Variety

Three wise men and a cup

  Norris Pritam | Updated on: Mar 24, 2011

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At the outset, let me confess I am not a cricket freak. It doesn't make a difference to me who bowled the last over – Bhajji or Ashish Nehra.

Not even the ever-changing opinion of the pundits about the head on the shoulders of ‘Captain cool'. But at times my professional duties have found me among the 11,000, famously described by George Bernard Shaw as ‘fools'.

A pleasant August afternoon in 1987 was one such occasion when I was rubbing shoulders with about 100-odd (species of TV byte soldiers were not born yet) cricketing brains at Delhi's Maurya Sheraton Hotel. It was a press conference to launch the Reliance Cup. Let me admit here.

As a young sports journalist, roasted cashew nuts and beer in a five-star hotel were bigger attraction for me than the fact that we were there to celebrate the first cricket World Cup being staged outside England.

  I was face-to-face with Dhirubhai Ambani, with two modest looking young men sitting on his each flank. Even though the two men were in the same team then, they generally kept quiet.

As sponsor of the fourth edition of the World Cup, Dhirubhai did most of the talking. About ten minutes or so after the function began, a senior journalist, now a famous editor, mumbled something to the effect that he was wasting his time and left the hall.

Today, I am sure the same editor would give his right hand to share the table with those two young men — Mukesh and Anil Ambani! After a heart attack in 1986, Dhirubhai had handed over the Reliance empire to the two and with the Cup, the visionary perhaps, wanted to launch the sons too.

  Today, I realise the enormity of that afternoon in Maurya Sheraton. Three doyens of cricket administration in India —  N.K.P. Salve, Jagmohan Dalmiya and I.S. Bindra — had snatched World Cup out of the stranglehold of England where the previous three successive competitions were staged. 

The three wise men were ably assisted by Air Marshal Noor Khan, President of the Pakistan Cricket Board, to write the first Indo-Pak joint declaration on cricket.  

  Even as Reliance had agreed to sponsor the Cup, a huge sum of foreign exchange was still a big problem. Salve, then President of the BCCI and Union Minister for Power, impressed upon the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to do the needful. One certain gentleman wasted no time in Government paper work to release the required exchange.

Today, we fondly call the gentleman Pranab da. Even then he was the Finance Minister.

For the pioneering effort, Reliance put $5 million as prize money. Australia, the Cup winners, walked away with $2.24 million as the top prize.

It was a massive jump from the £4,000 that the winners could get at the inaugural Cup in London.  It also gave birth to the 50-over competition in the World Cup, a reduction of ten over in the previous competitions.

  In less than two weeks from now, new champions will emerge in Mumbai.

But in the euphoria, let us not forget the wise men that brought India and Pakistan to an agreement.

So what if it is for domination of a mere 22 yards of land!

(The writer is a senior sports journalist)

Published on March 24, 2011
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