I was in school when the first World Cup was played; I remember the national mood well. One-day cricket was the bastard child of “real” cricket in India, not to be given time of day. If officials in England wanted a new format because the traditional one was not drawing crowds, that wasn’t our problem. Our first-class matches were played to packed houses, and we didn’t need artificial respiration.
It was an attitude that made us feel both superior and secure.
Years later, Ajit Wadekar, our first ODI captain told me, “We saw the one-day game merely as an extension of Test cricket. We didn’t take the game seriously.” No one in India took the game seriously. It was seen as a passing fad, like bell bottom trousers and thick sideburns, both of which our cricketers wore. Brijesh Patel, India’s top-scorer in its inaugural match in 1974, thought that one-day cricket was the future. But even he referred to it as the “pyjama game.”
India’s attitude was personified by its best batsman Sunil Gavaskar who never made a secret of his dislike for the format. It wasn’t until his penultimate match, the 107th, that he scored a century. He made 36 not out off 174 balls in the inaugural World Cup, complaining he just couldn’t get out, and that when he tried to move away and get bowled, his feet somehow moved into the correct position to play a defensive shot. India didn’t mind too much. After all, this was not “real” cricket.
Still, Gavaskar’s career strike rate of 62.26, compared well with contemporaries Desmond Haynes’s 63.09, Richie Richardson’s 63.74, Javed Miandad’s 67, David Boon’s 65.13 and Mohinder Amarnath’s 57.70.
The Gavaskar influence on one-day cricket had to be replaced by the Kapil Dev influence — and, more importantly, a World Cup win, before Indians began to take to the format. Suddenly they began to see virtue in the unorthodox, quality in the unexpected. A match that finished four days short of a full Test wasn’t that bad after all. The transition took eight years.
Eight years that saw the end of the spin quartet and the rise of the bits-and-pieces all-rounders who won the Cup for India. A quarter century later, history was to repeat itself. India, which thought T20 was not to be taken seriously, unexpectedly won the inaugural World Cup. Now it is as if T20 is the “real” cricket, thanks to IPL and the three-hour (well, ideally) match.
In 1983, when Kapil’s men won, colour television had arrived in India. The final was beamed live. And I had begun my career as a sports journalist. As the junior member at the sports desk, it was my privilege to miss the beer and company of friends at home and spend the night working, putting the sports pages together.
I awoke to a new India where the gentle forward defence had been replaced by the aggressive strike over midwicket. The bastard child had grown into a prince.