Hosts England open their campaign in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 on 30th May against South Africa at The Oval, London. They would be keen to begin on the right note in their bid to wrest the crown as they face the formidable Proteas. The trend since the last two World Cups has shifted in favour of home teams. In the first nine editions of the premier event, familiar turf was not of much consequence as visiting sides lifted the trophy each time. England did well in the first three tournaments in 1975, 1979 and 1983, held in home territory, but the title eluded them.
Aussie southpaw Gary Gilmour did a star turn in the 1975 semi-final as he swung the ball around in overcast conditions at Headingley, Leeds, claiming six wickets for 14 runs in his 12 overs, half of which were maidens. England lasted just 36.2 overs in the 60-overs-a-side game, as the great pace attack – the others being Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Max Walker – skittled them for 93. Only skipper Mike Denness (27) and paceman Geoff Arnold (18 not out) managed double figures. Australia themselves were in deep trouble at 39 for six when Doug Walters was joined by, you guessed it, Gary Gilmour. As England’s own fast bowling quartet of Arnold, John Snow, Chris Old and Peter Lever threatened to hand back a stunning reversal, Walters (20 not out) and Gilmour (28 not out) calmly ushered in victory in 28.4 overs. England bowed out in the penultimate stage. Clive Lloyd led the West Indies from the front with a stunning century in the exhilarating final at Lord’s to win the first-ever Prudential World Cup.
England was being deemed a natural venue for the showpiece One-day 60-overs tournament with long hours of sunlight in their summer, and several world-class grounds in close vicinity. The event, again sponsored by Prudential Assurance Company, was back there four years later. England were now in the final, and had the holders from the sunny Caribbean Isles on the turf at 99 for four. That was just a signal for a scintillating 139-run partnership between Collis King and the great Vivian Richards. The highly promising allrounder Collis King, who sadly never realised his immense potential, was first off the block with a brilliant 86. King Richards completed the annihilation with a characteristic belligerent unbeaten 138. West Indies logged up 286 for nine in their 60 overs. The English openers Geoff Boycott and Mike Brearley, an unlikely pair first up but such were the times, registered an opening stand of 129. They, however, batted in so leisurely a fashion that it became an uphill task for the later batsmen against the fearsome pace battery of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Joel Garner. The towering Garner claimed five for 38 as the home team collapsed for 194. The West Indies retained the Cup.
It seemed a foregone conclusion that the Caribbean giants would claim a hat-trick of championships in 1983, but a resurgent India under the dynamic Kapil Dev had other ideas. They upset the reigning kings in their opening face-off. As India fought their way to the semi-final against hosts England, they were delighted to be presented with a slow wicket at Old Trafford, Manchester. England found it difficult to get the off-spinner Kirti Azad and slow-medium Mohinder Amarnath away. The Indian batsmen easily overhauled the moderate total of 213. They then staged a stunning coup, dethroning the West Indies in the final.
By virtue of this heady triumph, India earned the right to stage the Reliance World Cup 1987 along with Pakistan. But both the hosts bowed out in the semi-finals. The ascendant Australians under Allan Border defeated Pakistan, and the next day Graham Gooch swept the Indian attack away to exact revenge for the loss four years earlier. The surprise finalists at Calcutta were the Ashes rivals. It was a narrow seven-run triumph for the Aussies. England finished runners-up for the second time.
In the Benson & Hedges World Cup Down Under in 1992, England had a fine tournament under Gooch. They reached the final after some drama and controversy in the semi-final against South Africa, who made a fine impression on their return to international cricket after 22 years. Pakistan put up 249 for six in their 50 overs in the first final under lights at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. England seemed on target at 141 for four when the great left-arm speedster Wasim Akram rattled the stumps off two consecutive deliveries. They were bowled out for 227 in the last over, having to be content to end up second best in successive World Cups.
Without claiming this top prize in One-day cricket, England had done well to be runners-up thrice and to make it to the semi-finals twice in the first five tournaments. Their players were the most experienced, having played this format much more than others at the domestic level. That, though, was the end of their fine performances in the event. Not once in the next six World Cups did they make it to the semi-finals, suffering the ignominy of being ousted after the first stage in three of these tournaments, including in 1999 when the event was held once again in their shores. In 2015, they lost four of their six matches. Overall, they have won 41 of their 72 World Cup matches, losing 29 with two no results including a tie, for a success percentage of 58.33.
It was only in the tenth World Cup in 2011 that India were able to break the hoodoo. They won before their adoring home crowd of Mumbai as the leading run-getter in this blue riband event Sachin Tendulkar bowed out. Australia repeated the feat four years later. Will England be able to reverse their woeful performances of recent World Cups, and complete the hat-trick of triumphs by home teams on 14th July 2019? The countdown has begun.
(Indra Vikram Singh is author of several books on the cricket World Cup covering all the eleven tournaments from 1975 to 2015. He can be contacted on email firstname.lastname@example.org).
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