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Countdown to Cricket’s biggest show...1992
Imran Khan
 

In many ways, the 1992 World Cup heralded the dawn of a new era in cricket. Quite appropriately, the tournament threw up a new winner in Pakistan. The event, staged in Australia (25 matches) and New Zealand (14 matches), featured all eight Test-playing nations, along with aspirants Zimbabwe.

The first two tournaments (in 1975 and 1979 in England) featured only 15 matches, while in 1983 (England) and 1987 (India and Pakistan) there were 27.

The fifth World Cup had a lot of innovations including the introduction of coloured clothing, white balls and some games under floodlights. The fielding circle rules were also revised, allowing only two men outside the ring in the first 15 overs. After that, it was as before: a minimum of four inside the circle.

This resulted in the birth of the ‘pinch-hitter’. Ian Botham did the job for England, with mixed results, as did Mark Greatbatch for New Zealand. Besides, the Black Caps also opened the bowling with a spinner in Deepak Patel to throw in the surprise element.

South Africa joined in for the first time, following the end of apartheid.

Led by Bloemfontein-born former Australian Test batsman Kepler Wessels, South Africa won their historic encounter against West Indies in Christchurch.

They followed it up with a rain-assisted victory over Pakistan in Brisbane, where Jonty Rhodes, having already made his presence felt with electrifying fielding, immortalised himself with an airborne demolition of the stumps to run out Inzamam-ul Haq. Their place in the semi-finals was secured with a victory over India in Adelaide.

Although the tournament was again a 50-over-a-side affair, a round-robin format involved 36 matches before the top-four battled it out in the semi-finals. Lasting 33 days, it could be faulted seriously only in the matter of the rules governing rain-interrupted matches.

Against South Africa in Melbourne, England lost nine overs but their target of 237 was reduced by only 11 runs. When the teams next met in the semi-final in Sydney, another rain pause — this time at the climactic moment — led to an uproar which shook the world of cricket for weeks to come.

The Proteas lost the semi-final to England when, after a rain delay, the ‘highest-scoring overs’ rule revised their target from 22 runs off 13 balls to a ludicrously impossible 21 from 1 ball.

Excitement ran high from the opening day when New Zealand caused the first upset by beating Australia, the defending champions and the favourites, in Auckland. Led by Martin Crowe, New Zealand appeared unstoppable at home.

Australia started as favourites, but their approach was inflexible and form too fickle.

Pakistan, led by the peerless Imran Khan, won the World Cup for the first time, beating England by 22 runs at the MCG.

Their turnaround left many spellbound. Pakistan won just one of their first five matches and qualified for the semi-finals by beating undefeated New Zealand in their final league game.

In the group phase, Pakistan looked set to lose against England who were cruising on 24 for one, chasing Pakistan’s score of 74 all out. However, both sides split points after a downpour ended hopes of a result. Without that point, Pakistan would never have qualified.

New Zealand lost only two matches in the tournament, both against Pakistan. In the semi-final, New Zealand were in control, until the then unknown Inzamam-ul Haq smashed 60 from only 37 balls and turned the match around.

On a memorable autumn night in Melbourne, Pakistan lifted the coveted trophy. The talismanic Imran was the top-scorer in the final with a measured 72. All along, when it seemed qualification for the semi-finals was near impossible, Imran egged on his young bunch with inspirational captaincy.

Imran unsurprisingly declared the victory as his finest hour. He dedicated it to the cancer hospital (in memory of his mother) in Lahore for which he was raising funds.

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