Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Golden Era of ODI Cricket

Ok, I have finally fell for the temptation. To write something about my religion- Cricket. I did wonder for quite sometime about what aspect of the sacred religion that i should cover. Then it struck me, like an epiphany, what better moment than my first interactions with the game.

No wonder they say, the first impression is the best impression, and what a first impression! Me and my sis were returning from school, being battered black and blue by the Doha sun. As any other day, we were looking forward to hot rice and sambar under the cool confines of our air-conditioned abode, But the sight that greeted us as we opened the door that day was unbelievable. There was a huge crowd of all the uncles and aunties i had ever known shouting at the top of their voice while watching something I had never seen on television. We had neighbours, relatives, dad's office folks,(maybe even random passer-bys who knows) and all their kids!It was pandemonium. And the reason for this unexpected congregation at my house was the India-Pakistan Quarter Final match at the 1996 World Cup.We were one of the few houses that had installed the recently introduced cable television and this for some reason was the first cricket match to be shown (I am sure the authorities of the country were threatened  a work strike by the South Asian expatriates for them to show this match!)And  It was here that this food deprived boy was introduced to this madness, and I swear, the excitement has not diminished one bit and will never will.

From then on the worship began, Cricket slowly ousted football as the favourite sport in school, empty tiffin boxes became stumps and Sachin Tendulkar was the new God. From 1996 to 2000 we just ate, drank and slept cricket, the 4th to the 8th standard.No pressure of the boards yet and being in an All- Boys school., cricket happened to be our only distraction then. Wonder what the local Arabs felt, when they saw young Asian boys run out of their houses everyday with club like bats and sticks and pushing them out of their favoured parking lots where they played football.

So for all the above emotional reasons and for the extraordinarily high quality of cricket that was played then, I regard this period 1996-2000 as the Golden Era (GE) of Cricket.  My analysis of this period will be based on the teams that played the game, and how they performed primarily in the two world cups (96,99) and the champions trophy. Again, being first exposed to ODI cricket, the golden era reference is also limited to ODIs, as test cricket has clearly seen better times in this decade. This era according to me had the most competitive teams with no team really dominating the world scene. So here goes-

Sri Lanka- Jayasuriya- Kaluwitharna revolutionised powerplay cricket long before the arrival of Afridi or Sehwag. And with a middle order that boasted of Desilva and Ranatunga and Mahanama, Sri Lanka were a powerful batting unit. The legend of Murali was slowly emerging and Vaas became the perfectionist in line and length bowling. Athletic fielding rarely seen by an Asian side, and the astute captaincy of Ranantunga clearly meant that they had what it takes to be world beaters.Best performance in GE - Winner, 1996 World cup.

West Indies- The 96 World cup would probably be the last great performance by a dominant Windies side. The era witnessed batsmen like Richie Richardson, Chanderpaul , Lara, Carl Hooper, Jimmy Adams don the Windies shirt. Lara was considered the best then, along with probably the most menacing opening bowling duo of their times,Walsh-Ambrose. No wonder Shane Warne, claims this to be the best side he has played against. Best performance in GE- Semi Finalists- 1996, World Cup, Runner-Up- Champions Trophy, 1998.

New Zealand- Stephen Fleming, Nathan Astle, Craig Mcmillan, Chris Cairns,Chris Harris,  Dion Nash,Vettori, Aadam Pafrore, Simon Doull and Geoff Alllot. This side could give anyone a run for their money.More than individual brilliance, the side played very well as a unit. Who can forget Chris Cairns's century that enabled the Kiwis to virtually steal the Champions trophy from India's grasp in the finals in Nairobi. Best performance in GE- Winner,Champions Trophy, 2000. Semi- Finalist, 1999 World Cup.

South Africa- This was the era when God decided to play cricket as an All-Rounder named Lance Klusener. No one can deny that, the South Africans were clearly the better team at the 99 WC. With a bowling line-up consisting of White Lightning-Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock and all-rounders like Kallis and Klusener, SA were the team to beat. Gibbs, Kirsten, Cullilan, Cronje, 'Superman' Rhodes...the team was legendary.  If only they dint master the art of choking ! Best performance in GE- Winner,Champion's Trophy, 1998 and Semi-Finalists, 1999 World Cup.

Pakistan- Openers- Anwar, Afridi. Middle Order- Inzamam, Ijaz Ahmed, Salim Malik, Yousuf Yohana.Moin Khan.All-rounders- Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood, Bowling- Wasim,Waqar,Akhtar and Saqlain. Half the members of this team would easily find a place in Pakistan's best ODI team of all time. India did get the better of them in World Cups but they made sure they paid them back with  full humiliation honours at their favourite hunting ground, Sharjah. Best performance in GE- Runners-Up, 1999 World Cup and countless Sharjah Triumphs.

India- Following India during this period was seriously not advisable for heart patients. Life was always on the tenterhooks. One wicket would fall, and we all knew that it was an uphill battle from then. And that one wicket belonged to Sachin Tendulkar. It was very different then, we never had a wily captain in Dhoni or a dashing opener in Sehwag, life revolved just around Sachin. And boy did he deliver, from Sharjah to Chennai to Bristol. The 1996 World Cup probably marked the emergence of Sachin as a great ODI batsman and there has been no looking back since then. To mention about the others, Sachin-Ganguly did make a deadly opening pair and India had a middle order of Azhar, Jadeja, Dravid and Robin Singh. Nothing much to talk about the bowling that was spearheaded by Javagal Srinath. Best performance in GE- Runners-Up- 2000,Champions Trophy; Semi-Finalist- 1996 World Cup

Australia- This period was the formative years of Steve Waugh's 'Invincibles'. One can probably say that Aussie dominance in Wold Cricket began with the 1999 World Cup and lasted nearly a decade.Youngsters like Gilchrist had just arrived on the scene, and players like Ponting, Mcgrath and Warne were slowly finding their feet. And under the astute captaincy of Steve Waugh and the dashing exploits of his brother Mark, Australia had a team that went on to be world-beaters. More importantly, they choked the favored South Africans thereby starting an era of mental disintegration, where psychological tactics became as important as skills on the field. Best performance in GE- Winners- 1999 World Cup, Runners-Up- 1996 World Cup.

Zimbabwe- Yes, I am going to mention Zimbawe here and not England. Zimbawe then, were clearly an awesome side and about the English, I clearly don't remember them winning many matches forget tournaments. Talking about Zimbawe, they easily had one of the best batting line-ups around with the likes of the Flower brothers, Blignaut, Alaistar Campbell, Stuart Carlisle, Murray Goodwin and the Whittal brothers. Also the bowling line-up spearheaded by Heath Streak consisted of Henry Olonga and Paul Strang who were handful for many an opposition batsmen. Their upset win over India at the 99 WC is probably more documented that their fight to independence. Best performance in GE- Super Six Stage- 1999 World Cup.

So guys, that's it, my analysis of the  'Golden Period of ODI Cricket' . Like I mentioned before, the best way I felt I could analyse this was by comparing the different teams that played the game then and to show you their performances in premier tournaments. Hope it helped shed a light on how competitive cricket was then. The Game for the purists is always about teams rather than individuals, looking forward to that era again, where even a Zimbabwe were considered World-beaters, where no single team dominated, yet each team was an exciting one in its own right.

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