The first-ever World Cup 1975 is just knocking on the door. Big cricket means big money. But Test cricket no longer pays its way. In England, one-day international cricket is more popular than the three-day county game or the five-day Test match, unless it is a contest between England and Australia. The idea of a World Cup 1975 was sponsored by Prudential Assurance Co.
They have invested £100,000 (Rs. 1,800,000) in the tournament to be played in England from June 7 to June 21, 1975. The massive prize money for participants totals £9,000 (Rs 1,62,000). The winners will get £4,000 (Rs 72,000), the runners-up £2,000 (Rs 36,000), and the two losing semifinalists £1,000 (Rs 18,000) each. The “Man of the Match” will get £200 (Rs 3,600) in the final, £100 (Rs 1,800) in each semifinal, and £50 (Rs 900) in each preliminary-round match.
Do you think cricket is losing its appeal? It would seem so, judging by the World Cup organized to give it a new look and fillip. To us in India, where each Test match is a sellout and an occasion for a week’s paid holiday, this may sound strange. But cricket is no longer the sport it used to be. Especially in England, where it’s fighting a losing battle to retain public favor as popular entertainment. It’s only an England-Australia Test that draws English crowds.
The West Indians who live in England are attracted largely by the West Indies, the most exciting players in the game today. The same happened when India beat England at the Oval in August 1971. So much so that England’s captain, Ray Illingworth, congratulated India on winning before their “home” crowd! The same “home” crowd failed to turn up when India was not doing well on their 1974 tour.
There were hardly a couple of hundred spectators at Old Trafford, Manchester, when we started our first Test there. A Matter of National Prestige Cricket has become fiercely “regional” in spirit over the past few years, when winning and losing became a matter of national prestige. Thus, Prudential Assurance Company, which invested over £100,000 in the current World Cup, must be worried. The odds are against England winning the Cup, yet it is a pretty safe bet that the venture can succeed only if the host country makes it to the final.
This is an odd situation since the real stars are on the West Indies, Pakistan, and Australia teams. The West Indians were already formidable with Clive Lloyd leading the way; now with Gary Sobers back in their midst, they must start as the top favorites. Pakistan has in Asif Iqbal one of the finest batsmen, a real hitter. Jim Swanton rates Asif Iqbal among the top five batsmen in the game in terms of popular appeal.
Asif Iqbal is supported by players (like Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Mushtaq Mohammed, and Imran Khan) who know the one-day game inside out, having played most of their cricket in England. Australia’s strength lies first in their bowling, then in their batting. They have in Greg Chappell a batsman who is rated as the top batsman in the world against every type of bowling. But Thomson and Lillee’s fearsome duet lies
Australia, Pakistan, and the West Indies are drawn into the same group. Pakistan and Australia have the batting to match the elite, but everything will depend on how their men face up to Jeff Thomson and Lillee’s thunderbolts. In the only test in Australia in which these two could not function together, England picked up the “pieces” and regrouped into a match-winning combination.
Venkataraghavan has first-hand experience of one-day cricket for Derbyshire. But his elevation to captain has been the subject of such intense controversy. He cannot hope to accomplish much unless he is assured of 100 percent support from his men. There is a feeling that Bishan Singh Bedi may not play ball. I don’t subscribe to this view. Bishan Singh Bedi, after his clash with Authority last season, is a much-chastened cricketer, and he offered Venkat maximum cooperation when he returned to the India team.
Venkataraghavan, in return, made a handsome gesture when he acknowledged Bedi’s place in the team by handing the ball over to him after a couple of overs by Abid Ali and Solkar! Given the same spirit of accommodation, Bishan Singh Bedi and Farokh Engineer should not help Venkataraghavan steer India into the semifinals. It will, of course, need much work, as both our batting and fielding are suspect. Our bowling is hardly attuned to instant cricket’s peculiar needs.
Our crucial match is on June 14, 1975, when we play New Zealand. If we beat them, we may qualify for the semifinals, assuming, of course, that we win against East Africa. You can never tell in one-day cricket! Although Bishan Singh Bedi is known not to care much for this class of cricket, he’s been in excellent form and is working with the World Cup in mind.