x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Memories of 1983 triumph are hard for India's team to live up to in World Cup of Cricket

India will be going into this year's World Cup of Cricket with memories of the nation's triumph in 1983 still haunting them.

When India won the World Cup in 1983, Ravi Shastri and Sandeep Patil finished their celebrations with fish and chips near London's Trafalgar Square in the small hours of the morning. That kind of anonymous luxury will be beyond MS Dhoni and his side should they end nearly three decades of hurt in cricket's pre-eminent competition.

With no team dominating 50-over cricket like Australia did for so long, there are no clear favourites for the tournament, which starts on February 19.

Home advantage and a fine record under Dhoni and Gary Kirsten, the coach - 50 wins and 28 losses in 82 games - means, however, that millions of cricket lovers expect victory.

Playing in front of home crowds can be both blessing and curse in the big tournaments.

Three decades after Geoff Hurst's hat-trick won England a football World Cup in 1966, football "came home", and after Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham masterminded a 4-1 destruction of Holland in a Euro '96 group game, they were installed as favourites.

But after a fortuitous penalty shoot-out success against Spain, the dream ended in the semi-final against Germany, England's perennial bogey side.

It is a situation that Indian cricket can relate to. If India are to win on home soil, the chances are that they might at some stage have to beat Australia, who have not lost a World Cup game since 1999.

The last time India beat Australia in a World Cup game? Way back in 1987, when Allan Border's team brushed off the reverse to go on and win the trophy. India's campaign in the first World Cup to be played on the subcontinent ended at the semi-final stage with a defeat to England.

That Indian team, led by Kapil Dev and with Shastri and Navjot Singh Sindhu at their peak, was possibly superior to that which they had won four years earlier, and the disappointment of the Mumbai crowd was exacerbated by the fact that Phil de Freitas bowled Sunil Gavaskar, the hometown hero, for just four in his final innings.

Heartache was the theme nine years later as well, when the subcontinent hosted the competition again.

In 1987, India had lost just once before the semi-final, but the 1996 side was inconsistent from the start. They lost to Australia in Mumbai and to Sri Lanka in Delhi and despite triumphing over Pakistan in an eagerly anticipated quarter-final, it ended in tears at Eden Gardens, with irate fans starting fires and throwing bottles on to the pitch as India's pursuit of a challenging Sri Lankan total ran aground after a Sachin Tendulkar masterclass.

Tendulkar was top scorer in that event with 523 runs and he topped the charts again seven years later with 673 as India went all the way to the final before falling to Australia.

This competition will be his sixth attempt at emulating his boyhood heroes and a last chance to avoid the fate that befell Brian Lara, the other outstanding performer of his era.

Successor to the West Indies greats of the 1970s and early '80s, Lara never even managed to play in a World Cup semi-final.

The Tendulkar factor increases the emotional quotient immeasurably for Indian fans, but their passion can turn to anger when things are not going well.

Some players had their homes attacked and effigies burnt after the disastrous 2007 campaign, and the television channels will ratchet up the hype in the days to come. So far, Dhoni and his wards have shown impressive calm in tense situations, but the World Cup will present their greatest test.

Cricketers, especially Tendulkar and Dhoni, are larger-than-life figures in India. As they embark on a six-week long adventure, they will be keenly aware they stand on the shoulders of giants, whose 1983 success ensured cricket in India would be more than just a game.