Ken Jacobs, who was Cricket Victoria's CEO in 1985, the year India won the World Championship of cricket at the MCG, hails a 30-year-old team triumph which underlined this country's ODI proficiency
Melbourne: The Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led Indian team is on fire right now with two back-to-back dominant wins in the ongoing World Cup. Few from the 86,676-strong crowd which watched them decimate South Africa in a World Cup Group B match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Sunday, would feel that this defending champion outfit is beatable.
Standing (from left): Manoj Prabhakar, Mohd Azharuddin, Ashok Malhotra, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, Ravi Shastri, Kris Srikkanth, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar. Mohinder Amarnath is hidden behind Gavaskar. Sitting: Sadanand Vishwanath, Chetan Sharma and Madan Lal
Former CEO of Cricket Victoria, Ken Jacobs (1980-2007) however, prefers to be among this minority. Ironically, he's not comparing this Indian team to any of the current World Cup teams though. His comparison is with Sunil Gavaskar's Benson & Hedges World Championship of Cricket-winning Team India of 1985.
Jacobs was in charge here when reigning 1983 world champions India stunned the world to win the first final at the MCG under lights beating arch-rivals Pakistan by eight wickets. "That Indian team was brilliant. Sunny could do wonders with the bat. Then, there was Kapil (Dev), (Ravi) Shastri, (Dilip) Vengsarkar – all fantastic players. This Indian team under (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni is very good too, but I believe Sunny's team could have beaten this team.
It would have been a good contest, but Sunny & Co would have won simply because they had better all-rounders in their line-up. Sunny, in particular, was a fine player. I've seen him play some wonderful innings here. His ability to perfectly adapt to conditions would ensure that he'd be good enough to play in any generation. The Australians back then revered players like Sunny, Kapil and Shastri despite the fact that there was no social media like there is nowadays, where players become famous instantaneously," Jacobs, who watched India beat SA by 130 runs at the MCG told mid-day.
The World Championship of Cricket (WCC) was initiated to celebrate 150 years of the state of Victoria, the largest participant state in Australian cricket with over 1000 cricket clubs and more than one lakh registered cricketers
Former Cricket Victoria CEO Ken Jacobs poses with the 1985 World Championship of Cricket book at Melbourne Cricket Ground during the India vs South Africa World Cup match on Sunday. Pic/Ashwin Ferro
"It was the idea of Cricket Victoria chairman Bob Parish. He had been thinking about it since the previous two years and also wanted to help get floodlights at the MCG. And we did it. We contributed 1 million dollars towards the setting up of lights at MCG. The Melbourne Cricket Club paid the balance. One million was a huge amount for a state cricket association to come up with back then. The game is a lot more commercial now," said Jacobs going on to explain how they sacrificed giving away some matches to the Sydney Cricket Ground for the sake of the construction of the light towers.
"Originally, all the matches were to be played in Melbourne, but then there was a fair amount of industrial work going on for the construction of the light towers. So, there was some uncertainty over whether we would be able to have all matches at MCG and complete the tournament within the timeframe. We decided to condense the programme and held four matches in Sydney, including one of the semi-finals to finish the tournament on time."
More importantly, Jacobs said he was pleased to promote the game across the Victorian countryside in the form of practice matches during the WCC. "There was a big gap between matches, so we organised practice matches for Sri Lanka, England, West Indies and other teams to go around the Victorian countryside and play with our clubs. That was a great learning for Victorian clubs and it was a very satisfying feeling. As an administrator, there were two things that I always stressed on.
March 10, 1985: Ravi Shastri and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan celebrate a Pakistan wicket in the WCC final. Pics/Getty Images
First, on promoting the game in my state, and second, looking after the well-being of the fans. At any MCG game, I always insisted that fans are looked after well. They must get value for money for their tickets and the food and drink should not be overpriced. Only if you look after your fans, will they come back to watch cricket. And this great fan experience continues at the MCG till date," said Jacobs, who was also events manager with the ICC for the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean.
Jacobs remembered the WCC as though it happened yesterday. "India were the world champions, but just like in 1983, here too West Indies were the favourites. Australia were nowhere on top with a young team and were in a rebuilding phase. Pakistan had a strong team comprising the likes of Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Rameez Raja etc.
An interesting aspect of the WCC was the final. It could have been played either at MCG or Sydney, and some were of the opinion that in case Australia did not make the final, the MCG would look empty on the last day, while a smaller Sydney ground would fill up. But we insisted that MCG hosted it and in fact had to bid for the final with Cricket Australia. So, though it was our idea, our tournament, we had to still pay to host the final at MCG," explained Jacobs, who was glad to be proved right in the end.
"As soon as India and Pakistan qualified for the final, ticket sales just took off. The stadium filled up and it turned out to be a better result to have the two neutral teams contest in the final rather than the home team. The big crowd was a demonstration of the increasing global popularity of cricket, which was earlier considered to be just a colonial game," said Jacobs, who is currently director of Cricket Without Borders, an organisation that promotes the game among young girls by organising international cricket tours for them.
The conversation veered towards Ken's favourite player of the tournament, Gavaskar. "I enjoyed a very good relationship with Sunny thanks to my father, Bill, who was manager of the Rest of the World team that toured here in 1971-72 after the South African tour was called off due to apartheid. So, this was a hurried tour between Australia and the RoW that comprised some young and talented players like Sunny, Clive (Lloyd), Zaheer Abbas etc. Sunny was extremely talented and would be able to adapt in any generation. Even today he would impress one and all."
An endearing sight of India's victorious night was Champion of Champions Ravi Shastri winning a silver Audi car. And Jacobs promptly related a little anecdote about it. "Ravi (Shastri) played extremely well to win the Audi 100 car. I remember he was presented the key to the car and the entire Indian team got onto it and drove around the MCG. Now, while I quite enjoyed the celebration and all, I know some of the members of the Melbourne CC were worried about the extent of damage the car would do to the MCG turf. But in the end, all was well. We had an after-party for all the players and I'm sure this tournament and that final will be remembered in cricketing history forever."