The 1987 World Cup was a trendsetter, an event that began the process that restructured world cricket and altered power equations within the ICC. Until then, England and Australia reigned supreme, armed with a veto that allowed them to push aside all opposition to any ideas of theirs.
When the 1987 World Cup moved out of England, it marked the end of this domination and opened a window for other ICC members to assert themselves and start questioning unequal power-sharing arrangements in world cricket.
Moving the World Cup away was not simple. It required a complicated negotiation between two nations - their leaders, politicians, cricket administrators and businessmen.
The operation began just after India won the World Cup in 1983. The plan to get the World Cup to the subcontinent came from three individuals - Indian politician and cricket administrator NKP Salve (from Nagpur), Calcutta businessman Jagmohan Dalmiya, and bureaucrat IS Bindra from Punjab.
They realised that they needed support within the ICC for their plan to work. Their natural allies, they knew, would be their Asian brethren. A coalition ofinvolving India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka came together at a meeting in Lahore in mid-1983. The proposal for a World Cup in South Asia was greeted with relish. PCB president Air Marshal Nur Khan and his assistant Arif Ali Abbasi gave the idea enthusiastic support. Abdul Rehman Bukhatir, of the Cricketers Benefit Fund Series, from Dubai, was brought in to provide financial muscle.
Concerned, reasonably, that the World Cup might not be financially viable, Sri Lankan board chief Gamini Dissanayake joined the group on the condition that his country have no financial stake in the event.
After the Lahore meeting, Dalmiya drafted a basic proposal to move the World Cup out of England and put it before the ICC, as required, by the end of 1983. The idea caused a furore in London. Strong objections were raised and the draft proposal rejected.
Justice Shah, who happened to be extremely short, was infuriated. When the second round of voting took place, he stood on the table to make sure his raised hand was noticed
The objections began with the argument that the subcontinent could not stage 60-over games during the day, given the light conditions. The Asian response: rules did not mandate 120 overs of play each day; ODI cricket had embraced the 50-over format.
While England was opposed, there appeared to be some support from the Australians, through Fred Bennett, the Australian Cricket Board chairman. Bennett liked what the Asians were promising him: that the 1992 World Cup would, by rotation, travel to Australia. The formal bid made by the Indians did have a quiet Australian okay, but Salve & Co were informed that there was no way Australia would vote against England in an open ballot.
Encouraged by even the prospect of a mini-coup, however, the cricket boards of India and Pakistan formed an India-Pakistan Joint Management Committee (IPJMC). Pakistan's Nur Khan proposed Salve's name as president, given that he was the elder amongst the group and a Union Minister in the Indian government. Bindra was appointed secretary/convenor of the committee.
In the early 1980s, the "Western" block in cricket was difficult to breach. Even if West Indies could be convinced to cross over, the ICC's election code needed cracking. The ICC's total voting strength was 37. Two votes each for the eight Test nations and one vote each to 21 Associates.
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It became clear that the key to Associate support lay in the financial arrangement underpinning the 1987 World Cup. At that time, 60% of the ICC's revenues were shared by the eight Full Members, with the remaining 40% distributed equally among the 21 Associates. In that arithmetic lay the solution: the Associates voted as a bloc; their choice obviously would be swayed by the weight of a financial offer. Smelling this opportunity, the IPJMC came up with a master stroke that was to alter world cricket's dynamics.
In their proposal, the Asian powers made the 21 voting Associates an offer they could not refuse. For their support of the 1987 World Cup in Asia, the Associates were offered a new deal - a guaranteed £20,000 each as the World Cup share. This was against the £3000-4000 per member each Associate hoped to get if England retained the World Cup. Full Member nations were offered £75,000 each, plus expenses for participating in the event.
In July 1984, assured of the Associate vote, the IPJMC's proposal sailed through the ICC with a huge majority. The old guard then produced a googly: the verdict was not accepted by the ICC's top brass and a re-count was ordered. It was argued that the officials had not seen the Pakistani representative Chief Justice Nasim Hassan Shah's vote. Justice Shah, who happened to be extremely short, was infuriated by this aspersion. When the second round of voting took place, he stood on the table to make sure his raised hand was noticed. The die had been cast, the World Cup was coming to Asia.
