It may be the nature of all sport that this is so. If not, it is certainly the nature of one-day cricket, a chewing-gum form of the game that keeps players and spectators occupied before being largely spat out and forgotten. This is not to decry one-day cricket, for it has been a financial boon; only its position in the scheme of things. And yet for all its frivolity, I for one am grateful that the two World Cups I competed in, as well as the inaugural one in which my father represented East Africa, are now a part of recorded history.
If that sounds a touch egotistical, the 1987 tournament, played in post- monsoon India and Pakistan, ensured that any vanity on my part would be tinged with masochism. Save for the final and semi-final, and two first round matches in Jaipur and Pune, all England's games were in Pakistan, a place only known to the majority of our squad from Ian Botham's alarming description as the "kind of place to send one's mother-in-law, all expenses paid".
Naturally, eight vaccinations and a travelling doctor did little to allay our fears, though the only time my guts exploded were after sampling the steak and kidney pudding at the British Embassy in Islamabad. After a day or two of paying homage to the porcelain god of Armitage Shanks, I was solid once more and back in the nets.
As things turned out, Pakistan's variety of landscapes and peoples were a revelation, though the slow, grassless pitches did nothing for my bowling figures. Against the West Indies in Gujranwala, a dusty town 90 minutes drive north of Lahore, my 10 overs were carted for 83 runs, a clobbering that more than contributed to the 243 made from 50 overs. To date, it remains the worst analysis by an England bowler in one-day internationals.
Before I hold up my hand and say I was crap, as Martin Johnson no doubt told Independent readers at the time, people should be aware of some additional facts. The 9.30am starts scheduled for that time of year (October), meant we left our hotel in Lahore at 5.00am when it was still dark. For some reason, the day turned out to be incredibly hot and humid; conditions unusual for the Punjab at that time of year. Although the ball swung about, the concrete stands turned the stadium into a giant tandoori oven, which literally cooked all those exerting themselves on the pitch.
Somehow, despite my profligacy and the fact that at one stage we were 131 for 6, the match was won largely due to a marvellous unbeaten 67 from Allan Lamb. Should anyone doubt my contention that these were incredibly harsh conditions to bowl in, just ask him or Courtney Walsh. Sometime near the end, after Lamby had belted him for six, Walsh could barely lope back to his mark let alone run in to bowl, his demeanour so rubbery he appeared to have been de-boned. Afterwards both he and the heroic batsmen were diagnosed with severe dehydration.
If winning such a tough opening game did wonders for the team's self- belief, my own was still in recovery. I only played in two more matches as tactics were rethought and Eddie Hemmings came into the reckoning as a second spinner. Apart from the final in Calcutta it was the correct move and three more wins from five games saw us through into the semi- final against India in Bombay. Meanwhile, Australia were left to battle it out with Pakistan in Lahore.
I was not the only player to have been dropped, and the spinner-friendly surfaces had also forced Chris Broad to make way for his Nottinghamshire colleague Tim Robinson. Today's players talk about a squad effort, but getting the drinks for those playing only fools the gullible into believing that they are involved. Just in case our moping affected morale, we were given each other as room-mates.
We all dream of glory, but few actually put their neck on the line in order to secure it. Looking long and hard at the dry, dusty pitch in Bombay, Graham Gooch decided there was only one way to combat India's gaggle of spinners on such a surface, and that was to sweep them into oblivion.
Playing across the spin is not textbook advice, but in one-day cricket runs have to be scored whatever the circumstance. Instead of having us trundle at him in the nets, Gooch prepared by having a few local spinners bowl to him on the side of the square. For half an hour or more he tried to sweep every ball that was bowled. By and large he succeeded, just as he did a day later when Maninder Singh and Ravi Shastri, India's left- arm spinners, conceded 103 runs between them to allow England to make an unassailable 254.
I have seen many one-day innings from close quarters, but aside from the brutal slaughter of the 189 Viv Richards scored against England at Old Trafford in 1984, of which I was one of many on the receiving end, Gooch's 115 was the finest I can recall. Perhaps even the finest, considering the importance of the match. Of course, the organisers had wanted an India- Pakistan final, so England v Australia at Eden Gardens precipitated something close to national mourning.
It would have taken a bold decision by the captain, Mike Gatting, to have dropped Hemmings, but I should have played in the final. As it was, I was in the XII, which is where I remained. Not so my room-mate, Chris Broad, who wept when told that he would not be required save for a sudden outbreak of the Black Death.
