There was something about that shade of lime green. The kit itself bore exactly the same design as those worn by the other eight teams in the tournament, with the exception of that base colour. And yet, there was something a little more magical about Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup kit. So whether it was that kit on a young Wasim Akram, a stylish Aamer Sohail or a majestic — even when pumped full of cortisone — Imran Khan, there was always something magical in the air. As it turned out, on 25 March that year, it would be those lime green-wearing men who would lift their first international title.
That particular edition of the world cup was notable for being not just the first in which coloured clothing and white balls were used, but also for being the first international tournament wherein kits were provided by the organisers. And like all other white ball tournaments at the time, uniforms were templatised.
This was around the beginning of a golden era — of a sort — for cricket when tournament jerseys weren’t predetermined and promoted in a blitzkrieg of TV, print, online advertisements and massive hoardings across the city. And with the 10th iteration of the Indian Premier League having come to a close and the 2017 edition of the Champions Trophy right around the corner, it’s a nice time to revisit the romance of the jersey.
Cast your mind back nearly two decades ago and there used to be a time when teams didn’t have elaborate kit unveiling ceremonies — never mind shockingly misguided and cringeworthy ones. In their stead were dignified photographs of captains sporting their team uniform.
This was also the time cricket jerseys were just that: Cricket jerseys.
They weren’t trying to compete with football and emblazoning numbers across the back — a practice that still seems so bizarre in a sport that is non-contact and does not involve substitutions.
They weren’t trying to compete with Formula One driver suits and the galaxy of sponsor stickers with which they are covered.
And they most certainly weren’t in competition with Ganeshotsav pandals, especially the types that try and top each other with just how gaudy and garish they can be. Somewhat reminiscent of the sort of jersey worn by a particular IPL team that won its third title very recently.
A trip down memory lane
If the 1992 World Cup kit with its simple yet powerful design was one of the highest points of the tournament jersey era, it would be negligent of us not to revisit other significant moments of this era. But first, a little qualifier about just why the concept of tournament jerseys is one that merits this sort of reminiscence is required.
First off, the concept was one that originated in a time when bilateral ODI series would always be played in white flannels. And so, it was only during multilateral — largely, triangular series, but on the odd occasion like the 1993 Hero Cup, even pentangular — series that we saw players dressed colourfully, with new designs to mark nearly every different tournament.
And there’s no better place to start than the Australian tri-series — an annual extravaganza that began in the 1979-1980 season and finally ended in 2014-2015.
The series was one of the true trailblazers and pioneers of the limited overs format for a number of reasons. It brought together some very interesting combinations of countries. It tried out the idea of best-of-three finals. It even brought in an Australia A side to make the series a quadrangular. And finally, it consistently gave its participants some of the best-designed jerseys in world cricket.
From the simple early designs that featured the team name written in elegant cursive writing and played up the presence of the secondary colour — it was at one of these tournaments that yellow would first become such an integral part of the Indian cricket kit — to some much more dynamic and dazzling designs. A case in point is South Africa’s kit in the 1997-98 edition. The colour red has probably never before or since been seen on a South African kit.
From good to better and best
After the 1992 World Cup, nearly every multilateral tournament — of course, some notable ones like the Singer Cup and the Sahara Cup in Toronto preferred to stick to traditional flannels — featured the organiser’s own interpretations of team jerseys.
From the 1993 Hero Cup kits, that paid something of a tribute to the clean 1980 Australian designs to a set of tournaments in Sharjah that featured three stripes over each shoulder — and significantly for India, the first time the Tricolour featured on a jersey, designs ranged from the innovative to the outlandishly bizarre. A case in point for the latter category was Sri Lanka’s pixelated masterpiece.
And then came the Wills World Cup 1996. Cringeworthy opening ceremony featuring Sushmita Sen handing out scarves notwithstanding, the kits took the template laid out by the 1992 edition and ran with it, throwing up some interesting kits. While on one hand, India, Sri Lanka and England had seemingly swapped their blues around (India adopting the light blue used by Sri Lanka in 1992, Sri Lanka taking on the dark blue worn by India and England going for some teal-ish colour), Pakistan and South Africa also had their colours switched to accommodate Kenya.
Pakistan parted ways with its lime green — with Kenya gladly snapping it up — and instead wore a much darker shade, closer to the one worn by South Africa in 1992. The Proteas meanwhile adopted a more subdued version of its previous kit.
South Africa’s triangular series in 1997 (featuring Zimbabwe and India) also showcased some innovative styles. For India, it was the first time the BCCI logo would feature prominently as part of the jersey design.
A couple of years later, the world would be exposed to the finest set of cricket tournament jerseys since Kerry Packer decided to have cricket played at night: World Cup 1999. This edition of the tournament was notable for a few reasons, ranging from the logo — the first time the bowler was the focus of the logo and not the batsman — to the innovations introduced — Super Sixes and earpieces connecting coach to captain — and most importantly for the purpose of this article, the jerseys.
Japanese athletic equipment manufacturer Asics was roped in to design memorable kits for the final world tournament of the millennium, and it executed the brief masterfully. The most eye-catching aspect of these jerseys was that they were the first to not carry the name of the team. The designs were self-explanatory enough. South Africa had a wireframe version of their flag, England had a blown-up version of the Three Lions crest, Pakistan had the star, New Zealand had the fern, Kenya had the Maasai shield and Australian had the Southern Stars. India’s jersey was a bit less obvious. At first glance, it was hard to tell whether that yellow pattern was meant to depict ducks or shark fins. It later transpired that this was the outer edge of the BCCI logo.
The jerseys were also the first to feature player numbers in an international tournament. Previously, it was only the Australian tri-series that had numbers emblazoned on the backs of players. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the attention of t-shirt aficionados that these jerseys captured. There were some athletic equipment manufacturers who were also watching closely.
The inevitable decline
Whenever something becomes cool, its decline is right around the corner — either because it’s overdone or because people decide to cash in. And that’s pretty much what happened with jerseys.
Even if the participants weren’t all that exciting, the promise of interesting looking jerseys always piqued the interest. Matches featuring Zimbabwe would become must-watch affairs — even if it was limited to just the team’s first outing — just to see what their jerseys looked like. South Africa inevitably got some of the most attractive jerseys in the game.
But at the turn of the century, it was the athletic equipment manufacturers, who were quick to snap up contracts with national teams — Fila with Australia, Nike with India and so on. As a result, jerseys persisted for seasons on end. Teams no longer got special jerseys for tournaments. Instead, they dragged out their old jerseys — with designers perhaps adding a little flourish here and there or some extra piping down the side.
Teams like Australia and England attempted to be innovative and use different colours for different formats, but ultimately, it just wasn’t the same. That feeling of anticipation ahead of the unveiling of jerseys for a grand world tournament had disappeared. It’s tempting, if a bit depressing, to think that this wonderful trend has gone away forever, but one would do well to take solace in the Champions Trophy that has kicked off in England.
It was believed that the tournament would be discontinued, only to come roaring back and become a regular part of the cricketing cycle. Could tournament jerseys make a similar return? Here’s hoping.