Sat. Nov 19th, 2022

Last week, we at ESPNcricinfo did something we have been thinking of doing for eight years now: pretend-live ball-by-ball commentary for a classic cricket match. We knew the result, yes, but we tried our best to go in as ignorant about the actual match as possible, so as to react “naturally” to what was happening. The odd joke aside, we stayed in character and didn’t let our knowledge of cricket’s evolution since then inform our commentary.
However, we can break kayfabe now and talk about what we learnt from how cricket was back then, which in this case is the World Cup final of the year 1992.
Are we not calling wides?Wide calls back then seemed to be based more on the umpires’ judgement of the bowlers’ intent than on how wide the ball was of the batsman’s stumps. There were no tramlines for starters (yes, it is easy to forget such a time existed in limited-overs cricket). Quite regularly balls outside leg were not wided: be they wrong’uns starting from within the stumps, inswingers gone wrong, or full tosses outside leg from a left-arm spinner. Just as regularly, the umpires were too harsh on wides outside off.
The only explanation for this – other than it being a residue from amateur limited-overs cricket where umpires were lenient in order to complete matches before it got dark – is that they saw it as being the same as in Tests: nobody would intentionally bowl down the leg side, which would be bad bowling, but they might intentionally bowl wide outside off to restrict scoring. As a result, the bowlers had a much bigger margin for error if they bowled straight, but on the flip side, they couldn’t use the space outside off tactically.
Wide calls are much less subjective today, except when the batsman has moved around in the crease or changed his stance before the ball has been delivered. The tramlines, introduced just as a guide, have now become an objective parameter in most cases. Going down leg is a strict no-no, but those tramline yorkers are fascinating to watch.
Who do I have to kill to get an lbw?Yes, pitches have got flat, bats heavier, and rules are loaded in their favour, but to really appreciate modern batsmen, you have to watch a rerun – not highlights – of a 1992 World Cup game. Let alone getting a positive reaction from the umpires, the bowlers were so conditioned to receiving apathy that they didn’t even appeal for lbws that were so plumb that even Virat Kohli might not have reviewed them. Batsmen back then hardly ever got out if they so much as got onto the front foot, and often they just pretended to play a shot if they were in trouble. Mad respect for modern batsmen.
ALSO READ: Twenty-five things from 1993 that are no longer around
White doesn’t swing? Says who?It is hard to believe but that was a time when the white ball swung more than the red one. This is not a view based on watching just one rerun; it is based on the first-hand experience of commentators and cricketers.
To make it worse for batsmen – and bowlers who struggled to control their swing – one new ball was used at each end in the 1992 World Cup. This is why teams, especially the winners, Pakistan, developed a strategy of batting the first 30 overs almost as if in a Test match. Imran Khan promoted himself to perform just that role. Bowlers struggled too: over the course of the tournament Wasim Akram, for example, went from being a quick bowler to trying to bowl within himself, to once more going all out when cutting the pace didn’t have any impact on the wides.
It is amazing how we have a reached a stage where the same manufacturers are struggling to manufacture a ball that will swing.
The wrist is history: Mushtaq Ahmed’s success in the 1992 World Cup heralded the age of the wristspinners Getty Images
Non-strikers stole ground then tooIn the 24th over of the chase, Aamer Sohail pulled out of his delivery to warn Allan Lamb – who had just taken a quick couple the previous ball – against stealing ground before the ball was delivered. Boos punctuated the confused hush that fell over the MCG. Umpire Steve Bucknor called it a dead ball. Sohail ran in again, saw Lamb moving again and pulled out again. This time Bucknor had to intervene and break off a conversation between the two.
After the over, the transmission cut to the studio in Hong Kong. Sunil Gavaskar was the expert in the studio, weighing in with analysis and comments between overs and during drinks breaks. The anchor said, “Running a batsman out who has left the bowler’s end is not considered cricket. You’d normally expect a warning first.” Not in limited-overs cricket, where every run is vital, said Gavaskar, whose tone suggested annoyance at Sohail being questioned.
The lines were being drawn already: Asian sides were much more serious about limited-overs cricket, and wanted the law enforced over the spirit. Later in the year, Kapil Dev would go on to run Peter Kirsten out after warnings, only for ugly scenes to play out thanks to South Africa’s righteous indignation.
ALSO READ: Retroreport: The 1992 World Cup final
Imagine Gavaskar’s and Dev’s annoyance then, when 27 years later, exactly on the same day as that 1992 final, R Ashwin ran Jos Buttler out without a warning, only to be lambasted and ridiculed the world over. However, it is not a losing battle anymore, and people are beginning to realise the batsman is gaining an unfair advantage and needs to live with the consequences. Without a warning.
Wrist and rewardPakistan were a horribly balanced side. They had a specialist batsman, Ijaz Ahmed, playing at No. 9, with his utility being only part-time seam-up overs. Sohail was called upon to bowl his full quota. Imran Khan was injured, so he played mainly as a batsman whose job was to fast-forward the game to the 30th over without losing wickets. If other sides had slightly more urgency, they would have punished the bowling lightweights in the Pakistan side, but in one respect, Khan’s team was also ahead of its time.
There was only one specialist wristspinner, and he wore the iconic light-green jersey. There was only one spinner in the top 19 wicket-takers in the tournament, and it was the same man, Mushtaq Ahmed. Khan insisted he wanted a legspinner in his side as Abdul Qadir reached the end of his career. Ahmed’s impact was clear not just from his numbers but visibly too, with batsmen finding him as illegible as modern batsmen do left-arm wristspinners. Ahmed, the second highest wicket-taker of the tournament, was, as is known these days, the point of difference between others and the champion side.
The time was ripe for Shane Warne and Anil Kumble to rule the world.
Other lessons
– Imran Khan could come to the toss wearing what looked like an undershirt and not be fined.
– The world still didn’t know much about reverse swing. The stage was set for a testy summer in England.
– A bouncer above the head was a no-ball even if you touched it. Nowadays it is called a wide, and if you happen to play it, it becomes a legal delivery.