After Reliance had sponsored the 1987 World Cup co-hosted by India and Pakistan, Benson and Hedges were the official sponsors of the 1992 edition co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. This was the first world cup I remember watching on TV since the 1987 cup took place when I was in the first standard and me not even having the faintest memory of those matches.
I think one feature which I liked most about the 1992 edition more than its subsequent ones was the round-robin format. Each team played the other teams in the tournament in the first stage. After all those matches, the tournament went directly went to the semi's and then to the finals. I always thought that this format gave equal opportunity to all teams to compete and prove a worthy contender for the title.
And I remember India's first match. It was against England. And again Robin Smith proved to be India's nemesis with his bat. But even at the end the victory for England was by just a mere 9 runs. India, as usual, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. I think it was a time when the batting got over as soon as the top 5 batsmen got out. The tail never managed to be effective with the bat. Sachin had an interesting duel with the legendary Botham till Beefy managed to get the better of the Little Master with a leg cutter.
Pakistan never started in the best fashion. They were convincingly beaten in their first match against West Indies (which had a young and flamboyant batsman called Brian Lara). But they still had the legendary Imran Khan leading them. Never ever should one write off the Pakistan team. They are to cricket what the German football team are to football. I remember the toss taking place for their crunch game against Australia. Imran was wearing a Tee shirt with the picture of a tiger. Ian Chappell asked him about the new Tee he was sporting and Imran replied "I was just talking to Border here. He also asked me about it. I told him that we are like the cornered tiger shown in this shirt. That is when it is the most dangerous". And how true it proved.
Martin Crowe tried his bag of tricks when captaining New Zealand. Opening the bowling with Deepak Patel, a spinner and one of the many Gujarati Patels who took cricket as a career in New Zealand!! Also the aggressive opening batting by Mark Greatbatch was something that went on to change the nature of batting in cricket.
On the hindsight India could have done better in so many ways. But like they say, life is not about ifs and buts. Probably Sachin could have opened the batting in all games. Probably our tail-enders could have shown more sense and judiciousness in their batting. Our fielding could have been better. So many excuses like that.
Jhonty Rhodes was a revelation in this tournament. His run out of Inzi in the round robin match proved that the new generation of cricketers were going to set higher standards in fielding. Rhodes will arguably probably go down as the greatest fielder in cricket history with some old timers still feeling that Colin Bland was still one level above him.
New Zealand had a dream run until the semis. Martin Crowe seem to do everything right. For me the turning point in that match, probably more than Inzi's blitzkrieg, was Aaqib's dismissal of Greatbatch. I think that superb slower ball by Aaqib proved crucial for Pakistan because Greatbatch, till then, had smashed all bowlers in the first 15 overs in most of the group batches. Had Greatbatch continued in the same momentum we might have seen a different result in that semi.
Australia who started as title favourites didn't perform as expected of them. They defeated teams like India (though by a single run), Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka but failed against whom it mattered most (New Zealand, England,South Africa and Pakistan).
South Africa were really unlucky not to have made it to the finals. Brought back into international cricket after being excluded from the ICC for following the practice of apartheid, they produced some brilliant display of cricket to reach the semis. But as fate would have it, even in future, they were brought down at the crucial stage.
I still remember rooting for Pakistan on the day of the finals. Pakistan has always been one of my most favourite team in cricket. For the amount of raw talent they had, it was only befitting that the reins of captaincy was taken by Imran, who commanded respect from everyone in the team. No one who saw that match will ever forget the 2 deliveries by Akram to get rid of Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis. 2 varieties of reverse swing by the Sultan of swing. I think Imran's biggest advantage was that he was never afraid of losing. So this made him a great risk taker in the positive sense. Taking Inzamam into the team after just watching him for 5 minutes in the nets was the best thing he had done during the preparation for the World Cup.
And finally, the outcome of the victory made it seem so satisfying. A cancer hospital and research centre in Lahore where even poor people could take treatment for free. Imran's dream had come true. It also proved to be a springboard for him to take the plunge into politics in which he waits to achieve the same glory that he achieved in cricket.