1991-92 was a glorious time to be
initiated into cricket. I was 10 years
old and in sixth standard, in school. Sachin Tendulkar
was 18 years old and the gold standard in cricket! A
5-Test series and a triangular ODI series were the twin preludes to the 1992
ODI World Cup down under. Amidst the
shambles that was the Indian batting line-up, Sachin was setting the
tone for the decade to follow. If he was
in, India could win. If he was out, the
rest was a rout. Pardon the painful
alliteration but you get the gist! But
as much as Sachin was every Indian cricket fanatic’s hero, the tourney itself
offered riches that extended beyond the lone star of the Indian team.
The format of the 1992 World Cup
was strikingly simple. 9 teams. Everyone played everyone else. If you won, you scored two points. If the match was tied or washed out, the
teams shared a point. (That the latter
was going to be a decisive factor was something that even the world’s best
gamblers would not have bet a penny on.) And
the top four teams on points would play in the semi-finals. Among the
semi-finalists, New Zealand scored 14 points, England 11, South Africa 10 and
Pakistan…9. Yet it was Pakistan who ended up lifting the cup. As I reflect on what
made Pakistan win the cup and how some of the other teams lost key games (or in
the case of India, lost the plot!), there are 9 lessons that I wish to recollect from the cup.
9. “Teams win matches, not
That was the title of the then Indian
captain Mohammad Azharuddin’s column for The Indian Express the day
after India bowed out of the tourney with 5 measly points from 8 games. While he makes some valid points in his article in a rather
candid manner, what he failed to state was that he, as the leader, did little to make
the 10 other members cohere as a team. Their
solitary bright spot was against the eventual winners, Pakistan. Though Sachin was the man of the match, several
Indian batsmen and bowlers had bright moments.
It was a team win. But that
was at Sydney, arguably India’s favorite ground in Australia. But when their best laid plans came apart in
the face of a Brian Lara attack or a Mark Greatbatch assault, there was no leadership, no
novel tactics, no teamwork. India’s lack
of progress was not for lack of players who could not march. It was
because they did not have any directions.
8. The Proteas’ Inequation: The
Whole > Sum of its Parts
Both New Zealand and South Africa
turned in some stellar performances in the world cup.
South Africa, despite not having the cheek of the Kiwis, was a team whose
whole was more than the sum of its parts. They did not have any superstars in their
batting line-up. Yet, led by the warhorses
Kepler Wessels and Peter Kirsten, they put up competent totals. Their bowling was painfully homogenous – everyone
seemed to bowl right-arm medium pace! But
they had a star in the lightning-quick Allan Donald. And they had the jaunty Jonty Rhodes in the
field. Even if they failed to reach the
finals, the fact that they reached the semis despite their long apartheid-related
isolation from cricket was an example of how to function as a team and punch above
their weight. The exact opposite of the
Indian team, I hasten to add.
7. Nature Strikes Twice.
Every cricket fan who claims to
be one would be familiar with the infamous rain rule of this world cup. Where the chasing team, in the event of rain,
had their target reduced by the number of runs scored in the least expensive overs
they bowled. The rain kept taking turns
helping and hurting the teams. There is
this prevalent myth that the washed-out game against England (where they were
all out for 74 and yet secured one point) was the biggest factor in Pakistan reaching
the semis with 9 points. It is only
partially true. They were in a superb
position against South Africa, with Inzamam-ul-Haq in sublime form, when the
rain made 211 from 50 overs, 194 from 36.
That they lost by only 20 runs should tell you that they could have
bagged two points if not for the rain. So,
no, let’s not deprive them of due credit.
But the Indians were the ones most
hurt by the rain. If they got lucky
versus Zimbabwe, they lost the Australia fixture because of the rain and did
not get a chance to bag two points against a weak Sri Lankan side. I suppose luck or lack thereof doesn’t always
come with any reasons or explanations.
It just is, good or bad!
6. The Puzzle of Bits and Pieces
Commentator and former cricketer Sanjay
Manjrekar incurred the collective wrath of a nation when he called Ravindra Jadeja
a “bits and pieces” player. I am not
sure if he would have been denied entry into the Buckingham Palace had he said
the same about some of the English players.
For this tournament, they picked the likes of an ODI specialist like Dermot
Reeves and a restrictive off-spinner like Richard Illingworth. While these players were no slouch in the
format and did make a reasonably positive impression, they did not have the match-winning class of England’s own David Gower, the doughtiness of a Mike Gatting or the mischief
of a leg-spinner like Pakistan’s Mushtaq Ahmed.
