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09 Mar 2007 09:31
The game has moved on. Whether it is any better is one for the pub.
Cast your eyes down the composite team from the first World Cup in 1975 and it is not obvious that the standard of play has advanced in leaps and bounds.
There were some handy cricketers around three decades ago. But the game has changed. That first competition lasted a fortnight and comprised 15 matches. This one starts on March 13, lasts for 47 days and 51 matches will be played.
Eight teams took part in 1975—“unfortunately not South Africa” notes the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. The concluding match at Lord’s, when West Indies defeated Australia, was 60 overs a side, still probably the best final of the lot and finished at 8.43pm; it generated Â£66Â 000, a record for a one-day match at the time.
On the opening day of the 1975 competition, England scored 334/4 at Lord’s. India responded, incredibly, with 132/3 from their 60 overs, with opening batsman Sunil Gavaskar reaching 36 not out at the close. The target, he decided, was so unattainable that he would have some batting practice.
Now teams, having worked out that the asking rate is a mere five and a half runs an over, would be plotting their run chase with a degree of justified optimism. Batsmen the world over have different parameters, new shots. And they hit sixes at will.
In 1975, a six was an event in itself. In the final, in which 565 runs were plundered, Clive Lloyd hit two sixes and Deryck Murray one in the West Indies innings. The Australians replied gallantly with 274, to lose by 17 runs. Not a single Aussie cleared the boundary. That was how the game was played. Bats were not so fine-tuned for the big hit; batsmen still hit the ball along the ground.
The 2003 World Cup final, when Australia routed India, took place at the Wanderers in Johannesburg (a fair-sized ground) and there were 14 sixes in the match, eight alone from the bat of Ricky Ponting. There could be more this time around, especially as the final takes place in BridgeÂtown, Barbados, where we can expect batsmen to enjoy themselves.
The groundsman at Bridgetown is Richard “Prof” Edwards, who used to bowl the new ball with Wes Hall for Barbados, and occasionally for West Indies. He knows his business. He reports that when the islands played on his relaid square, scores of 290 were commonplace and that “sides won’t be safe with 300”.
Paul Collingwood, as coherent a one-day thinker as any, confirms that batsmen actually practise hitting sixes in the nets now. A decade or more ago, such an activity would see the player branded a slogger who was not taking his net practice seriously.
“Look how the likes of Andrew Symonds, Cameron White, Shahid Afridi and Mahendra Dhoni have developed their games. They practise withdrawing their left leg so that they can swing their arms freely. They can clear the boundary at will,” says Collingwood. There are plenty of others—the likes of Jacob Oram, Virender Sehwag and Kevin Pietersen—who can do the same.
In Australia, Collingwood was at his lowest ebb at the start of the one-day series. “Every ball they bowled was a hand grenade. After 30 balls I’d have two runs on the board.” But that stunning catch to dismiss Ponting in Melbourne sparked an Australia collapse and England’s tour changed. Which takes us to fielding, an area in which Collingwood is an expert and which is correctly cited as one of the differences between now and then.
In 1975, you would be no more likely to encounter Ian Chappell or Vanburn Holder indulging in a sliding stop than you would a shaven head as a fashion statement. Everyone has to field well now. In 1975 it was a bonus, which does not mean to say that it wasn’t a key element of the game.
In that final, five Australians were run out, three of them by a young Vivian Richards. Unable to make an impact with the bat, he terrorised the Australians from cover. Richards was a brilliant fieldsman, though he would not have practised as scientifically as Collingwood. The Durham all-rounder was almost taken aback when asked whether fielding would be crucial in the Caribbean.
“It’s crucial any time; in Test matches a half chance taken can change a game.” He went on to explain how each fielder now practises in the position he knows he will be taking up. So most of Collingwood’s shies at the stumps will be from his specialist position at backward point. During practice he reckons on a 50-50 success rate.
Despite all the coaches and the detailed preparation that is part of the modern game, a perennial truth is highlighted by Collingwood. “Whichever side can adjust quickest to the conditions, and can assess what is a good score on any given surface, will have a huge advantage.”
Whether 1975 or 2007, the ability of cricketers to think on their feet out in the field will be fundamental to success. Although it must be said that in the helmetless days of 1975 it was sometimes trickier to stay on your feet.
At The Oval on June 11 1975, Sri Lanka played Australia. First Duleep Mendis was struck on the head by Jeff Thomson and taken off to hospital. Soon afterwards, Sunil Wettimuny was struck by another Thomson lifter. Then his right instep was crushed by the next delivery.
As Wettimuny staggered around in and out of his crease, Thomson threw down the wicket and appealed for a run-out, which, to his dismay, was disallowed. On joining Mendis at the nearby hospital, Wettimuny announced: “Jeff Thomson did it.” “Do you wish to lay charges?” asked a police sergeant.
Which just goes to show that some things don’t change. Whether it’s 1975 or 2007, the Aussies retain that little ruthless streak on the cricket field.—Â
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