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by KUSHAGRA BHATNAGAR

The ICC Cricket World Cup began on Sunday, and as part of the cricket fever that will grip the sporting world over the next month, badger sport is looking back to past finals, starting in 1975. At a time when cricket journalism seems to resemble nothing more than politics, it is refreshing to focus again on the game itself.

One day cricket was beginning to gain immense popularity when the inaugural Prudential World Cup took place in June 1975 in England. Already a dominant force in the Test arena, the West Indians stormed into the finals, demolishing every opponent they faced. Australia were the other finalists.

The stage was set at Lords, and Australian skipper Ian Chappell won the toss and promptly put West Indies in. Clive Lloydís lightning-quick century (102 of 82 balls) helped them post a total of 291. The Australians succumbed under the pressure of chasing a stiff target, and eventually fell 17 runs short. Lloyd won the man of the match award and received the Cup from the President of the MCC, Prince Phillip.

Four years later, the second Prudential World Cup got underway once again in England. The final was played between West Indies and hosts England at Lords. England captain Mike Brearley won the toss and put West Indies into bat.

The match was evenly poised as Viv Richards walked to the crease. He destroyed the English attack by scoring an unbeaten 138. In reply England were bundled out for 194. The final was marked by two stunning performances - Viv Richardsí brutal display with the bat and Joel Garnersí fast and accurate bowling spell which carried his side to victory.

The West Indians confirmed their domination once again as they lifted the second successive World Cup. Richards rightly earned the Man of the Match award.

The 1983 World Cup final (in England again) has been depicted as one of the biggest upsets of the seven World Cups played so far. On the morning of June 25th nobody gave India much of a chance in the final against West Indies. It was a foregone conclusion. Indeed, Englishmen who had bought their tickets in advance stood outside the gates, hoping to sell them to West Indian and Indian supporters, for reduced rates if need be.

The Indian team had exceeded expectations in making the final, but was now facing a powerful and experienced West Indian team looking for its third consecutive Cup. Clive Lloyd won the toss and opted to bowl. The Indians were dismissed for a paltry 183.

With no runs on the board to play with, Indian skipper Kapil Dev decided to attack. Amazingly West Indies were shot out for 140. The Indian bowler Amarnath had figures of 3-12, and was named the Man of the Tournament as India shattered Lloydís dream to lift the Prudential World Cup of 1983.

The 1987 Reliance World Cup, held in India and Pakistan, was the first World Cup to be staged outside England. 80,000 people filled Eden Gardens to watch two old enemies England and Australia contest the closest World Cup final to date.

Australian skipper Alan Border won the toss and wisely elected to bat on a slow pitch. Australia scored 250 thanks to a canny innings of 75 by opener David Boon. England were cruising until English skipper Mike Gatting got himself out playing the reverse shot that he still regrets today. It turned out to be the turning point the match. Australiaís hour of glory arrived as England fell agonisingly short by seven runs. Alan Border lifted the World Cup and David Boon was awarded Man of the Tournament.

Next week continues the story the cricket World Cup, beginning with the 1991 tournament. When this newspaper went press, Englandís participation in the illfated encounter with Zimbabwe Harare, due to be played on the 13th, was still to be finalised. It seems likely that the ICC will still refuse to move the match to South Africa, where the ECB and the England players want the match to be played.

Much has been made of the political and financial implications of Englandís possible withdrawal from the match. From a cricketing perspective, the loss of the four points could be crucial, especially to a side as limited as England.

This is illustrated by New Zealandís current predicament. Having decided to boycott the match against Kenya for reasons of security, the Kiwis lost to Sri Lanka on Monday and now face a stiff task to qualify for the Super Sixes.

The inconsistency of the one-day side meant England were always facing a stiff task to do well at the World Cup. The political chaos surrounding their participation has made the task little stiffer.