In essence, these bits and pieces players did fit into the puzzle assembled
by their captain Graham Gooch. But they
did not have the x-factor in them to puzzle the opposition.
5. Don’t think out of the box. Just throw out the box.
New Zealand’s innovations, be it
Dipak Patel’s opening spells as a tidy off-spinner or Mark Greatbatch’s
blitzkriegs as an opening batsman, are the stuff of legend. Like England, the Kiwis too had ODI specialist
bowlers like Gavin Larsen, who excelled on their slow, low pitches. But the difference was what they did with these
players. Martin Crowe did things like giving
bowlers two to three over spells and constantly rotating them and…yes, puzzling
the opposition. It was as though the
captain did not want to beat his opposition as much as he wanted to outwit
them. His batting, of course, was a huge
factor in helping his team outmaneuver every opposition except, of course,
Pakistan. It took the genius of an Inzamam-ul-Haq
– his 60 off 37 in the semi-final still ranks as one of ODI’s greatest knocks -
to knock them out.
Onto the final four. I am dedicating all four of these to
Pakistan, out of respect for their unlikely yet amazing victory.
4. Luck is where preparation
It is one of several life lessons
that Randy Pauch shared in his “Last Lecture.”
Sure, Pakistan had their slices of luck during the tournament. While Martin Crowe’s injury preventing him
from leading their defense in the semi-final is often cited as a lucky turn of
events for Pakistan, what is often ignored is that Crowe would have ideally
chased after winning the toss since they were making mincemeat of their
opposition while chasing. But on the day
of semi-final, rain was predicted. Fearing
the rain Gods a little and the rain rule a lot, Crowe decided to bat first. So, you could argue that things were loaded
in Pakistan’s favor. Yes, they had luck. But luck alone did not win them matches. In the league phase, they were the only team
to beat New Zealand. And in the semis
too, it took the temperamental genius of Inzamam and the steadying influence of
veteran Javed Miandad to push them over the line. So, yes, they had the opportunity
offered by lady luck. But boy, were they
prepared to make full use of it!
3. Short-term gains are as bad
as long-term losses
Can you imagine Wasim Akram slowing
down his pace? No, that is not a
rhetorical question. It was posed in a
way to Imran Khan after a league game. The
reason being that Akram had had a torrid time with no-balls and wides in the
initial phase of the tournament. He had raw
pace but zero control. But while Imran Khan
may not be an eloquent speaker, he was an astute leader and a clear
thinker. He made the point that Akram’s
core strength was his pace. And he did
not want his protégé to lose that. He knew
that he had others like Aqib Javed to steady the ship even if Akram went off-kilter. He knew that Akram could sway matches as much
as he swung the ball. And swing, swerve
and sway were exactly what he did, at blistering pace. Ask Allan Lamb or Chris Lewis if you’d like! When we pause to reflect, one realizes that a
clear-headed leader who has no place for myopia in his vision, will see
everything ten steps ahead of others.
And that is what Imran did with Akram.
If not for liberating Akram to bowl to his strengths, he may have made
him feel shackled. Instead, he unleashed
the ‘cornered tiger’ onto an unsuspecting opposition!
2. Trusting them more than
even they ever will
Both Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mushtaq Ahmed
have waxed eloquent on Imran around how much he placed faith in their
abilities. Just like Sunil Gavaskar used
Laxman Sivaramakrishnan as an attacking wicket-taking option in 1985, Imran
knew that he could not expect consistency or steadiness from Mushtaq as much as
he could, guile and mischief. Similarly,
he had seen enough early signs of Inzamam that despite a strictly ordinary
performance (save the gallant effort versus South Africa) in the league stages,
he pushed Inzamam to play the semi-final despite him feeling unwell. The impact of placing trust cannot be easily
measured. But by the same token, it is
1. “When you want something, all
the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
This quote, attributed to author
Paulo Coelho, was embodied by Imran Khan and his fierce, single-minded
determination. Of all the 9 captains, it
is possible that Imran wanted this Cup the most.
He wanted it badly. He wanted to
win this, to raise funds for the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, named
after his mother who died of cancer. He
had tried once in 1987 but failed to go past the semis. At 40, this was his last chance by a distance. His individual contributions in this cup are
noteworthy but they were hardly World Cup-winning material. But he was Captain Exemplar in the way he anchored the mercurial yet brilliant team through troubled waters, to glory. His own anchor was the Cancer
Hospital. He wanted it badly. And the universe helped him achieve it.