MANINDER SINGH & NAVJOT SIDHU
Illustrations- Vasim Maner

Defending champions India would have expected to retain the Reliance World Cup in 1987. After all, they had won two World titles in 4 years, in England and Australia and now the tournament was at home.

But the ironies of sport do not account for logic. India were knocked out in the semi-final by England as was the other favourite – Pakistan, by Australia.

The tournament ended badly for India but it had been a heady time. India had topped their group, which included eventual champions Australia. Curiously, the only other time they have done this in the World Cup is in 2015 when the eventual champions were the same.

INDIA’S BOWLING HERO

Sikhs are habitually associated with valour and brawn. Like all cliches, there is more than some truth in this (ask the Indian Army), but curiously this notion has an equally prominent flipside to it. Some of India’s most significant intellectuals and artists come from this community. India’s only Sikh prime minister is widely known as a gentle, laconic man. And it is the same in cricket.

One would have expected India’s best fast bowlers to come from this community, but this cliche has been comprehensively reversed in the last fifty years keeping in mind the guile and patience required to be a top-class spinner. Some of India’s best spinners have been Sikhs. Think Bishen Singh Bedi, of course. Or Harbhajan Singh much later. In between, is the oft-forgotten Maninder Singh.

Not many would remember now that with 14 wickets in 7 matches, Maninder Singh was the joint-third highest wicket-taker in the 1987 World Cup, after Craig McDermott and Imran Khan and along with Patrick Patterson. If you coupled this with Maninder’s hallmark – his restrictive ability, you had a pretty lethal combination when he was at his best.

22-year-old Maninder Singh was easily India’s highest impact bowler in the tournament and the next best Indian bowler Ravi Shastri had a 60% lower impact than him. This is not something that is remembered.

Maninder played 59 ODIs and is the 14th highest impact bowler for India in ODI history (minimum 50 matches). Till now, he has the highest Economy Impact amongst Indians in ODI cricket. It is fair to say the Reliance World Cup was Maninder’s most notable moment in this format.

INDIA’S BATTING HERO

24-year-old Navjot Singh Sidhu made his debut in this World Cup. His sequence of scores was 73, 75, 51, 55 – four fifties on the trot, which neither he nor any other Indian ever accomplished thereafter in ODI cricket.

In this tournament, his consistency (in 5 innings) gave him a 0% failure rate; only Mike Gatting and Arjuna Ranatunga managed the same in this tournament (minimum 3 innings).

Despite being 11th on the runs tally list, Sidhu was the second-highest impact batsman in the tournament after Graham Gooch. The second-highest impact Indian batsman in this tournament – Sunil Gavaskar – had a 26% lower impact than Sidhu (despite scoring 24 more runs than him).

Sidhu’s hallmark in this tournament was not strike rate, thus reversing the Sikh cliche again, but absorbing pressure (of falling wickets) and consistency .

Sidhu went on to become the fourth-highest impact batsman for India in ODI cricket (after Tendulkar, Kohli and Dhoni, minimum 60 matches).

AN IRONIC PERIOD

That was a period of great turbulence for the Sikh community, as the Khalistan political nationalism movement was at its peak, when a separate Sikh state was sought to be instituted. No Sikh was untouched by that, directly or indirectly.

It is remarkable that during that unrest, two Sikh sportsmen were India’s highest impact players in the showpiece event of what had already become the country’s most popular sport.

It wasn’t spoken about much then but it is something worth remembering today.

 

 

Jaideep Varma

NOTE: Impact Index has undergone an upgradation in November 2015, and though 95% of its findings remain the same, there have been some minor shifts. This piece was updated post that, and is up-to-date as of August 2016.