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And they never looked back

Australia?s first Cup win was a turning point in its post-Packer history and a recovery from a cricketing nadir.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2003 12:31 IST

The photograph of Allan Border being hoisted aloft by ecstatic teammates in the Calcutta twilight that glorious Sunday in 1987 is imprinted on the psyche of the Australian cricket community. In time it will be regarded as one of the iconic images of Australian cricket, for it is material evidence of the turning point in contemporary Australian cricket history.

For those few Australians privileged to be at the marvellous Eden Gardens Stadium it was an unforgettable occasion.

Was it a trick of the light as fireworks exploded in celebration of the grand event or did Border, the smiling genius left-hander and captain, suddenly look young and strong again? As Dean Jones and Craig McDermott lifted him high, the worry, pain, anger, frustration and confusion that had so blighted him since succeeding Kim Hughes as captain three years earlier, miraculously seemed to drain away. It was an emotional moment.

It may not have been apparent to critics at the time but the Reliance World Cup won by Border and his gallant men was a compelling symbol of the rebirth of Australian cricket. The first signs of renewal came at Chennai at the famous tied Test with India the previous year but the thrilling seven-run success by the Australians over their traditional rivals from England in the final, confirmed that prosperous days lay ahead.

Indeed, the stunning successes Australians have enjoyed throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century had their genesis at the 1987 World Cup — the first to be held away from England.
To the bewilderment of the international cricket community Australian cricket was at its nadir in the mid-1980s and bankrupt of resources and inspiration.

Concerted attempts to rebuild Australian cricket after the devastating World Series Cricket Revolution of 1977-1979 were seriously frustrated by the retirement of Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rod Marsh early in 1984. And to compound matters, 16 players denuded Australia's first-class stocks by heading off to the iniquitous old South Africa to play for Hughes's rebel teams in the mid- 1980s.

Furthermore, Border, who had never coveted the national captaincy, found himself pitched-forked into the leadership when Hughes could no longer cope with the pressure and public scrutiny and tearfully resigned after the second Test with the West India at Brisbane in November 1984.
Nor should it be forgotten that after losing to New Zealand and drawing with India in the home series in 1985-86, Border grew increasingly depressed on the tour of New Zealand early in 1986 when those near to him feared he was close to a nervous breakdown. At his lowest, he threatened to quit the game altogether and more than once, his deputy David Boon had to carry out leadership duties on and off the field.

It was a very dramatic time in the evolution of Australian cricket. And it should be said that there are those who still ponder just how different cricket history may have been had Border lost the Chennai Test so famously tied after he made two declarations.

Perhaps only now, as the cricket world's attention is focussed on southern Africa for the eighth World Cup, is the significance of those events in India and Pakistan 16 years ago patently clear.

Indeed, three of the men whose names dominated the headlines in 1987 are still writ large today.

At the time of writing, Steve Waugh, whose heroics as a young all-rounder almost singlehandedly won Australia the Reliance World Cup, remains bitterly disappointed that he will not be in South Africa and is pondering retirement from Test cricket.

Border, his mentor and friend and arguably the most significant figure in Australian cricket since Don Bradman, is now one of four selectors who must determine Waugh's future.
Another of the selectors is Boon, who it will be remembered was Man of the Match in the 1987 World Cup final.

At the unveiling last November of a statue of Boon standing behind the splendid new northern grandstand at Bellerive Oval in Hobart, Border with great emotion described his mate and former deputy as his "Rock of Gibraltar." That Australia has taken the game to new and rarefied heights in recent years is a direct consequence of Waugh's obsessive quest for perfection — an obsession born out of the chaotic and desperately unfulfilling days of the 1980s.

Waugh is the only member of the imposing team which has carried all before it in recent times — the famous defeat in India two years excepted — to know failure and from that failure was born his powerful desire for success. He has inculcated this desire into his team and at the first sign of complacency reminds his men of the pain and self-doubt associated with failure.

While they may not be as prominent in our thoughts as the aforementioned triumvirate three other names are inextricably linked to them for posterity — Lawrie Sawle, Bob Simpson and Dean Jones.

Sawle, now aged 77, has never received the kudos he is due for overseeing the restructuring and re-education of the Australian team. Sawle was appointed to the national selection panel in 1982-83 and became chairman as stocks plumbed new depths that dreadful summer of 1984-85.

That Australia has had only three Test match captains for the past 18 years is testimony to his vision and judgment. One of his earliest and most profound decisions was to fast-track a 20-year-old boy from the working-class western suburbs of Sydney called Stephen Rodger Waugh.

Another key figure of the time was Simpson, now 67, one of the game's most renowned educators and coaches. Initially he was appointed as "cricket manager" to New Zealand in 1986 with a brief to assess the quality of the tourists both as men and cricketers.

He was astonished to find what he described as a disturbing devaluation of standards on and off the field and reported accordingly to his superiors at the Australian Cricket Board.

Along with Sawle, Border, and Errol Alcott, who has served as the team's physiotherapist and fitness guru since 1984, Simpson oversaw dramatic changes in personnel and attitude.

Along with Steve Waugh, Jones must be regarded as the most exciting and influential of Australia's limited-over cricketers and it was appropriate he was on hand to hoist Border high that magic night in Calcutta.

Yet while he failed only once in eight matches in 1987 and aggregated 314 runs at 44.85, Jones was overshadowed by the freakish and now famous deeds of the then 22-year-old Waugh.

In the opening match Waugh bowled Maninder Singh with the penultimate delivery, to give Australia an unforgettable one-run victory over defending champions India. Against New Zealand at Indore, he claimed three wickets in a remarkable final over when the Kiwis needed just seven runs with four wickets in hand.

For good measure, he took 18 runs from Saleem Jaffer's final over of the semi-final in Lahore — the exact margin by which Pakistan lost before a tearful crowd at the Gaddafi Stadium. In the final, his run out of Bill Athey and dismissal of Alan Lamb and Phil DeFreitas at critical moments paved the way Australia's win.

After celebrations lasted well into the night and, indeed, next day at the opulent Oberoi Grand Hotel in Chowringee Road, the Australians were feted by thousands of Bengalis who lined the route to the Dum Dum Airport. Much of the cheering was directed to Border who held tightly against his body a valuable replica of the exotic World Cup— its gemstones twinkling in the night-light.

This summer Travelex, a major sponsor of the Australian team, showcased the major prizes won by Australia over the past 16 years.

Rest assured the 1987 World Cup still holds pride of place among the imposing trophies and the gemstones still twinkle when they catch the light. And they always will.

(The author is a renowned cricket writer and commentator from Australia)

First Published: Jan 19, 2003 23:41 IST