Cricket in the 1990s: India’s Blue period
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It was in the early years of the 1990s that Indian cricket slowly turned blue in colour. Before that, in more ways than one, cricket to most Indians was a two-tone affair: black and white. Colour televisions had only really become available in India over the second half of the 1980s. Indeed, as late as the 1992 World Cup, this writer was still watching at least parts of the proceedings on his neighbour’s black and white TV.
My mother’s house existed at the very end of a particular section of the power network in the town of Irinjalakuda in Kerala. This meant that usually power outages extended as far as our house, but somehow not over the fence into our neighbour’s grid. All throughout that World Cup we sprinted back and forth, over and around the fence, desperate not to miss a single moment. We saw half of one over on our TV, and then ran over to watch the rest of the over on the neighbour’s archaic black and white model. The sprinting was almost as much fun as the cricket itself.
It was a turning point in the life of many Indian fans of the sport. The 1992 World Cup famously infused the limited-over format with colour, floodlights, confounding mathematics and the beguiling prospect that was Sachin Tendulkar. Tendulkar’s One Day International (ODI) debut had come just three years earlier. And in the tour to Australia just before the World Cup, the then 18-year-old had shone. Though Tendulkar starred in both of India’s world cup victories, it was the 1996 edition that the master would make his own.
The boys in blue. It was still a new experience for many Indians who consumed their cricket from magazines and newspapers with largely monochrome photographs. Cricket aficionados will remember those books by Sunil Gavaskar and Narottam Puri and others that all featured photographs in black and white. And even if the TV signal was in colour, the boys usually played in white. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Black and white photography, much like fanfaring trumpets, makes everything look so much more majestic and heroic.
Today, Indian cricket fans wear blue caps, blue jerseys, drink blue cocktails and therefore, understandably, bleed blue. When Indians play in stadiums anywhere in the world, the seats are awash with the colour.
What in the world did we do in the 1980s and early 1990s? Mostly we just waved the flag. Consider videos of India’s triumph in the 1983 World Cup. Focus on the crowd invasion at the end of that match. There is hardly any blue in the crowd at all. Just a sea of humanity the colour of static. The colour of Indian railway stations disgorging passengers. If you wanted to look like an Indian cricketer in the 1980s, you just had to pull on a clean white polo T-shirt, bat a bit, bowl badly and not dive at all.
Thirty years later, it is impossible to think of Indian cricket in any other shade except blue.
But why blue?
Credit for bringing the sexy to cricket, especially the coloured clothing and floodlights, is usually given to Kerry Packer and his World Series of Cricket. The unauthorized tournament was arguably the greatest disruption cricket had seen for decades. Teams no longer played in white but in flamboyant colours that more than one historian has claimed were inspired by national flags.
But in fact the Indian flag has very little blue in it. Amidst the saffron, white and green, the blue of the Ashoka Chakra is hard to spot. So how did Indian cricket end up adopting the most feeble, if you will, of all its flag colours?
The Internet abounds with theories about why Indian cricketers wear blue (for they have always worn some shade of blue since the 1992 World Cup).
This is both unfair and typical. Cricket is, for many people, the entirety of Indian sport. But in fact cricket merely carried on from a clothing tradition that already existed in Indian sport. Glance, for instance, at video clips of the hockey competition at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. India played in a light shade of blue. The uniform is not all that dissimilar to the jerseys Indian cricket teams would wear well into the 1990s.
Suffice to say that while Packer may have brought colour to cricket, he didn’t bring blue to Indian cricket.
But enough of the blue. The 1992 World Cup bestowed colours on every international team. And it did so through a selection of jerseys that are surely amongst the most iconic in cricketing history. There is a purity, simplicity and sincerity to the 1992 uniforms. An almost childlike innocence permeates through the shirts that you can still see at cricket grounds. Pakistanis remember that green fondly because they won that World Cup. And India wore just the darkest of three shades of blue worn in 1992: Sri Lanka and England wore the others. All three countries still maintain their predominantly blue strip.
The New Zealanders, who sparkled in that World Cup, unfortunately did it in a kit the colour of dishwater. There isn’t a middle-aged cricket fan alive today who doesn’t instantly think “Martin Crowe wearing porridge” when they think of the 1992 World Cup. But the Kiwis now wear dashing kits in black, of a piece with the rest of Kiwi sport. Most other countries still retain variants of the original colours they wore in 1992. And thank god for that.
The colour of a sport, so to speak, is an odd thing to be nostalgic about. But for a generation of middle-aged Indians, the early 1990s witnessed their initiation into the agony and ecstasy of Indian cricket. We were often happy, often sad, often enraged, often smug, often sleepy, never exhausted, and always, always blue.