Thanks to the International Cricket Council’s retrograde decision to reduce the number of the teams at the World Cup, the 12th edition of the showpiece event, set to begin in England on May 30, will feature only ten teams – the least number of teams since the 1992 edition.

More tellingly, it will be the first World Cup without a single Associate team competing in it, which speaks volumes about how damaging the decision has been for the emerging cricketing nations. Every World Cup thus far has seen at least one non Test-playing nation, and over the years, the likes of Zimbabwe, Kenya, Canada and Ireland have only enhanced the tournament with their giant-killing acts. 

While the absence of Associate nations from this year’s World Cup is hugely disappointing, there is no denying that they have provided some of the most indelible moments in the history of the tournament. In this first of a five-part series focussing on Associate nations at previous World Cups, we look back at their presence in the first two editions, held in England in 1975 and 1979 respectively.

1975 – Sri Lanka and East Africa 

Sri Lanka was still known as Ceylon when the national team attained Associate status in 1965. Over the course of the next decade, the islanders cemented their position as the leading Associate team, their game toughened by playing most of the Test sides in first-class fixtures. The inaugural World Cup in 1975 was an eight-team affair and had room for two Associates, making Sri Lanka’s inclusion a no-brainer.

The oldest player in the 1975 East African contingent was 43-year-old Don Pringle, who tragically died in a car crash a few months AFTER THE WORLD CUP. HIS son Derek went on to play for England.

The second Associate team at the first World Cup was East Africa, consisting of players from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. Led by Kenyan Harilal Shah, the East Africans were at the receiving end of Glenn Turner’s 171, then the highest ODI score, in their first game at Edgbaston. A total of 309/5 from the allotted 60 overs was always going to be out of reach, and New Zealand duly won by 181 runs.

The game against New Zealand saw Frasat Ali become the first man to open the batting as well as the bowling in an ODI – the Pakistan-born pace-bowling all-rounder repeated the feat in East Africa’s remaining two matches. The oldest player in the East African contingent was 43-year-old Don Pringle, who tragically died in a car crash a few months later, and whose son Derek went on to play for England.   

Like East Africa, Sri Lanka too endured a torrid start, as they were bundled out for 86 en route to a nine-wicket defeat at the hands of the West Indies at Old Trafford. However, they produced a brave display at The Oval four days later against Ian Chappell’s Australians. Facing the likes of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in a chase of 329 was a daunting prospect, but Sri Lanka’s batsmen more than held their own.

Duleep Mendis was named Man of the Match for his knock of 64 in Sri Lanka’s historic win against India at Old Trafford in 1979 (source – Patrick Eagar/Getty Images)

Sunil Wettimuny (53) and (now Oman head coach) Duleep Mendis took on the ferocity of Lillee and Thomson and the off-spin of Ashley Mallett with belligerent strokeplay until both of them were forced to retire hurt due to rising deliveries from Thomson. Nevertheless, captain Anura Tennekoon (48) and Michael Tissera (52) continued the good work and ultimately carried Sri Lanka to a highly commendable total of 276/4.

East Africa’s batting woes continued in their next two matches. They were bowled out for 120 against India at Headingley before going down by ten wickets, while against England at Edgbaston, they could muster only 94 in a chase of 291. Sri Lanka’s campaign also ended with a big defeat, as they capitulated from 60/2 to 138 all out at Trent Bridge after Pakistan had piled up a hefty 330/6 on the board.

1979 – Sri Lanka and Canada

For the first time, a qualifying tournament was held to determine the Associates who would partake at the World Cup. The semifinals of the inaugural ICC Trophy, also played in England, were contested three days before the start of the World Cup. In the first semifinal, Sri Lanka thumped Denmark by 208 runs after posting 318/8. In the second semifinal, Canada chased down Bermuda’s 181 to win by four wickets.

Curiously, the final of the 1979 ICC Trophy was played two days before the World Cup final.

Tennekoon again skippered Sri Lanka, while Canada was led by St. Lucia-born wicketkeeper Bryan Mauricette, who had earlier played for the Windward Islands. Both teams were beaten convincingly in the first round – Sri Lanka was bowled out for 189 on the way to a nine-wicket defeat to New Zealand at Trent Bridge, whereas Canada’s 139/9 was surpassed by Pakistan for the loss of two wickets at Headingley.  

Canada’s nadir came in their second match though, as England’s seamers Bob Willis and Chris Old took four wickets apiece to condemn them to a measly total of 45 at Old Trafford. This remained the lowest ODI total until 1992-93, and the lowest World Cup total until the 2003 edition, when Canada themselves broke it with 36 against Sri Lanka. England cantered to an eight-wicket win with 277 balls to spare.

IN BEATING INDIA, Sri Lanka became the first Associate to win an ODI – THEY WERE AWARDED Test status TWO YEARS LATER.

Canada bowed out with a seven-wicket defeat to Australia at Edgbaston after another insipid batting display saw them total only 105. Sri Lanka, whose scheduled second match against the West Indies at The Oval was washed out without a ball bowled, locked horns with India in their last game at Old Trafford. Both teams were out of the reckoning and were keen to avoid the wooden spoon in their group.

Bandula Warnapura led the Sri Lankans in the absence of an injured Tennekoon. Wettimuny (67), Roy Dias (50) and Mendis (64 in 57 balls) steered the total to 238/5, after which a game-changing spell from leg-spinner Somachandra de Silva (3/29) ensured that India was dismissed for 191 in the 55th over. Sri Lanka thus became the first Associate to win an ODI and was deservedly awarded Test status in 1981. 

Curiously, the final of the ICC Trophy was played two days before the World Cup final, at New Road in Worcester. Sri Lanka lost Warnapura and Wettimuny early to become 39/2, but the efforts of wicketkeeper Sunil Jayasinghe (64), Dias (44) and Mendis (66), followed by some lower-order hitting, drove the total to 324/5. Canada replied with 264/5, with John Vaughan (80*) and Cecil Marshall (55) scoring fifties.

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