ICC CRICKET WORLD CUP 2015

World Cup 2015: The initiation game

| February 8, 2015 4:03:59 pm

World Cup 2015, World Cup, Australia, world cup 1992, Cricket The defending champs did not make the semis in ‘92, but the home fans were treated to a very watchable Cup. (Source: Getty)

The World Cup ’92 – with its many firsts, including coloured clothing, day-night matches and two white balls – captured the imagination of not only TV-watchers but also many Australian kids viewing the game for the first time. Tristan Lavalette was one of them.

My obsession with cricket often leads to ridicule. Notably from my wife, who bitterly refers to cricket as my “foul mistress”. True, I have wasted too much time consuming this goofy bat and ball game.

But my cricket fandom was not innate. There was a time, long ago, when I detested it and was seduced by sleeker sports, notably basketball when Michael Jordan was walking on air. Back then, I thought cricket was the British invention for procrastination. It was hard to be enthused by a sport played interminably and with its players blandly garbed collectively in whites. Cricket had an unfortunate archaic perception. And those that played the staid game at school seemed socially awkward.

Of course, cricket’s intoxicating charm inevitably beguiled. This happened during the 1992 ODI World Cup, hosted in New Zealand and Australia, my home land. I had never felt captivated by cricket because of its quaintness. Simply, cricket seemingly represented a bygone and more sedate era.

The 1992 World Cup was different. Clothes were coloured, with Australia wearing an eye-catching near all yellow uniform (funnily, this outfit has come back into vogue among current Australian cricket fans). The ball was white, and some of the games were played under floodlights. Back in 1992, these aesthetic changes helped unshackle cricket’s dreary connotation and reel in a new wave of fans — much like T20’s effect in recent years.

The derided Channel Nine commentary are essentially a punchline, but back then its coverage was near revolutionary. The coverage, spearheaded by the network’s billionaire magnate Kerry Packer, was innovative, notably by introducing stump microphones for the event. It’s bevy of iconic and intelligent commentators ensured it was easy for a young cricket novice, like myself, to learn the intricacies of the complex game.

Australia entered the 1992 World Cup as the reigning champions and favourites. With the West Indies in a post-Viv Richards swoon, Australia seemed in prime position to become cricket’s new superpower. But it was a bitterly disappointing campaign from Allan Border’s men, who never recovered from losing three of four games early, including routs to England and South Africa. Shockingly, they didn’t make the tournament’s final four. Australia was outshone by their co-host, with the underdog New Zealand enjoying a spirited campaign to almost make the final.

It was an underwhelming initiation into Australian cricket fandom. Fortunately, there was plenty of spectacular action elsewhere to keep me focused on cricket. Three individual performances resonate. I recall being in awe of a young, stylish left-handed West Indian batsman, who was almost an unknown at the time. His high bat lift and flourish was dazzling. I’m pretty sure it inspired me to buy a bat and mimic his stance in the backyard. Brian Lara was always destined for greatness. Wasim Akram’s ability to make the ball defy physics made me appreciate the nuances of the sport. While, Jonty Rhodes’ spectacular fielding showcased that cricket too was a sport conducive to athleticism and dispelled the misguided belief that its participants were a bunch of beer-bellied slobs.

Australian success didn’t eventuate at the 1992 World Cup but fortunately I jumped on the bandwagon at the opportune time. Shane Warne had just been introduced into the Test team months earlier. The Waughs were about to peak. A golden era of precocious talent were entering the Sheffield Shield ranks. Thus, Australia enjoyed an unprecedented domination of world cricket from about 1995-2007, including a hat-trick of Cup triumphs. They were unbeaten at the ’03 and ’07 campaigns, and honestly, it was easy to take their success for granted. Some Australians even started resenting their own team because of the unbalance in competition.

But Australia has endured a somewhat rocky road post Warne/McGrath. ODI World Cup dominance ended in 2011 when they lost to eventual champs India in the quarters. Australia has never won a World T20. So, success is appreciated more than it was a decade ago.

It is a strong and well-rounded team that is a warm favourite heading into the World Cup. The Australian public is demanding a victory, and many believe a fifth World Cup triumph is a foregone conclusion. The Australian cricket team are reminiscent of the New Zealand All Blacks in the rugby union– anything other than winning the whole event is deemed an abject failure.

A format’s last hope

But it’s not only on-field that intrigues. It will be fascinating to see how the Australian public responds to the event amid a format that has spiralled in popularity. The 1992 World Cup represented the start of ODI’s popularity peak, which lasted through the 2000s until T20 started to gain a foothold.

A total of 456,264 spectators attended ODI matches in the summer of 1999-2000. Only 14,177 Melbournians went to an ODI game against the mighty South Africans earlier this summer and the tri-series final featuring Australia and England recently was barely more than half full at the WACA, a ground which had never previously hosted a final.

A domestic Big Bash game attracts more interest than ODI cricket in Australia these days. It’s a tired format that lacks an identity in the congested Australian sporting landscape. Can ODI cricket rejuvenate on its grandest stage? Will the event elicit the excitement and energy of its predecessor 22 years ago? Is the format in terminal decline?

I suppose we’ll see how much relevancy 50-over cricket really has at the World Cup. But it’ll always hold a special place for me because it’s the format that first enticed. I’m going to relish watching ODI cricket once again be propelled into the spotlight to revive images of yesteryear. Here’s hoping the 2015 World Cup replicates its success from 22 years ago. Fingers crossed, the end result is a little different from a myopic Australian perspective.

Tristan Lavalette – when not following Australia’s games in the flesh, freelances for several prestigious publications and website.

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