V Ramnarayan is an author, translator and teacher. He bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s
White-haired Rohan Kanhai, with his calm, collected half-century in the first World Cup final will forever remain in the collective memory of followers of this quadrennial celebration of one-day cricket. His presence was a comfort and a consolation for those of us who rued the absence of Sir Garfield Sobers at the greatest cricket show on earth. The patrician-looking elder statesman of West Indies cricket kept alive the romance of the game, even as a young Viv Richards, with his three run-outs, announced the arrival of an altogether more athletic brand of the game.
Despite the dominance of the West Indies batsmen, led by the marauding Clive Lloyd, the final was not entirely one-sided, with Australia's pacemen, Lillee and Thomson, adding 41 frenetic runs for the last wicket in a 17-run defeat. Earlier, but for a 64-run last-wicket stand between Derryck Murray and Andy Roberts, West Indies would have lost a league game that Pakistan had under control till then.
My own West Indies hero of the Cup was bareheaded Alvin Kallicharran, who launched a spectacular assault on Dennis Lillee the first time the two teams met. An unlikely, plumpish Australian, Gary Gilmour, added to the unexpectedness of the tournament with his old-fashioned but devastating swing bowling and bold, attacking batting in the semi-final against England, and more swing bowling of substance in the final.
The fledgling Sri Lankan batsmen showed rare courage and exemplary technique in the face of hostile fast bowling by Jeff Thomson and Co while chasing an impossible 328. Battered and bruised, Sunil Wettimuny, Bandula Warnapura, Duleep Mendis, Anura Tennekoon and Michael Tissera showed that they belonged in the highest class of cricket, though their team had not yet been accorded Test status. The quality of the batting was proof, if proof was indeed needed, of the high coaching standards in Sri Lanka then. New Zealand, promising much with inspired performances, started a pattern of faltering towards the end after a good run, a pattern that continues to date.
The innocence of that inaugural championship continued till India's unexpected 1983 triumph. Effective batting rather than brute power, swing, seam and deception rather than pace, an eager pack of good if unspectacular fielders, and a captain who breathed aggression through the series (not to mention his breathtaking rescue effort at Tunbridge Wells) carried India to the pinnacle. The rules, the crowds, the venues and the playing conditions were all still typically British, and the memories of that defining moment in cricket history are sepia-toned rather than Technicolor.
All that changed when the World Cup moved out of England. The advertising blitz and razzmatazz of the Reliance World Cup revealed the shape of things to come. Since then, tinkering with the ODI game, involving heavier bats, shorter boundaries and an obsession with boundaries, has meant the dilution of traditional skills and the emergence of new ones based more on drama than aesthetics.
India had their hour of glory in 2011, and nobody grudged them that. Four years since, a number of key performers from that World Cup are either out of form or out of the team. The opening pair is yet to click, the all-round value of Yuvraj Singh and the new ball skills of Zaheer Khan will be missed, but MS Dhoni's poor form is a vital missing link this time. Add to that the bouncy wickets of Australia and seaming surfaces of New Zealand, the two new balls rule, and the new fielding restrictions, and India's prospects do look gloomy at the moment.
I'll miss the stylists during this World Cup, with much of the accent on power-packed batting and unremitting - and it often seems unthinking - pace bowling. And I'll miss the magic of spin as well. So many earlier competitions threw up spinner after spinner of merit. Bishan Bedi, S Venkataraghavan, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh of India, Sri Lanka's Somachandra DeSilva, Pakistani legspinners Abdul Qadir and Mushtaq Ahmed (besides part-timers Javed Miandad and Wasim Raja and a succession of fingerspinners), Australia's Ashley Mallett and Shane Warne, Dipak Patel and Daniel Vettori of New Zealand, Paul Strang and John Traicos of Zimbabwe, and many more added spice and colour to the proceedings. Today the cupboard looks relatively bare.
Shot-making of extraordinary power, innovation and precision, spectacular fielding and catching, and some express fast bowling will probably play a decisive role in deciding the 2015 champion, but artistry and deception are endangered species. When I look back on India's chequered World Cup history, for instance, I wonder if history will ever forgive the selectors for denying the likes of VVS Laxman and Bhagwath Chandrasekhar World Cup appearances. Surely they would have lit up the stage with their unique gifts?