WHEN I played my first World Cup in 1975, I was very young. That was the second time I was travelling out of my country. The first time was when we played a few unofficial Tests in Sri Lanka. In that World Cup I got to meet all the greats of that era. I played in nearly all the matches. I remember in the first game against the Windies, I scored 28 not out. My 12 overs of leg-breaks went for 40-odd runs and I took the prized wicket of Clive Lloyd.
Our loss to the Windies really rankled. We had nine of their wickets down and they still had 60 runs to get. Andy Roberts saved the day for them. Most of our supporters in Birmingham left early thinking that victory would now be ours. It came as a big shock to them when they heard on the news that we had lost. I think from that day onwards even the commentators stopped hazarding the odd guess.
Till now, no team which was a favourite has won the Cup. Australia and England had strong teams in 1975 and 1979. They didn't win. The Windies were hands-down favourites in 1983. Look what happened to them. In 1987, India and Pakistan were favourites but Australia took the Cup. Not many people gave Sri Lanka a chance in 1996. But they were deserving winners. It was not a fluke for them. They didn't lose a single match.
Even the Pakistani team was good in 1996 but we gave away far too many runs in the last over. But even then we nearly made it while batting, getting off to a strong start. But after Aamir Sohail got out, we should have changed the batting order as at that point all we had to do was maintain a fairly comfortable run rate. But, unfortunately, we had no planning. That cost us dear and we couldn't make it to the last four despite starting as one of the favourites.
Incidentally, the team that has the best record in the World Cup but has never won it is England, 'the eternal bridesmaid'. They have played in three finals and many semifinals. In 1979, their batting order had Allan Knott coming to bat at No 9. That is how strong they were.
This time around, we should realise that the weather in England is not what it was four to five years back. Earlier, we couldn't play in April at all. Now we can. It's far less cold at this time of the year. The game has also changed appreciably. Any team can get the better of anybody on their day. Predictions, LOKE therefore, are not in order. But one can say with a degree of certitude that South Africa and Australia are more consistent than others. The teams from the subcontinent—Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka—depend far too much on individual brilliance. There is a big gap between their main players and the rest. For instance, between Sachin Tendulkar and, say, the other batsmen in the Indian top order. That's not the case with South Africa and Australia.
They have no megastars, so everybody chips in. Each player is nearly as good or as bad as the other. On the other hand, if our main players don't perform on a particular day, our teams tend to lose their way completely. Things become much harder for us. One thing is clear: the subcontinental teams should learn to play as teams. About India, I think it's a little weak in the bowling department. Except for Javagal Srinath, the team isn't sure about anybody else. Venkatesh Prasad doesn't know whether he is in or out. Ajit Agarkar has just come back from injury and might take some time to get back into the swing of things.And they don't quite know whether the wickets in England will suit Anil Kumble.
I also don't think that going really early to acclimatise will be any big help. By that criterion, England should win as they are there the year round. It's all psychological. The wickets there have also changed. It's very rarely that you find grass there now. They are more batting wickets. And the ball doesn't move around as before.
Also, inshallah, if I feel that my team needs me, I might just put on the pads. How's that?