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How World Cup ODI 50-over format came about — and its future

Life has come full circle for Australian cricket. Back in 1987 under captain Allan Border, they won the World Cup for the first time when it was staged in India and Pakistan.

Australia beat traditional Test rivals England in the final at Kolkata — the first time it was staged in India — and on Sunday, in Ahmedabad, 36 years later, they defeated the hosts, India, in the final. This was the fourth time India was staging the World Cup (1987, 1996, 2011 and 2023), though the first time as sole hosts.

In fact, it was the women who staged the first of cricket’s World Cups in England in 1973. India did not compete as the telegram from the nascent Women’s Cricket Association of India confirming participation arrived late. However, five years later India hosted the second edition.

But there had been a world championship way back in 1912 when England held what was known as the Triangular Test tournament with Australia and South Africa as the other two competing nations — the only three Test playing nations at the time.

One-day cricket was far into the future — the first One-Day International was staged at Melbourne in January 1971 to compensate spectators deprived of any play when the third Test between England and Australia was washed out. Much to everyone’s surprise, it attracted a sizable crowd of 46,000. It was 40 overs per side, each over consisting of eight balls as was the norm in Australia back then.

Festive offer

The first major domestic one-day tournament between first-class teams was the Knock-Out Cup for the Gillette Trophy launched in England in 1963 with 65 overs per side. This was followed by the John Player Sunday League of 40 overs in 1969.

After dragging their feet for a few years, the men finally took the call to stage their inaugural World Cup in England in 1975. It was sponsored by Prudential Insurance which continued its sponsorship for the 1979 and 1983 editions. But the exact nomenclature of the tournament was a matter of some confusion. The 1976 edition of the venerable Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack referred to it as the Prudential (World) Cup in its preface, Prudential World Cup in the photo caption of West Indies’ captain Clive Lloyd holding up the trophy and simply the Prudential Cup in the match reports.

That first edition lasted just two weeks (as against six-and-a-half in 2023) and consisted of eight teams in two groups. One of those teams was “East Africa” — a hotchpotch outfit which was cobbled together to take the place of the banned South Africa as well as Sri Lanka who were seven years away from Test status.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India hastily arranged the first domestic one-day tournament named after D B Deodhar in 1974-75 of 60 overs per side as were the first three editions of the Prudential World Cup.

But India’s disastrous performance both in 1975 and 1979 even saw calls before the 1983 edition for India to be forced to qualify the next time around if they flopped again.

That Kapil Dev’s men shocked one and all — not least themselves — by stunning twice-defending champions the mighty West Indies in the final at Lord’s saw a tectonic shift in world cricket power.

England’s then-TCCB (Test and County Cricket Board; now ECB) were stunned when a joint bid by India and Pakistan saw the World Cup shift from England for the first time with sponsorship from Reliance dwarfing that of Prudential. The Asian power-base — more accurately, India — was consolidated when it returned to the sub-continent in 1996, this time sponsored by Wills.

From 1987, the format permanently changed to 50 overs but the biggest changes came in the 1992 edition jointly held in Australia and New Zealand.

It was Australia’s multi-millionaire media mogul Kerry Packer with his breakaway World Series Cricket that lasted two seasons (1977-78 to 1978-79) who changed the face of cricket forever with his emphasis on 50-overs cricket played under lights and in coloured clothing for the first time. This has been adopted in every World Cup from 1992 onwards.

When West Indies’ domination was halted by India in 1983 — they have never reached the final since and for the first time in 2023 even failed to qualify — it was Australia who began their golden run from 1987.

Ahmedabad marked Australia’s sixth title triumph. Before Sunday, they had won in 1987 (India), 1999 (England), 2003 (South Africa), 2007 (Barbados, West Indies) and 2015 (Australia), finishing runners-up in 1975 and 1996. India are a distant second with two titles (1983 and 2011) and twice runners-up (2003 and 2023).

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The 50-overs format, however, is under threat from T20. India won the inaugural T20 World Cup title in Johannesburg in 2007 but have failed to do so again despite launching the mega-bucks Indian Premier League in 2008. The 2028 Los Angeles Olympics will also stage cricket in the T20 format and its popularity has spread far beyond cricket’s traditional frontiers.

For now though, Australia has established a mighty cricket dynasty. They also beat India in the final of the second World Test Championship earlier this year. The challenge now is for other teams to play catch-up.

Ezekiel is a veteran sports journalist and author based in New Delhi

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