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Those were the days

WIZARD OF OZ: Few champions have been as devastating and dominant as Australian Rod Laver


West Indies were the masters of world cricket in the 1970s and '80s. The pace quartet, the passion for the sport, and the joy of finishing off the opposition in style - that was what the West Indian cricket teams of that era were all about. But with the pipeline slowly drying up and the spirit of a 'unified West Indies' waning with separate island nations doing well in soccer and other sports, cricket was no longer the same. Soccer, basketball ruled the roost and with Brian Lara's exit, the decline of West Indies cricket was complete.


They were the 'Untouchables' in pre-Independence days. After Independence, they had to share the pie with Pakistan, but the Olympic medals never dried up. With the FIH's decision to implement astro-turf, the Indians, brought up on grass, found it difficult to adjust to the new surface. The World Cup in Kuala Lumpur was the last notable triumph and the gold in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, where some of the top nations pulled out, couldn't actually bring back the glory days. The 1-7 defeat to Pakistan in the 1982 Asian Games was the last straw.


Rod Laver won the Grand Slam twice in the 1960s and that was a huge boost for the game Down Under. The likes of Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall and Neale Fraser also made sure Aussies were unbeatable in the decade. But the rise of one Bjorn Borg, and then the American invasion with John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, pushed the Aussies back. Grass was no longer the only playing surface. The changes didn't help the Aussies, who learned their game on grass courts. Barring Pat Cash, Pat Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt, no one could cope.


For the USSR, staying ahead or at least keeping up with the US in any field was all that mattered for a while. Sport was no different. The communist regime trained their athletes with the sole aim of beating the Americans and the rest of the capitalist world, and in the process produced an assembly line of world champions. In the 1988 Olympics, the Soviet Union won 55 gold medals, 18 more than their nearest rivals East Germany. Three years later, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, their name as the superpower in world sport also was lost.

- Compiled by Dwaipayan Datta

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