Thursday, May 30, 2019

World Cup memories part 1: The 1996 magic – Where my love for cricket commenced

The ICC 2019 ODI World Cup begins today in England. Am I excited? A little, yes. Not too much, though. For now, I have decided to chronicle some of my favourite World Cup memories from each edition of the event that I watched. The 1992 edition is still a blur – I have vague memories of the colorful jerseys, Ajay Jadeja’s tumbling catch in the outfield and Imran Khan lifting the crystal trophy. That’s about it.

The 1996 World Cup was the one which kick-started it all - my real fire for cricket. Prior to this it was a little spark, simmering inside. But the 1996 World Cup made it into an all-consuming passion which has stayed 23 years since.

I remember the tournament vividly. Since it was taking place in Asia, and primarily India, the hype surrounding it was absolutely tremendous. Even in an age where there was no social media, I remember everyone everywhere was talking about just one thing from February that year – the ’96 World Cup. Even in my school, the teachers and the students alike were buzzing with excitement about the tournament. I was in 4th Grade and had fallen hook, line and stinker with the fervor. One of the better memories from that tournament was a special screening of the India v Sri Lanka league encounter being organized for the 4th and 5th graders in our school’s main hall. We were allowed to watch the entire first innings and about 15 overs of the chase. It was such a special moment as I had never experienced watching a cricket game with my school friends. We clapped, hooted and cheered as Sachin went on to smash 137 – then his highest ODI score. India lost the game, eventually. But that is one cricket memory that I shall always savour.

Meanwhile, The Telegraph, India, had released a preview magazine days before the tournament and I was absolutely besotted with it. It was thick and colorful. I remember devouring the magazine all through the week and carried it in my backpack to school. The content itself was pretty routine – there was past history of the World Cups, opinion pieces by some former cricketers like Clive Lloyd and Sunil Gavaskar, preview of the teams and articles on special players to watch out for. Today, all that is mundane stuff but for the 10-year-old me it was absolutely fascinating. Interesting bit about that magazine. I had lost the magazine in the following years and regretted it bitterly. About 7 years later, around the time of the 2003 World Cup, I found another issue of the magazine in an accounts teacher’s place. The ever-nostalgic me was almost in tears on finding it and pleaded with my teacher to let me take it back home. I read that magazine again happily that night and immediately began entertaining thoughts of keeping it to myself sneakily. But the wretched teacher simply refused to forget about it and demanded it back.

I am still searching for that magazine. Maybe someday it will find its way into my life again.
Anyway, the tournament itself was incredible. The scorecards had changed into a small box on the top left corner of the screen. The jerseys looked cool (well back then, yes) and I loved how the pattern was uniform for all the teams. The matches were entertaining and not just about batsmen hitting sixes into the crowd. The madness of the crowds, especially, was electrifying. I hadn’t seen anything like that before.

I was in awe of Sachin Tendulkar’s dominance, of course. I knew he was a good player but, boy, in this World Cup he really took a step into the big league and made me a fan for life.  His knocks against Kenya Sri Lanka and West Indies were very good. But when he took on Australia’s Shane Warne and Glen McGrath on that night in Mumbai…Phew! I knew I was watching a special, special batsman.

That World Cup wasn’t just about India, though. I simply couldn’t have enough of each and every game, even watching each second of the South Africa v UAE match where Gary Kirsten scored an unbeaten 188. For some reason, the game between Sri Lanka and Kenya had not been aired. But the fact that Sri Lanka had amassed a massive 398-6 in their 50 overs – the highest team total in ODIs then – absolutely blew my mind and I was so annoyed that I wasn’t able to witness that carnage (thankfully, it’s on YoTube now). The one match that I shall always cherish, of course, is the humdinger of a quarter-final clash between India and Pakistan at Bangalore – Jadeja’s incredible cameo where he pummeled Waqar Younis to all parts of the Bangalore stadium and Venky uprooting Aamir Sohail’s off-stump after the batsman had mocked him the ball before were such astounding highs for my little heart that it felt India had already won the Cup.

Of course, my little heart was shred to a million pieces the very next game as India was knocked out by Sri Lanka in the semi-finals at Eden Gardens. But let’s not talk about it. It still hurts. It always hurts. Sri Lanka eventually won the trophy and I was okay with it. I liked Ranatnga back then.

Despite the rather unsavory end to India’s journey in the event, the 1996 World Cup shall remain my favourite edition for several reasons. Even now when I think back to that time, I wish I could relive parts of it all over again.

Just like you don’t forget your first crush, I won’t ever forget the ’96 World Cup – it was my first crush with cricket.

And then it bubbled into a full-blown romance.

I was in love. And there was no going back.

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