Once the World Cup was handed over to India and Pakistan, there came another hurdle for the new hosts: foreign exchange. The potential hosts had to pay a hefty amount in foreign exchange (£1.6 million), obtaining which in those days was governed by tough government regulations. Salve and Bindra met a successful London-based Indian businessman who readily offered to make the payment and sponsor the World Cup.
The solution was not received well at home, with the then Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, expressing his discomfort with a UK-based business holding title rights for a tournament being conducted in India. His solution came in the form of a lifeline for the cricket board: Gandhi directed his then finance minister (and later to be political rival) VP Singh, to release the required foreign exchange to the BCCI.
Finding an alternative title sponsor came next.: Salve and Bindra led negotiations and discussions with business heads across the country. They settled on textile tycoon Dhirubhai Ambani. Bindra recalled that Ambani had one condition at the time of signing the deal: that he be seated next to the Prime Minister during an exhibition match between India and Pakistan held just before the World Cup, which would be broadcast live on national television.
Proximity to the prime minister and the huge media exposure sent out the message that Reliance enjoyed warm relations with the government. The cost of the World Cup title rights was approximately Rs 90 million.
Bindra suggested that General Zia visit India to break the deadlock. Bindra recalls Zia asking him, "Will the Indian PM invite me?" Bindra's reply: "It doesn't matter, you just come"
According to ICC protocols, all administrative arrangements for the World Cup were left to the hosts. The only direct involvement of the ICC was to sort out playing conditions through a three-member committee comprising ICC chief executive David Richards, the Test and County Cricket Board's secretary, Donald Carr, and Bindra. For the rest, the hosts had the final say on all matters. For all the initial reluctance to hand the event over to Asia, the TCCB, Bindra remembers, was very helpful and cooperative with the new hosts, ready to share details and paperwork concerning the conduct of the previous two World Cups.
The nuts and bolts of the largely rudimentary organisation process were left to Bindra, who for a long time ran the event from his home with two assistants before setting up office at a business centre in the Taj Palace hotel in Delhi.
However, there were roadblocks. First, there was a rolling list of Pakistani nominees in the IPJMC - from Nur Khan and Abbasi it moved to Safdar Butt, Ejaz Butt, Shahid Rafi and Rafi Naseem, who played different roles at different times. But this was relatively minor.
Another problem, far more threatening, popped up. Towards the end of 1986, military tensions between the two nations were escalating, and England and Australia immediately raised the issue of security concerns.
At a World Cup meeting in Murree, outside Islamabad, General Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan's military dictator, blamed the Indian army for the tension. Bindra, who like Zia hailed from Jalandhar in Punjab, suggested the general visit India to break the deadlock. Bindra recalls Zia asking him, "Will the Indian PM invite me?" Bindra's reply: "It doesn't matter, you just come."
Zia agreed and in a major diplomatic coup, showed up in Jaipur during an India-Pakistan Test in February 1987, eight months before the World Cup. From then on the tension eased, and concerns about the lack of cooperation between India and Pakistan were dispelled.
In India, fresh battles began. Salve and Bindra had to deal with national broadcaster Doordarshan, which demanded money from the hosts in return for the benevolence of producing images of the World Cup. The Reliance Cup Organising Committee (RCOC, a new acronym for the IPJMC) refused. It needed Gandhi's attention to ensure a solution was found: Doordarshan would cover the event (PTV covered it in Pakistan), bear all production costs, pay no rights fee to the organisers, and share their ad revenue with the World Cup organisers. The RCOC would retain all earnings from ground signage.
In order to ensure quality pictures - never an area of expertise for Doordarshan - an expert from the BBC, Keith MacKenzie, was hired to head production and supervise the technical aspects of the broadcast. Despite these precautions, though, there was the occasional slip - like images beamed to Australia ending up in black and white at one point.
Despite the hurdles, everything and everyone pulled through. It ended in a burst of fireworks over Eden Gardens in Calcutta with a packed house watching an Australia v England final.
The 1987 Reliance World Cup marked the first steps towards altering the power dynamic in international cricket. At the start, India and Pakistan, experts at understanding the push-pull involved in elections, worked out how to form an Asian group and then to reach out to a group of smaller nations ensuring greater strength and bargaining power.
The ICC now had to accept the principle of rotational hosting for the World Cup. This took the 1992 edition to Australia-New Zealand, where it then returned after 23 years.
This article was first published in 2014
Amrit Mathur is a former manager of the Indian cricket team