3 great leaders of men held aloft the Cricket Trophy in the 90s. Each was an indomitable lion in his own right. Their personalities had an aura about them, the elder statesmen in their countries, brooking no doubt as to who was the boss. Imran Khan, Arjuna Ranatunga and Steve Waugh inspired their teams to achieve the highest honour by leading from the front.
1992 – The TV coverage for this World Cup was superb. Australia’s great grounds give an added flavour to the game. India had a miserable World Cup after a even more miserable tour of Australia. Azhar though was brilliant and played some unbelievable innings including a near-winning effort of 93 against Australia. India scored at nearly 8 per over in the last 15 overs before a comedy of errors between Srinath and “Muscles” Raju cost us the match. It was also the first time that we encountered Mssrs. Duckworth and Lewis. Amazingly due to a rain delay we lost 4 overs but the target reduced just by some 5 runs. The infamous rule was to have more victims in the tournament. The only good news in this tournament for us was that India beat Pakistan, the sight of Miandad jumping up and down mimicking wicket Keeper Kiran More during the match is an enduring memory. But that match also saw the genius of a certain Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar, one of the 3 Young Turks who would rule the batting scene in the 90s. Sachin was Man of the Match for scoring a polished 54 and bowling his medium pacers economically. However that apart our performance was woeful, we got saved by D&L, else would have lost to Zimbabwe also.
Other lasting memories during the group stages include Ambrose making Sachin look pedestrian before getting him out with a scorcher of a delivery, Deepak Patel opening the bowling and Mark Greatbatch the batting as a pinch hitter for New Zealand, Brian Lara, the second of the young turks making a eloquent 77 against Pakistan before being hit on the toe by an Akram Special and Lara being stranded by a selfish Eldine Baptiste when he was on the brink of taking West indies to victory and into the semi finals. Also the unforgettable Jonty Rhodes run out & Pakistan being saved by the rain against England and coming back from the brink of elimination to make it to the semis. You don’t remember much about English performances but Gooch and Beefy made sure they went through to the Semis.
The semi finals saw the third bright star of the generation Inzamam Ul Haq destroy the Kiwis with effortless hitting. Inzamam was Imran’s find and he compared his batting to Viv Richards at that time. In contrast the other semi final had the impressive South Africans chasing down a modest English total and despite losing a few wickets seemed like getting home. But then came a short shower and D&L kicked in, they had to score 22 runs of 1 ball when they came out to bat – a total farce and England were through.
The finals had some great performances from Pakistan but none better than Akram’s double strike with the old ball removing Chris Lewis and Alan Lamb. The look of utter disbelief in the batsmen’s face when the ball swung and took the stumps said it all. The best left hand fast bowler of all time had left his mark on the World Cup. Of course the cup was all about Imran shepherding his troops and Pakistan’s miraculous comeback but we heard more about his cancer hospital than cricket in the award ceremony speech.
1996 – Again in the sub-continent, there was considerable hype around the Indian team which had started winning regularly at home. We had Srinath, Prabhakar, Prasad and Kumble – an honest attack and Sachin in full flow. Also Jadeja and Robin Singh were good all rounders to have. Sri Lanka served early warning by beating India in the early rounds, India lost to Australia too in a close match in Mumbai with Sachin hitting a brilliant 90. Mark Waugh’s century in the match and Prasad’s last over were memorable. However India beat West Indies, Zimbabwe, Kenya to set up a mouth watering clash with the Pakistanis at Bangalore. And what a match it was!!. Jadeja’s late burst on Waqar Younis gave us a great score instead of an average one. It was brilliant hitting but the PAkistanis responded with Anwar and Sohail and had the match by the throat till Sohail gave it away with a needless sledging bout with Prasad. He hit Prasad for four gave him some verbage and got out the next ball. The match turned miraculously in India’s favour and we won it comfortably after that. The Quarterfinals had great clashes, Sri Lanka won easily against England with Jayasurya and Kalu setting the pace, West Indies beat an impressive South Africa due to the brilliance of Brian Lara. An incredible century and the strong Proteas had choked on the big stage again. Australia beat an overperforming New Zealand in a High scoring encounter. Lee Germon and Chris Harris pulled New Zealand to 280 odd but Australia steered by Mark Waugh overhauled the score.
The Semis also left indelible memories , one positive way and the other negative. Aravinda D’Silva played the innings of his life to set up a challenging total of 251 but India faltered in the chase after another brilliant Sachin Innings on a crumbling pitch. But shamefully the crowd did not allow the match to finish. The fire, the image of a weeping Kambli and the poster that said Sorry Sri Lanka , all are fresh in mind but not a moment of pride for us. The other semifinal saw the Wizard of Oz dig out a victory when the West Indies were coasting to victory. Shane Warne’s spell of 4 wickets finished off the West Indies who were guilty of self destruction too. Richie Richardson was not out in the end as the clueless tail fell like nine pins.
The finals was all about Sri Lanka, who were Australia’s whipping boys before this World Cup, standing up and giving it to the haughty Australians. Aravinda was in great form with the bat and ball. Australia were restricted to 241 and even though Sri Lanka were in trouble early, Gurusinghe, Mad Max Silva and the pot bellied Ranatunga pulled them through. Stuart Law dropped a crucial catch of Arjuna which could have changed the match but the best team in the tournament won. Given that Australia and a few other teams did not play in Sri Lanka citing security reasons, this was sweet justice for the Lankans. Arjuna unlike Imran in the earlier World Cup gave all credit to the “Boys”.
1999 – The World Cup was in England. I must confess I saw less of this World Cup than the others since I had moved from being a full time cricket student to a working executive. So instead of full matches I was restricted to the Highlights package and a few matches. India were again miserable. Sachin sadly lost his father in the tournament but was not in great form. An average century, hyped up beyond imagination, against Kenya on his comeback match being the only spark. It was great of him to come back to help the Indian team, given his emotional state though. Rahul Dravid and Ganguly showed signs of the times to come with brilliant centuries against Sri Lanka to help India qualify for the super sixes where we beat Pakistan but lost all other matches. The tournament was up and down for all teams, Australia and Pakistan started poorly and finished strongly. South Africa however were again left rueing missed opportunities. First Herschelle Gibbs dropped a sitter of Waugh when Waugh legendary is supposed to have told him that ” He had dropped the World Cup”. Waugh belted a brilliant century to help his team qualify for the World Cup. In the Semis after a bit of see sawing SA had tied the match with 2 balls to spare. Lance Klusener one of their stars was in with Alan Donald but in an utter bout of foolishness, hit the ball to Mark Waugh and ran with his head down. Donald didn’t respond and it was too late. The match was tied but Australia won on wickets. For SA, the chokers tag was becoming bigger and as time would prove they would find it hard to shake it off. Pakistan had a few decent performance. Razzaq doing what Klusener was doing for SA, the came into the finals with more than half the chance but in probably the most one -sided final of all time were blown away by Australia. Steve Waugh’s iron spirit had led the team to the World Cup and the legend of the invincible Australian team was truly growing.