How An Unlikely India-Pakistan Partnership Shaped World Cricket

09/02/2015 11:51 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
Indian fans cheer on their team while playing against Australia during their one-day international cricket match in Melbourne, Australia Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

The richest sports event in the world, fellow Indians and lovers of cricket everywhere would be surprised to know, is the UEFA Champions League, which offers a mind-boggling $77 million (approx.) to the winner.

In comparison, cricket would seem tepid. Whoever wins the World Cup title on 29 March will earn only about $4 million. Indeed, in the pecking order of mega tournaments in sport, the World Cup just about makes it to the no. 10 spot.

But if one puts a context to this, cricket does not appear to be such an also-ran. For instance, for the inaugural World Cup in 1975, the total outlay of the tournament was a measly 100,000 pounds sterling, the winner receiving 4,000 pounds from this.

Forty years back, cricket in many ways was still a sleepy sport, steeped in the ethos--social and financial--of the 19th, not 20th century. It was effectively run by fuddy-duddy mandarins of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), housed at Lord's, which was widely touted as also the bastion of the sport.

The growth of cricket since has been dramatic and exponential, in terms of both spectatorship and money. While the monies are obviously still meagre compared to say soccer, American Rules Football and baseball, the sport's growth has been such that it seems just a matter of time before Cricket catches up.

The 'eyeballs' that cricket spectatorship attracts globally is projected to be 1.5 billion plus, which is comparable to, if not higher than, most other sports. Moreover, several countries that play Cricket have only just started showing an upward trend in their economic growth, so it is expected that big money will follow this spectatorship.

Central to this growth--and the future of the sport--is India. Cricket has always gripped the minds and imagination of Indian cricket fans. But it was not until 1983, when Kapil Dev's unfancied side beat the mighty West Indies, that the Indian obsession for the game found expression even in the financial aspect.

The 1983 win caused hysteria in India. One-day cricket boomed. The colour TV revolution in the wake of the 1982 Delhi Asian Games and the liberalisation of the economy 7-8 years later combined to make a heady, rewarding cocktail.

But while the unexpected 1983 World Cup victory was obviously the trigger, it was the 'insult' to the then BCCI president N.K.P Salve by the mandarins of MCC that was at the core of the upheaval of the power matrix of the sport that followed. This makes for one of the more fascinating chapters in modern cricket history.

India, Pakistan bond over an insult

Salve had asked for some passes for the 1983 final against the West Indies. This seemed like an easy request to meet, but he was snubbed by the MCC. Miffed at what he believed was misplaced 'colonial' impudence, Salve with his cohorts I.S. Bindra and Jagmohan Dalmiya planned to extract retribution.

Fundamental to this plan was to break the hegemony of MCC, England and those aligned with them in running the sport. Salve thought the best way to do this was to take the World Cup away from England which had been host country in 1975, 1979, and 1983.

This was easier said than done. Why would other full and associate member countries go with him even if a fair number resented the control exercised by ruling power bloc? Moreover, where was the money and the infrastructure to host a tournament of this scale?

Salve, who was cabinet minister in the Indira Gandhi government then (and subsequently Rajiv Gandhi's too) realised he needed allies. The masterstroke was to befriend the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan (BCCP) and put up a proposal to host the World Cup jointly.

There was understandable skepticism at this. India and Pakistan hardly saw eye-to-eye on most issues. The logistics of conducting a World Cup would be beyond the capabilities of countries that had still not sorted out seemingly mundane issues like visas for people on either side of the border.

But Salve was strong-willed and determined. In BCCP president Air Marshal (Retd) Nur Khan, he found an ally. Both of them also wielded high influence in their respective countries. The proposal to host the World Cup jointly was formalised and submitted.

That still did not mean everybody would vote in favour. For this, Salve and Nur Khan upped the ante considerably. They guaranteed to pay every participating country 50 percent more from what was received in 1983.

The English cricket establishment could not match this bid financially. But obstacles still remained. Where would the foreign exchange come from? What about international class stadia? Moreover, weather conditions in the Indian sub-continent would not permit 120-over matches because of early twilight, so what happens?

Salve and Nur Khan, because of their participation in or proximity to political power in their respective countries, were able to cross the first hurdle comfortably. The governments of India and Pakistan ensured that foreign exchange would not be a problem.

Where infrastructure was concerned, the two cricket boards--with help from their governments--went to work on a war footing to upgrade existing stadia and add a few more, too. But that came after they successfully hammered down the format to 50-overs a side to ensure that matches were not affected adversely by the weather.

An Offer You Couldn't Refuse

England did not give up without a fight. However, as the classic line from Mario Puzo's Godfather explains tough deal-making, the offer made by India and Pakistan was just too good to refuse. After a protracted and grim battle, the World Cup had moved out from England.

The 1987 Reliance Cup hosted jointly by India and Pakistan produced some scintillating cricket and in many ways, also brought the peoples from the two countries together. The only disappointing aspect was that neither of the host countries could make the final.

Pakistan lost to Australia at the Gaddafi Stadium Lahore and the next day, India were sent packing by England at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium. It seemed then that the final would be an anti-climax. But, to the astonishment of the entire cricketing world, 90,000 spectators turned up at the Eden Gardens to watch Australia beat England for the title.

The ramifications of this tournament were deep and long-term. The World Cup was no longer the preserve of only one country. More pertinently, India had now become the biggest influence in the sport.

The Mecca of cricket had shifted from Lord's to the Eden Gardens. Cricket was never to be the same again.

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