My earliest memory of the World Cup would have to be from June 1983, in Indore, India, on holiday with my cousins. I was ten, just beginning to understand cricket. I was crestfallen when Sunil Gavaskar got out early in the final. Then, against 183, West Indies needed just one good partnership. But India kept taking wickets, and I remember the final moments when Mohinder Amarnath got Michael Holding leg before. Watching Kapil Dev lift that World Cup was one of the things that inspired me to be a cricketer.
In 1992, watching Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli, guys my age, playing in a World Cup, you start thinking, "Wow, I would love to be part of this kind of setup." I was a first-class cricketer by then, and our Karnataka mate Javagal Srinath was in the squad, so watching him was a big thrill. In 1992, New Zealand's Martin Crowe scored a century against Australia, and I took notice of how late he played, his range of shots, the pace of his innings. In 1996, it was Aravinda de Silva who was the star. The way he stepped up in the semi-finals and then in the final, chasing under pressure, in the biggest match in Sri Lanka's history, was brilliant.
I was part of the 20 Indian probables for the 1996 World Cup but just missed out on getting selected. I was a little disappointed but had sensed I wouldn't get picked. India were quite a settled side, and if you were not in the team six months before a World Cup, it was unlikely the selectors would bring in new blood. Once the World Cup started, the Ranji Trophy was my focus. I was leading Karnataka, so I wanted to try to help the side win and score enough runs to get picked for the tour of England. After the Ranji games, we would return to our hotel, switch on the TV and watch the World Cup together. I remember watching India play West Indies in Gwalior and a bit of India-Australia in Mumbai, where Venkatesh Prasad - another Karnataka mate - got those wickets in the final over.
Around the time I became a first-class cricketer, I realised that one-day cricket was becoming really big and important. The stature of the World Cup was also growing; it was becoming a huge deal. I always knew at the end of my career I would be judged by my Test numbers, but a World Cup selection would be big because the event is held every four years. Everyone wants to play in it; everyone wants to win. I cared deeply about playing in World Cups, as much as some of the Test series I played in.
In 1998, I played very few ODIs and thought I might not be picked for the 1999 World Cup. But I was determined to fight my way back in. That year away from the ODI team in 1998 made me retool my one-day cricket, working on certain shots and drills. It made me a better player.
My first World Cup started out a bit strange. There was more newspaper coverage for the soccer transfers. At the start I didn't even feel I was involved in a World Cup, especially because we had experienced the craze the Cup had generated in India in 1996. But once the event started, things picked up. The stadiums in England are small, and the grounds were always packed. The Indian team had great support. My parents came to watch, some of my college friends were there too, and I started feeling I was really a part of a big event.
Soon the focus was on the World Cup - no other cricket matches were taking place. The best in the world were there, and performances were recognised. You met your peers and sensed their respect when you did well. It was a big buzz.
Unfortunately, India lost one or two critical games, but I personally had a very good tournament. It made me believe I could do well in ODIs. All my early doubts, after I was dropped and picked, wondering what my role was, everything changed with that World Cup.
In 2003, we started poorly - losing to Australia and scraping through against Netherlands - but picked up steam as the tournament went on. The combinations we had, the balance we had, was pretty good, and Australia were the only team we lost to in that tournament. A quirk of fate pitted us against Kenya in the semi-finals. Whatever is said about playing the best and beating the best, I don't think many complained about Kenya turning up in the semis.
My role in the side had changed in 2003. I was batting at No. 5, shepherding the tail with Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif. It meant I didn't make as many runs as I did in 1999 but played smaller, vital innings. Against Pakistan, New Zealand, England and even in the final, chasing a big score, I got some runs on the board. Given I was also wicketkeeping, I think of 2003 as my best World Cup. It gave me a lot of satisfaction that I was able to perform different roles for the team.
In 2007, I thought we had a good team that could be competitive on slow wickets in the West Indies. The format, however, was such that we slipped on a big banana skin in our game against Bangladesh. With a four-team group, one bad game and it was all over. That is what happened to India and Pakistan. Not qualifying for the Super Eights in 2007 was probably one of the biggest disappointments of my career. If we had qualified, I am sure we would have grown in confidence. But a tournament like that didn't give you a chance, and the defeats were followed by an excruciating month of watching other people play from back home in India. To be honest, I just couldn't get myself to watch.
Within a year or so, I was out of the ODI team and was resigned to playing only Tests. When picked for a 2009 tour of Sri Lanka and the Champions Trophy, I thought I had a big chance. But Virender Sehwag and some other guys were injured, so I knew I had to do something really special to stay in the side. It didn't work out, and I knew it was all over. The team was doing well - they were building a good nucleus for the 2011 World Cup - so I knew I wouldn't be picked. If the tournament had been outside India, who knows? But in India, they seemed to have the players for the conditions.
India's victory in 2011, I thought, was a culmination of the efforts of a whole generation of cricketers. You do feel a little disappointed that you were not part of it and wish you could have shared in that whole journey. But many of the players who won had come into the team when you were the captain or a senior player, so in a way you could feel a reflected glory. It was important for anyone who played for India after 1983 to say, "Hey, we won another one." It was important for a whole new generation of young fans who never watched the World Cup in 1983.
For people like me, who were ten years old in 1983, a cycle was complete. When I was on the verge of finishing my career, India won another World Cup. It would have been good to be part of that team, of course, but I was really happy that the guys I knew, guys I had played with, had been able to do that.
This article was first published in 2015
Rahul Dravid scored over 24,000 international runs for India between 1996 and 2012