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Heart-break and a fairytale ending

In retrospect, the cricket world seemed a little more innocent in 1992 when seven countries flew out to join Australia and New Zealand for the fifth edition of the World Cup.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2003 12:29 IST
Harsha Bhogle
Harsha Bhogle

In retrospect, the cricket world seemed a little more innocent in 1992 when seven countries flew out to join Australia and New Zealand for the fifth edition of the World Cup. There was one sponsor, local not global, contracts and sponsorship did not seem to overwhelm the event in quite the manner they do now and India’s closed, controlled economy had little to do with the ICC, a largely bankrupt organisation.

The story of the 1992 World Cup was the story of three teams and one rule. Till three months before the start, a strange away game for the lead hosts, only eight teams were eligible to play. Zimbabwe didn’t yet have Test status, Sri Lanka weren’t yet contenders and South Africa only sneaked in at the last minute. It was the best decision the organisers could have taken.

South Africa brought to the 1992 World Cup the largely ignored, and rarely cherished, joy of merely being there. One of my unforgettable memories of the event was being on a Qantas flight from Perth to Sydney. It was the last leg of a flight that originated in Johannesburg and was bringing a plane-load of South Africans to the World Cup.

I don’t know what the horrors of subjugation must have meant to a lot of people there but I saw for myself the great romance of liberation.

Grown-up men were holding their tickets in their hands comparing seat numbers and wondering what cricket in the open world was like. In their eyes, and in their enthusiasm, you could see a new awakening. To be there with the rest, away from the most justified prison sentence in modern times, was a celebration in itself.

The Sydney Cricket Ground was packed, and silent, when Allan Donald ran in to bowl their first ball at a World Cup. Away in an open seat in the press box of one of the world’s most beautiful grounds, I could hear the nick from Geoff Marsh’s bat. Brian Aldridge, the umpire from New Zealand didn’t. It was a rude welcome matched only by a rude parting gift for them in the semi-final.

Led by Kepler Wessels, the man who told South Africa what international cricket was all about, they had done brilliantly to reach the semi-final. With 22 needed from 13 balls, a little shower arrived at the SCG and the players were driven off for about 10 minutes. With no allowances for making up time, two overs were taken away but, due to a bizarre rule in operation, no runs were reduced from the target. South Africa now needed 22 from 1 ball and amidst the tears in the dressing room, Brian McMillan showed great dignity in patting the last ball away.

That rule was one of the horrors of the World Cup and was created to counter the existing rule which gave an unfair advantage to the team batting second. As it then stood, all that the organisers did in the event of a rain-shortened second innings, was to the multiply the average run-rate of the team batting first by the number of overs available.

It was ridiculous but the remedy was worse than the bite. The new rule said that the team batting second would have as their target the best scoring overs from the team batting first. So if team A played 50 overs and team B only got 47 to play, their target would be the best 47 overs for team A. So if team B had bowled a couple of maiden overs, it would actually work against them in case it rained.

Most teams suffered from this rather short-sighted legislation but none as dramatically as South Africa.

Even though Pakistan ended up winning the World Cup, New Zealand were probably the most remembered team of the event. Martin Crowe was captain and a more meticulous, more studious cricketer would be hard to find. The build-up was poor and with a week to go, there were calls for Crowe’s head. It fired him up, the way a pompous administrator can a committed cricketer. He had a plan in place.

Wickets in New Zealand in those days were slow and spongy but they seamed a bit. Crowe worked on the principle that opposition batsmen would struggle to come to terms with the lesser pace and worked on a two-pronged theory. Part one was to bowl slow and make the batsmen do all the work and part two was to bowl their slow medium pacers in short spells on the theory that frequent bowling changes would unsettle the batsmen.

It worked spectacularly, especially the use of a spinner, Dipak Patel, to open the bowling in spite of the field restrictions.

Crowe then decided that since virtually everyone in the team could bat, certainly down to No. 10 — Danny Morrison when playing — one of the openers would go for the bowling straightaway.

The relatively unknown Rod Latham was assigned that role. But as it turned out, with John Wright injured, Latham found himself opening the batting with the burly, cheerful Mark Greatbatch, best known till then for a long, slow, defiant Test century.

At some point on the way to the crease, Greatbatch decided that he, and not Latham, would play destroyer.

It was a bold decision, seemingly foolhardy, but it worked spectacularly as bowler after bowler was taken by surprise. One of my great, and at the time, sad, memories of the 1992 World Cup was the sight of Greatbatch sashaying down the ground at Eden Park and cutting and slicing the great Malcolm Marshall over the in-field.

The most moving moment of all came after Pakistan had just broken the dream in the semi-final at Auckland. Out of nowhere a young, and relatively slim, Inzamam-ul-Haq appeared on the scene and carved the attack when all had seemed lost.

Overcome by a hamstring strain, Crowe was in the pavilion and Wright was captain. It was to be the most frustrating aspect of Crowe’s career.

When the end came, nobody left the stadium and there was hardly a moist eye as the New Zealanders went on a lap of the stadium to say thank you to the crowds that had so solidly backed them all the way through. I wasn’t at the stadium but watching it on television, I was overcome by the emotion as well.

But it was Pakistan, coming back from the dead, who eventually won the Cup. For all those rational and scientific in outlook, it was difficult to believe the fairytale being enacted in front of them.

Halfway into the Cup, Pakistan were virtually out of the tournament and when they were bowled out for 74 by England, they only needed to zip and lock their bags.

Miraculously, from somewhere, the rain arrived and they salvaged a point, the point that would take them through to the semi-finals as the last qualifiers. Even after that, they needed a series of events to take place but bit by bit, every piece came out right; including a strange, seemingly unrelated bit of action at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

With their World Cup hopes ruined, hosts Australia needed to beat the West Indies to prevent them from qualifying instead of Pakistan, who were away in New Zealand. The West Indies struggled to reach their target but one man, Brian Lara, was playing a wonderful innings.

Batsman after batsman deserted him until finally, in a mindless moment, Winston Benjamin ran him out instead of putting shoulder to his shoulder. Pakistan went through, beat New Zealand and ran into England at the MCG.

Again they started poorly. Batting at numbers three and four were two grizzled veterans in their fifth World Cup.

Seemingly oblivious to time, Imran Khan and Javed Miandad inched along and it seemed that even 150 might be difficult to get.

But they were only ensuring that Pakistan did not collapse. Once that was done, the runs began to come freely, with the young Inzamam striking the ball cleanly in the manner that would identify him in the years to come.

But it was the buccaneering Wasim Akram, tearing the attack apart in the end overs in the manner of an old sword-wielding warrior, who provided the crucial runs.

He was to change the course of the match one more time with two balls that will always be remembered as long as the game is played. With one of them he knocked over Allan Lamb and with the next, a ball that seemed to hypnotise the batsman, he hit the stumps of Chris Lewis.

The World Cup came home to Pakistan and in spite of a strangely tasteless acceptance speech, Imran Khan deserved the moment. He had led from the front and aware of the fact that he was now no more than a support bowler, he batted at No 3 to show his young side that he could do as he spoke.

He turned them around, and in doing so, crafted one of the most memorable events in the history of the game. Maybe it was just meant to be but Imran ensured that his side grasped the moment. It was a fitting tribute to one of the greatest leaders the game has seen.

(Harsha Bhogle is a well-known TV commentator, presenter and sportswriter)

First Published: Jan 20, 2003 22:24 IST