If I were writing this four years ago, India’s Cricket World Cup history would be a much more frustrating and incomplete one than it seems now. In 2011, years of missed chances and disappointment were put to rest in the most beautiful way possible.
In the first ever World Cup, India fared disastrously. They managed to beat the mighty East Africa pretty comfortably, but were beaten comfortably by New Zealand and thrashed by an absurd 202 runs against England—this remained the largest losing margin any test team suffered in a World Cup until New Zealand and Bangladesh bettered their efforts in 2007 and 2011 respectively. India were out of the tournament at the first hurdle.
The 1979 World Cup was even worse for them: they failed to win a game as they were humiliated by West Indies and New Zealand, and then beaten relatively comfortably by Sri Lanka, who were considered minnows at that time. To say that a team containing such greats as Kapil Dev, Bishan Bedi and Sunil Gavaskar was underachieving is an understatement. India’s main problem in the first two World Cups was that they hadn’t really mastered One Day crickets: their batsmen were scoring too quickly; their bowlers were conceding too many. Certainly, their approach to the One Day game is a far cry from the masterful way they play it now.
In 1983, things changed. Unfancied going into the tournament, India were drawn with Australia, West Indies and Zimbabwe in their group. Something which perhaps played into their hands was the new system whereby teams played each team in their groups twice.
In their first match of the tournament, they shocked the world by beating defending champions West Indies. After an easy win over Zimbabwe, the Indians had a go at beating the record they suffered against England in 1975 as they lost by 162 runs to Australia. However, after a loss to West Indies and another victory over Zimbabwe, they got their own back as they thrashed Australia by 118 runs. India had qualified for the World Cup knockout stages for the first time.
In the semi-final against England, India coasted to a six-wicket victory. In the final they were expected to be beaten very easily by the incredible West Indies side, but clearly didn’t read the script. After being skittled out for just 183, they tore the West Indies to pieces in the middle of their innings as the defending champions slumped to 76-6. The likes of Jeff Dujon put up some resistance, but the West Indians were bowled out for 140. Against all the odds, India were world champions for the first time in their history, and Kapil Dev lifted the trophy in ecstasy.
Alas, the World Cup trophy would not return to India for a very long time. In 1987, India made it through the group stages yet again, but England got their revenge over them in the semi-finals. In 1992, India went home in disgrace after winning just two out of eight games and crashing out in the group stages yet again. In 1996, India made it all the way to the semi-finals, including a victory over rivals Pakistan in the quarter-finals, but lost at that stage once again, this time to eventual winners Sri Lanka, due to dangerous rioting from the crowd; the match was awarded to the Sri Lankans as India had no chance of winning.
1999 was yet another tournament of frustration to India. They were beaten by Zimbabwe by just three runs in the group stages, as well as falling to South Africa, but managed to make it through to the new “Super Six” stage. However, they finished bottom of their group and never got close to reaching the semi-finals.
In 2003, India made it all the way to the final, only losing one match along the way and beating Kenya very easily in the semi-finals. In spite of their good form, they were the supporting cast to the rampant Aussies in the final as they were destroyed by 125 runs: Australia scored a staggering 359-2; India were bowled out for 234.
The 2007 World Cup was perhaps one of India’s most embarrassing to date: they were beaten easily by Sri Lanka and Bangladesh of all teams, and exited the tournament at the group stages. It seemed that Sachin Tendulkar, one of the greatest batsmen to grace the game, may never win a World Cup.
In 2011, India co-hosted the tournament with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. In the group stages they lost to South Africa and tied with England in thrilling circumstances, but won the remainder of their games. In the quarter-final, strong showings from Tendulkar, Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh ensured that they beat defending champions Australia by five wickets. In the semi-final they came across their old enemy Pakistan once again, and Tendulkar led the way with his wonderful 85 as a composed performance from their whole bowling attack helped them win by 29 runs.
In the final, India came up against Sri Lanka. Would the 28-year wait for a World Cup win come to an end; would India choke again? A century from Jayawardene and some less than impressive bowling meant that India were set a daunting 275 to win. Openers Sehwag and Tendulkar were dismissed cheaply, and India, playing in Sachin Tendulkar’s home town of Mumbai, faced an uphill struggle: it seemed that India had thrown it away once again.
Gautam Gambhir and MS Dhoni had other ideas. Gambhir and Kohli combined well, before the latter was dismissed for 35, leaving India 144-3. In came Dhoni and thence came India’s march to victory. The two put on 110 before Gambhir was dismissed for a brilliant 97, and Dhoni and Yuvraj combined to win the match for England: Dhoni ended 91 not out; Yuvraj ended 21 not out off just 24 balls. India had finally won the World Cup again.
Despite there being plenty of tournaments where India performed well below expectations, their two World Cup wins were both incredibly special. This time around, India certainly have a chance of winning a third title, but no longer have Tendulkar to help them across the line.
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