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More Like the Colosseum than a Cricket Ground – ODIs in the 1980s: India’s triumph and West Indian dominance

Kapil Dev 1983 World Cup

This is the second feature of a series looking at historical team ratings for ODIs, following on from work which resulted in historical Test team ratings. The first part looked at the birth of ODIs in the 1970s, when 80 matches were played – this can be read here. Almost exactly double that number were played in the 1980s, and this second part features ODI matches played in the first half of the decade.

After the 1979 World Cup the teams were rated as shown below:-

142 West Indies
108 England
108 Australia
80 Pakistan
72 New Zealand
29 India

The next major ODI tournament was the World Series Cup beginning in November 1979 and which featured Australia, England and West Indies, which naturally was won by West Indies though not before overcoming difficulties facing the home side who, according to Wisden, ‘bowled for wickets instead of adopting the run-saving line and length approach of England’. England did make its mark on the tournament, however, first when Geoff Boycott turned his reputation for slow play on its head with some sparkling performances, including a magnificent 105 at Sydney. The second noteworthy event involving England was during a match against West Indies when, with West Indies requiring three to win off the last ball, Mike Brearley stationed all of his fielders, including wicket-keeper David Bairstow, around the boundary. This action would lead to subsequent fielding restrictions – and where would we be without baseball-inspired phrases like “power play”?

The Australians visited England in the summer of 1980 to compete in the second Centenary Test, while tagging on a couple of ODIs, in both of which the hosts were victorious. As Wisden noted, ‘limited-overs cricket is something at which the Australians have yet to excel.’ And when the Indians toured the Antipodes, the Almanack noted ‘There were clear signs that the excess of one-day cricket at international level, which limits the appearances of Test players in Sheffield Shield matches, would, if continued, be to the detriment of the rising generation.’

But it was the ODI series involving Australia and New Zealand that winter which would really bring ODI cricket to the public forum with a bang. Australia captain Greg Chappell had made no bones about his dislike for the short format, claiming to dislike the defensive nature of it and the need for negative bowling. Yet with New Zealand requiring a six off the last ball to force a tie in a best of five Benson and Hedges Cup match, the skipper instructed brother Trevor to bowl a sneak. As Wisden opined in a piece entitled Sharp practice in Melbourne, ‘For too long the Australian Cricket Board have been over-tolerant of indiscipline and actions of dubious intent.’

England’s tour of India in the winter of 1981/82 saw England lose the ODI series 2-1, where the attendances in India indicated the growing popularity of the one-day game as compared to Test cricket. The ODI team ratings following that series looked like this:-

146 West Indies
123 Australia
103 England
95 New Zealand
77 Pakistan
62 India

Though still ranked bottom of the pile, India were clearly starting to get the hang of this one-day thing.

For the 1982/83 World Series Cup, coloured clothing and the white ball were introduced for the first time outside of Packer World Series Cricket – horror of horrors. As Wisden huffed, ‘There were times during the World Series Cup when the game that was being played bore little resemblance to the more sophisticated and skillful form of cricket which had preceded it in the Ashes series…the atmosphere seemed at times more like that of the Colosseum than a cricket ground.’

The 1983 Prudential World Cup

A perfect time then for the next instalment of the Prudential World Cup during the summer of 1983. The tournament underwent its first expansion, as the number of games increased from 15 to 25, though these were played in more or less the same timeframe as previous contests. The tournament began in grand fashion as first little Zimbabwe humbled the mighty Australians with one Duncan Fletcher being named Man of the Match, before the previously invincible West Indians were knocked off by the lowly ranked Indians. Pakistan was without Imran Khan and Australia seemed to be unable to shake off the shock of that first defeat, and the semi-finals featured England, India, West Indies and Pakistan. India saw off hosts England in the first semi-final while Pakistan, missing Javed Miandad with flu, were beaten by West Indies to set up a rematch of the early shock. In perhaps an even bigger shock, the Kapil Dev-led Indian team beat the only team to have won the World Cup since its inception eight years before.

The ratings table following the tournament looked like this:-

133 West Indies
106 New Zealand
104 India
103 Pakistan
101 Australia
98 England
31 Sri Lanka

India rocketing up the table then, as a result of that momentous World Cup win, with West Indies slipping in ratings points but still well ahead in the rankings. New Zealand had defeated both England and Australia to climb up to second.

The resurgent Indians beat the Pakistani tourists 2-0 the following winter, but it was another limited overs match which caught the imagination of the public, when a match played for the Prime Minister’s Fund was attended by over 100,000 fans. India was now up to second in the rankings and clearly becoming a force in one-day cricket:-

133 West Indies
110 India
106 New Zealand
101 Australia
98 England
96 Pakistan
31 Sri Lanka

This didn’t last long though, as the very next campaign saw India given a 5-0 trouncing at the hands of the West Indians, who also handily beat the Australians in April of 1984. Traveling onto England the home crowds were treated to some of the most magnificent batting ever from Viv Richards, in particular his ODI century at Old Trafford, with 21 boundaries and five sixes including one hit right out of the ground. West Indies were by now a fully formed unit with no flaws, as apart from their batting and bowling heroics their fielding was at a level seldom seen before – witness the run out by Eldine Baptiste of Geoff Miller at Lord’s, when an 80-yard throw took out the middle stump as Miller, considering himself safe, sauntered into the crease.*

India would suffer another whitewash at the hands of Australia in the winter of 1984/85, 3-0 with two matches rained off, but the tour would not be a happy one as Kim Hughes subsequently resigned in remarkable fashion, while the clandestine talks began which would ultimately result in rebel tours to South Africa. India also lost heavily to England as the heady days of the World Cup triumph receded into the distance.

At the end of 1984 the ratings table looked like this:-

136 West Indies
122 England
111 Australia
105 Pakistan
96 New Zealand
89 India
58 Sri Lanka

Tests vs ODIs

As the 1980s began, it can be seen that there was a vast difference in quality between the Test-playing nations as regards ODI capability. However, by the end of 1984 they had matured somewhat and it can be seen that the end-1984 ODI ratings are comparable to the end-1984 Test ratings. Of course, West Indies were miles ahead in both formats.

Next time we’ll look at the second half of the decade..

* The Baptiste run-out can be seen at around 3:30 of the YouTube clip below:-

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