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Caught in a semi-circle
The World Cup returns to India seeking reaffirmation both on the field and off it. The Prudential Cup in 1983 was the genesis of India's fascination with One-day cricket, and this latest edition in February will mark a full circle. Not only for the format, now flirting dangerously with a bleak future, but for Indian sponsors, fans and administrators. The victory at Lord's - many cricketing nations still blasphemously believe it was accidental - set in motion irreversible processes with deep consequences for the international game.
That the subsequent edition of the tournament was held in the subcontinent in 1987 was an indication of the fact that tectonic shifts had taken place. The country had embraced ODIs like no other. Kapil's Devils, having undergone a facelift, were badder, bolder and expected to defend their crown in a now-truncated 50-over affair. India Inc had started pumping in money as a precursor to usurping the world game. Indian administrators, read Jagmohan Dalmiya, had made Eden the new Lord's.
While on the field the tournament marked Australia's rise, the other parameters would only be consolidated in the following years. Satellite TV and a surfeit of games meant 1996, the World Cup of new tactics and the rise of a canny minnow, briefly made cricket the most democratic modern sport. Its Commonwealth roots were an unnecessary distraction;a new identity had been forged. The Indian spectator showed his ugly side too as home pressure acquired a new meaning. Security concerns and endless glitches were ignored in a grand Indian tamasha to rival the experimentation on the field.
What then of 2011, the third such spectacle on these shores? With T20 the new ODI, will the Indian spectator still care as much in these days of player auctions, cricket-breaks between commercials, Bollywood sideshows and fatigueinducing repetitiveness? Is it wise to pretend it's still 1996? Are the sponsors, eager and richer, flogging a wilting horse?
India's dismal show in the West Indies in 2007 was a rude shock for ODIs. Ironically, this is precisely why this might be the Cup of cricketing nuances. The world game stares at a fork in the road, and India is required to show the way again. How the team fares might decide, yet again, the future prospects of the format and its financial moorings.
The signs are good. That Peter Pan of cricketing geniuses, Sachin Tendulkar, is still around. MS Dhoni is an inspirational leader. A crop of young and eager heavy hitters, bred on these surfaces, have learnt to embrace fear, mould it, and turn it to their advantage. The hype will again be overwhelming, and everyone will be willing to give ODIs a chance again. Maybe, merely out of curiosity, many will be hoping the circle is completed. Maybe, 2011 will help cricket choose its path.
It's the perfect time, then, to take a comforting little nostalgia trip of the purely cricketing kind. TOI-Crest presents, through the eyes of those who were out in the middle, what those heady days of 1987 and 1996 felt like. Here, presented in first person, the lead actors share their highs, lows, apprehensions and experiences from the days when cricket itself bubbled with youthful ambition. Happy jogging, memory cells...
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