When India Was a Novice in the One Day Game
Down Memory Lane
India is today regarded as one of the leading teams when it comes to limited overs cricket. The team has frequently occupied the No 1 slot in the ICC rankings in both ODIs and T-20s. Besides they have won the Fifty50 World Cup twice, the Champions Trophy twice and the T-20 World Cup once.
But they did not enjoy this exalted status in the formative years of ODIs. In fact for long they were the whipping boys as they went from one disaster to another.
Perhaps in some ways the BCCI can be held responsible for this. Content with the popularity of Test cricket they took little pains to develop the new format. Cricket administrators in other countries were quick to judge the popularity of the one day game after 46,000 attended the first-ever such match at Melbourne in January 1971 between England and Australia.
The authorities in England quickly arranged ODIs to be played over 55 overs when Australia were the visitors in 1972 and repeated this when New Zealand and West Indies were the tourists in 1973.
India and Pakistan were to be the visitors to England in 1974 and it was now that the BCCI woke up. Ten years after the first domestic one day competition, the Gillette Cup was held in England in 1963 the BCCI instituted the Deodhar Trophy on a zonal basis in India. Spectator interest was lukewarm and the players themselves showed that they had not yet acquainted themselves with the intricacies of the new format. Not unexpectedly India lost both the ODIs in England in 1974.
The inaugural World Cup in England in 1975 generated quite a bit of interest in this country especially since cricket fans were almost convinced that India would qualify for the semifinals. Grouped in pool A along with England, New Zealand and East Africa India along with England were tipped to make the knock out stage from the group. It was taken for granted that India would defeat New Zealand whom they had regularly beaten in Test matches.
What the followers did not take into account that this was one day cricket and the Indian players had still not come to terms with the shorter version of the game. The Kiwis won by four wickets in a rather close finish and to the disappointment of the fans at home the team made an early exit. This again reduced the interest in the one day game.
In the meantime the Indians continued to fare badly whenever they played a few ODIs in between the Tests on tours. They lost both the matches on the tour of New Zealand in 1976 and went down 1-2 in Pakistan in 1978. Under the circumstances India were given little chance of making the semifinals in the second World Cup also held in England in 1979.
But few would have bargained for the outright disaster the competition was for the Indians. The defeats to England and New Zealand were along predictable lines but the loss to Sri Lanka came as major shock. It was the first time that an associate country had beaten a full member of the ICC and constituted the first major upset of the World Cup. India finished at the bottom of the group and thus far in two editions they had notched up just one victory in six matches against lowly East Africa.
Given this background India were given little chance of doing well in the tri series in Australia in 1980-81 featuring the hosts and New Zealand. And not unexpectedly with a record of three wins and seven losses they finished at the bottom of the table. In one of the games against Australia India were shot out for 63 in 25.5 overs which remained their lowest score till 2000 when Sri Lanka bowled them out for 54. A further setback was India losing both their matches on the tour of New Zealand which followed.
An astonishing fact was that thus far India had figured in 25 ODIs and all of them were played abroad. The first ODI at home was played at Ahmedabad on November 25 1981 and the five-wicket victory notched up by England was along predictable lines. But then came about an unexpected turnaround.
India won the next match in the contest by six wickets with three balls to spare and went on to clinch the series by winning the decider by five wickets. It might have been another triumph at home where the Indians had a formidable record but then this was in a format in which they had performed poorly and in the ultimate analysis constituted a fairly significant achievement.
Defeats in both matches in England in 1982 brought India almost back to square one and like in Test matches it was felt that they could only win at home and not away. This feeling gained momentum when after making a clean sweep of the three-match series against Sri Lanka at home they went down 1-3 in Pakistan during the 1982-83 season.
By early 1983 then the Indians had made very little progress and things did not augur well for their prospects in the third World Cup in England in June of the same year. Their prospects also looked bleak for the tour of West Indies prior to the competition. They were given little chance in the three ODIs with West Indies being the undisputed No 1 team having won both the World Cups with their array of stroke playing batsmen and the quartet of fiery fast bowlers.
And yet Berbice, March 1983 has a special place in Indian cricket history. An amazing all round show saw India pull off a 27-run victory over the formidable opponents and even though West Indies won the series 2-1 it was a performance that had cricket fans sitting up and taking notice.
Three months later came the well chronicled stunning triumph in the World Cup and India were suddenly no longer the whipping boys. It marked a metamorphosis in the team’s fortunes and generated unprecedented interest among the game’s followers in the country for whom one day cricket was the new mantra. It had been a long, hard and bumpy road to the top but finally India were there.
(Cover Photograph: May 3, 1974 Gundappa Viswanath cuts watched by keeper Derek Taylor and slip fielder Brian Close Indian tour of England 1974)