The 1992 Benson & Hedges World Cup, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, has a separate fan base of its own. Not only was it a celebration of a multi-faceted, Imran Khan-led Pakistan’s glorious triumph, but it was also the first instance in which ODI Cricket started its tryst with newness.
There were colours on the clothes for the first time with white balls, black sightscreens and floodlights making it a thunderous affair. It was a beginning that changed the ODI cricket from being only a sporting celebration to a genuine entertainment package. Mark Greatbatch gave opening batting a new definition - something that on a later date inspired players like Sachin Tendulkar, Saeed Anwar, and Sanath Jayasuriya to break their games through glass ceilings to make way for an attractive brand of batting in the first 15 overs of a 50-over game.
That is not the end of the story, though. The biggest was yet to come. As if the tournament was making a cult for itself, the Imran Khan-led Pakistan side, one of the least fancied outfits with a number of ageing superstars and some to-be-legends, defied the odds to get the silverware and wrote their own storied history. In between the changing landscape cricket provided in the 1992 edition, one thing that slipped under the radar but became one subject of great fascination for the next decade is the rise of trundlers, popularly known as dibbly-dobblers, in the middle-overs of an ODI innings so as to take the benefits of the defensive field placements.
In some ways, New Zealand were the pioneers of the change. The world was dependent on their fast bowlers to exploit the Aussie conditions and swing bowlers to exploit New Zealand, but the Kiwi nation, knowing their own conditions well, stacked their side with medium-fast bowlers. The likes of Gavin Larsen, Chris Harris, Rod Latham, and Willie Watson brought a sense of mass containment to the middle-overs, choking the run-flow and set up a marker for the future of ODI cricket - which eventually burst through to make a cult for itself seven years later in England.
A small look at the economy rates and the rate at which some of the trundlers took wickets in the England edition speaks for a clear trend. Robin Singh had incredible bowling figures against Sri Lanka (5/31) and Tom Moody had an economy rate of 4.31 in the tournament while Neil Johnson and Mark Ealham made their presence felt in almost every game. Sourav Ganguly, Phil Simmons, and Hansie Cronje's wicket-to-wicket bowling meant every team, other than Pakistan, had a containment specialist, who did their job to perfection, taking pressure off the regular bowlers. But why has it become so rare these days?
The introduction of new Powerplay rules in 2005 - in three phases - have had a possible impact on it, with the role of part-timers becoming so rare gradually. The rule ensured the fielding restriction phase increased from 15 overs to 20 overs and squeezed the impact space for the medium pacers. Although in 2012, when one five-over Powerplay was removed, the number of fielders allowed outside the 30-yard circle was reduced from five to four during normal overs, making it further detrimental for the captains to trust their part-time medium-pacers.
When a new change to the powerplay rules was contemplated in early 2014, there was a bit of opportunity for medium-fast bowlers. But the 2015 changes only relaxed the fielding restrictions in the last ten overs when five fielders are now allowed out. The restriction to four fielders outside the circle, however, levelled the story for the medium-fast bowlers, with the chance of a possible rise becoming all but zero.
The rise of T20 cricket further played a part as well, with the game becoming more and more batting friendly. The size of the bat increased, with the focus on the pace going manifold. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, a swing bowler, was forced to work on his pace, so much so that he lost his basic sting and made himself an injury-prone character. Even the batsmen, who had a lot of downtime to bowl in the nets, stopped bowling to give their body some rest.
It is no rocket science to understand that the batsmen, with their see-ball hit-ball approach, have set themselves up for a bigger success margin, something that was unexpected 20 years ago. Players like Jos Buttler, AB de Villiers and KL Rahul are the modern-day prototype of 360-degree batsmen, taking the tag of being instigators from the bowlers to themselves, dictating where the ball would be bowled according to where they want to hit it. A medium-pacer, with a nagging line, held no chance against this particular breed.
That fundamentally explains why it would be difficult for the cricket fans of the T20 generation to witness a Larsen or a Harris, or even Crojne and Ganguly for that matter. The evolution of pace bowling is never clearer than in New Zealand, the spiritual land of dibbly-dobblers, with the likes of Trent Boult, Lockie Ferguson and Matt Henry being the completely opposite breed that 1992 and 1999 gangs. That is how far the cricket has come and expecting the part-timer pacers to have any kind of crack is futile, to say the least. The story is a lot different now.