Hindsight is a marvellous thing, and had Gatting not fallen to that cocky reverse sweep he attempted off Allan Border's first ball, England's name would almost certainly now been etched on the Cup. Perhaps most telling from a selfish point of view was that on a typical Calcutta pitch Australia's best bowlers had been Simon O'Donnell (1 for 35) and a young Steve Waugh with 2 for 37; two bowlers I'd have backed myself to outbowl nine times out of 10.
Twelve years earlier, my father had strutted his stuff - if strut is what you do at the age of 43 - for East Africa, a team comprising cricketers from Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya, which is where I was born. Apart from Lance and Chris Cairns, who both played for New Zealand, we are the only father and son to have played in the World Cup, though for different teams.
Born and brought up in Manchester, where he played cricket for Bury until taking an agricultural post in Kenya in 1956, Dad was well past his prime when he played in 1975. In fact his comeback - the way paved only after a longstanding spat with the authorities had been solved - was due mainly to a fitness regime that saw his usual after-match beers replaced with vodka and tonics.
In their three matches against England, India and New Zealand, East Africa were whipped. Being at boarding school in Essex at the time TV was a banned substance so I saw nothing of the matches. Later, when the team were knocked out he visited me to give me the bat he no longer needed. Eager to get the low- down, he told me how he had shared a mutual thirst with Ian Chappell and Gary Gilmour, and that a young fellow they had encountered in a warm- up match against Somerset in Taunton was really something special.
"Viv Richards is his name," he said. "Kept bloody belting me into the river. Watch him, he's bloody dynamite." As I marvelled at the romance of it all, little did I know that several years later Viv would not discriminate between father and son.
If the 1987 World Cup had tended to be merciless on bowlers of my pace and persuasion, Australia in 1992 was much kinder. With a new white ball used at each end - solely to help TV and public pick it up better under lights - conventional swingers like me caused problems. Before I make myself out to be something of a world- beater, I only took seven wickets, though that included 3 for 22 in the final against Pakistan, the eventual winners.
That 1992 side is still reckoned to have been the best one-day teams to play in England colours. Every player in the squad bar Phil Tufnell had a first-class hundred to his name and all but three could bowl. In common with most England sides, we were at our best playing to a plan, which is fine as long as your opponents allow you to do that. Imran's cornered tigers didn't.
Pakistan were perhaps fortunate to reach the final and much has been made about the qualifying match England played against them in Adelaide. On a pitch that seamed big, we bowled them out for 74, only for rain to wash out the match. Had the game run its course, they would not have qualified for the knockout stage.
Having already secured the worst-ever figures for an England bowler in the previous World Cup, I was chuffed to have 3 for 8 this time, including Javed Miandad, one of the greats. Many, including his own team-mates, find Javed an acquired taste. In contrast, I liked and respected him enormously, though the impish mind games he played occasionally detracted from his enormous talent.
He was honest, too, in an after-the-event way. "Just a little touch," he admitted to me in Adelaide after my token appeal for an obvious caught behind was turned down by a umpire whose only obvious skill was that he "played a mean pinball". I got him a few balls later anyway, something I felt I'd also done in the final at the MCG, when a stone dead lbw was turned down by umpire Steve Bucknor.
With Javed on one at the time and with Pakistan listing at 24 for 2, I can understand Bucknor's reticence at risking the spectacle of a World Cup final in front of 90,000 people by giving Pakistan's best batsman out. Javed went on to score 58 and together with Imran put on 139 for the third wicket.
Pakistan went on to make 249 and won by 22 runs, mainly on the back of some brilliant bowling by Wasim Akram, who finished with 3 for 49.
Javed knew he had been plumb, and afterwards when I found him and Imran in a deserted dressing-room - the excitable younger element had taken the trophy on an impromptu tour of Melbourne by foot - he was quick to console.
"Bad luck," he said. Then tapping his leg half-way up, he shrugged: "Allah smile on me today."
Sportsmen and women often talk of being gutted over failure but my viscera felt strangely calm despite knowing that we were the best team in the tournament. Having come so close to glory after a career of near misses I suddenly didn't feel so bad. After all, according to Javed, the whole thing had been out of my hands anyway.
DEREK PRINGLE'S WORLD CUP RECORD
Best performance: 8.2-5-8-3 v Pakistan, Adelaide, 1992
Worst performance: 10-0-83-0 v West Indies, Gujranwala, 1987
Best performance: 18no v Pakistan, final, Melbourne, 1992Reuse content