and in reply, the visitors chase never acquired a semblance of intent. The lame pursuit is remembered for Sunil Gavaskar’s 174-ball unbeaten 36 while India finished with 132 for three.

If that contest had a leisurely pace, it was the wrong template for the rest of the event’s chequered 40-year history that has seen 10 editions while the 11th will soon commence in Australia and New Zealand. Subsequent games in cricket’s showpiece, split by four-year gaps, have acquired speed and adrenaline thanks to evolving teams and new strategies imposed by out-of-the-box captains.

A sweeping glance over the tournament’s history yields diverse plans and it is time to recall the significant ones.

Leaders of repute

The team that plays well on that day will win. It is a cliché that cricket writers hear all the time in most pre-match press conferences as bored skippers resort to the time-worn line. But it is also a truism and largely a squad that replicates that effort right through the World Cup with a captain leading from the front, wins the silverware.

Initially the World Cup belonged to the West Indies. In the 1970s and 80s, the men from the Caribbean triggered envy, such were the riches under Clive Lloyd’s ambit. He also left a huge individual impact, his stunning 85-ball 102 sunk Australia in the 1975 final. With men like Vivian Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Michael Holding and Andy Roberts in his team, Lloyd literally had the magic wand. And it was no surprise that the West Indies won again in 1979 before another captain with an earthy wisdom and a toothy grin – Kapil Dev – mounted a stunning ambush in the 1983 summit clash.

It was a legacy that Kapil’s Asian contemporaries – Imran Khan (1992) and Arjuna Ranatunga (1996) – followed. The other team that exuded an aura similiar to that of the halcyon West Indies teams of the past, was Australia. In 1987 under Allan Border and then with Steve Waugh (1999) and Ricky Ponting (2003 and 2007) helming the outfit well as Australia reflected a glory that was unmatched.

And then M.S. Dhoni imposed himself on an Indian summer night in Mumbai in 2011. He also had a strong group with Sachin Tendulkar yearning for the missing glitter in his resume while Yuvraj Singh excelled with his all-round skills.

The Crowe-effect

Martin Crowe is one of the shrewdest thinkers of the game and if there was one captain, who rewrote the rules at least in World Cup history, it had to be the New Zealander. In the 1992 edition that was jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand, Crowe caught everyone by surprise as he promoted Mark Greatbatch as an opener, who unleashed a fusillade of shots.

If in batting, Crowe preferred kinetic energy, in bowling, he opted for the slow-choke. And while everyone gaped, he employed off-spinner Dipak Patel upfront and it was a trend that other captains emulated in parts in subsequent ODIs. If imitation is the best form of flattery, Crowe had won but sadly, New Zealand ran into an inspired Inzamam-ul-Haq in the semifinal and a dream died.

Opening thunderbolts

The World Cup since its inception has seen aggressive openers, be it Gordon Greenidge or our own K. Srikkanth, to name a few. They were players, who had ‘see-ball-hit-ball’ wired into their DNAs. Later as the inner circle was drawn, more fielders inside that zone became mandatory, a move that later acquired the domain name ‘Power-Play,’ teams needed aggressive openers as a matter of right.

In 1996, Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana provided a fine springboard for Sri Lanka to leap. India subsequently had Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, followed by Tendulkar and Sehwag while Australia wielded Gilchrist and Hayden, and the list is long. If opening in Tests was all about stone-walling, the art was melded to inflict bruises upon hapless bowlers in limited overs cricket. The 2015 World Cup should be no different when it comes to witnessing mayhem in the first 10 overs, like the one unleashed by Tendulkar against Shoaib Akhtar in 2003!

Silent killers

Cricket as a holistic endeavour is best exemplified by multi-faceted players and it is these purveyors, who add an edge. Be it wicket-keeper Gilchrist excelling as a marauding opener or Richards shining as a fielder in the 1975 final or Kapil plucking Richards’ catch in 1983, squads have benefitted from versatile individuals. But then Gilchrist, Richards, Kapil or even Wasim Akram (1992) are part of the pantheon of greatest players and teams have also thrived on lesser-gifted players, who did their bit in batting, bowling and fielding.

India’s 1983 high was shaped by players ranging from Madan Lal to Balwinder Singh Sandhu; Roger Binny to Mohinder Amarnath. It was a tradition that continued in the Indian colours through the likes of Robin Singh, Ajay Jadeja and across the borders there were players like Andrew Symonds, Shahid Afridi and Nathan Astle, to name a few.

Even the new-found fads in limited overs cricket like the slower ball were pioneered by these players. Remember Steve Waugh’s unerring spells in the 1987 World Cup? He wasn’t quick but his variations and accuracy found many clones and though their nickname ‘the dibbly dobblers’ sounded tame they were anything but tame.

Fielding takes different level

Fielding always lent a decisive strength and Jonty Rhodes’ diving run-out, that left Inzamam stranded in 1992, is part of legend. Even now when selectors meet to pick squads for the World Cup, they put every player through the fielding-microscope and only those who can hold their own in the outfield, make the cut.

We now await for more innovations and surprising strategies over the next few weeks in Australia and New Zealand.