A few good men

August 14, 2022

How India and Pakistan united to bring the ICC World Cup home in 1987

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It was the summer of June in 1983 and India had done the unthinkable of defeating hosts England in the semifinal of the ICC World Cup.

India's former Education Minister Sidhartha Shankar Ray happened to be in England on a private visit and being a cricket fan wanted to watch the final at the Lord's. His cabinet colleague and fellow Minister of Power NKP Salve was the President of BCCI. NKP Salve immediately put in a request to the English Cricket Board (MCC) for two more tickets. Imagine the shock for the BCCI President when this request was turned down with the explanation that MCC members had first right to the Lord's Cricket Ground and that extra tickets could not be granted to the BCCI even though India was playing the final. This infuriated Salve and he found support from an unexpected quarter. Air Chief Marshal Nur Khan, who was the PCB Chairman and the most prominent sports administrator of Pakistan, had a similar experience with the MCC and the English board officials. To make matters worse both Salve and Nur Khan witnessed something terrible on the day of the final. Half of the box seats which were pre reserved for the MCC members remained empty as the members decided to skip the final as it did not feature England. It was then that the two decided that the World Cup must be taken out of England and must be played in India and Pakistan.

But there were many hurdles. Cricket lovers of today might not know the ICC structure in that era. The Chairman of the MCC/ECB would automatically become the head of the ICC. England and Australia had veto powers. This meant that the Asian bloc proposals could be rejected by the MCC without even giving an explanation. Unlike today, the BCCI had no financial or political clout. In a meeting in Lahore after the 1983 World Cup, the Sri Lankan board stated that while they would fully support the BCCI and PCB legally in their quest to host the next world cup they were in no position to help financially. So in a way it was left to India and Pakistan to pull off the common dream of hosting the 1987 ICC World Cup.

An informal joint committee was formed and cricket administrator Jagmohan Dalmiya drafted a formal proposal to be eventually submitted to the ICC. The ICC was shocked by the audacity of India and Pakistan. The ICC began trying to bury the idea itself and used legal objections as a tool to kill the proposal. The Indians and Pakistanis had expected this and very cleverly they had put a clause in their proposal that from here on the world cup hosting should be rotated around the globe and after 1987 Australia should get the right to host the cup in 1992. This excited the Australian board and the first fissure in the hegemony of England and Australia was created. The ACB Chairman gave BCCI & PCB his secret consent and guaranteed the two Asian cricket boards that Australia would vote in their favour in a secret ballot. More importantly, ACB gave the assurance that they won't veto the proposal.

At this stage, Nur Khan immediately suggested that the two countries form the India-Pakistan Joint Management Committee (IPJMC) and was gracious enough to ask NKP Salve to head it.

The two good men now set their target of overcoming the next hurdle which was tackling the ICC voting system. The total votes in ICC were 37. The Test-playing nations had 16 votes and the remaining votes were with the associate nations. England used to offer only 40 percent of the ICC resources to the associate nations. That was where the BCCI and the PCB saw the opportunity. The IPJMC offered the associate nations 4 times the revenue that England was offering them. They then offered the Test-playing nations 5 times the revenue that England had been offering till then.

The IPJMC won 16-12 in the voting but England raised objections. England officials stated that they had not witnessed the voting of Pakistan Chief Justice Nasim Hassan Shah's vote as he was diminutive in size. Justice Shah was enraged and during the recount he stood on the desk with both his hands in the air! The IPJMC won the rights to host the 1987 ICC World Cup but the ECB authorities continued to raise legal objections for several years.

They first raised the issue of South Africa's participation and asked the IPJMC to clear their position fully knowing that this would be a catch-22 situation for India and Pakistan.

If the IPJMC appeased South Africa then the West Indies would raise objections and if it maintained status quo then England could go to Australia and New Zealand and try to put them against the IPJMC.

Being a master politician, Salve knew how to handle this diplomatically and merely suggested that all such matters would be decided by ACB when they hosted the 1992 world cup.

England then raised objections to playing (light) conditions in the subcontinent, arguing that by the time 60 overs would be bowled the venues would face bad light as the sun sets early in the subcontinent. To this the IPJMC gave a simple solution: reducing the matches to 50 overs a side.

The next doubt raised by England was about the broadcasting ability. Indeed, Doordarshan (India's national broadcaster) needed a technical upgrade and the IPJMC assured the ICC that they would not just upgrade their broadcaster but overhaul it completely.

The next objection was about travel logistics of teams across Indian and Pakistan - traveling from one venue to another in England is not very difficult because of its small size but Pakistan and India are two very large countries. To counter this, the civil aviation authorities declared that they would adjust the entire civil airline schedule around the world cup itinerary.

Just eight months before the world cup, England raised security concerns and half threatened to pull out citing political rivalry between India and Pakistan.

IPJMC Secretary IS Bindra immediately requested the then President of Pakistan Zia-ul-Haq to undertake a diplomatic trip to India to tell the world that all was well politically between the two supposedly arch rivals. Zia readily agreed and that too without a formal invitation from India. The message was clear to the rest of the cricketing world. India and Pakistan were united when it came to hosting the 1987 ICC World Cup.

It happened because a few good men from India and Pakistan were determined to shift the balance of power to Asia. We must remember these good men. Pakistan should not forget its most capable sports administrator. Nur Khan paid his debt to his alma mater Rashtriya Indian Military Academy in India by helping India host her first Cricket World Cup Final. Zia-ul-Haq paid his debt to his birth city of Jalandhar and his alma mater St Stephens College Delhi by becoming a peace agent and the Chief Justice of Pakistan Nasim Hassan Shah stood on a desk to make his contribution.

Cricket lovers in Pakistan should never forget the stellar contribution of Salve, Dalmiya and Bindra who helped Pakistan host its first world cup. It was thanks to these three Indians that Pakistan played the world cup in front of home fans.

The IPJMC was able to do all this because of the finances that were primarily brought in by Indian industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani. The Prudential World Cup flew out of England and came to India and Pakistan to become the Reliance World Cup. Ironically, Pakistan and India both lost in the semifinals and the final was played between England and Australia.

As they say, cricket is a great leveller. Indians and Pakistanis find it much easier to get tickets at the Lord's. Individuals from Pakistan and India now become heads of the ICC.

Kush Singh is Founder of The Cricket Curry Tour Company and a cricket historian and columnist.

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