The 50-over has lost some of its old pomp and pride, but it remains a format close to the heart and history of the country’s emergence as a cricketing force, financially and sportingly. The history of this format runs in parallel with the comeuppance of India. In the onslaught of T20s and IPL, a renewed attention on Test cricket, it might no longer be the favourite format, but few incarnations of the game have rolled out as many memorable moments as this format in its heyday, or the chills and the thrills. A short history through the eyes and lives of those that have played in different eras.
BABY STEPS (1974-1979)
Synopsis: India stutters and stumbles as they grapple with the ways of the new format.
Played: 13, Won: 2; Lost: 11
Three years after the accidental birth of one-day international cricket, India, the future cradle of this format, made baby steps into the unknown. There, though, was no sense of history-making or excitement, or a sense of foreboding that the format was to change the landscape of the game in the country, for most of the eleven debutants. “Looking back, and compared to the boys now, we were naive,” says Madan Lal, then just a 23-year-old overzealous youngster.
There were graver concerns, for both the country and its cricket team. After mounting expectations before the series, they stumbled to a 3-0 defeat in Tests and worse of all, were skittled out for their then lowest Test score of 42. While they were still in England, there was tumult back home. Vijay Balla, a giant bat erected in memory of India’s series wins in England and West Indies in 1971 were defaced by tar in Indore. Soon upon landing, captain Ajit Wadekar lost his captaincy, whereupon he retired. The nation, meanwhile, was descending into a state of Emergency.
There, though, was curiosity. From the outside, it looked like a compressed Test match. They laid plans accordingly, before their leap into the dark at Leeds in June 1974. A brief and rough plan was sketched. “How do you prepare for a format you haven’t played? Or even watched. The general approach was that we would bowl as normal, but start playing attacking shots a bit earlier than in the Test matches. There were a few more men near the ropes, but at the same time slip-fielders and other catchers. More than batting and bowling, we struggled in setting fields,” he remembers.
For first-timers, they batted with stoic clarity. In the first game, they compiled a modest 265 in 54.3 overs (of 55 overs), powered by Brijesh Patel’s 78-ball 82. But they could not contain England with the ball. “We got a taste of the format and we liked it. Obviously, we had to trial and error to be successful in a new format. We knew that the more we played, the better we would get in this format,” Lal recounts.