When Kapil Dev had attempted a slog-sweep that had holed out to Mike Gatting in the deep during India’s semi-final against England, the English captain had remarked that it had been a “silly” stroke under the circumstances.
Now, in the 1987 Reliance World Cup final, England were cruising at 135 for two after 31 overs, in pursuit of a victory target of 254, and the same Gatting tried to reverse-sweep his Australian counterpart Allan Border. The ball hit the shoulder of the bat, went straight up, and descended in a gentle, soothing arc into the gloves of wicket-keeper Greg Dyer — who was so surprised that he almost made a mess of it. As the stocky English skipper walked back, he must have been feeling more than a bit stupid himself.
There was no reason for the Eden Gardens crowd to be partisan, but perhaps the memories of the Raj still persisted 40 years after Independence. The Australians were cheered on as Allan Lamb stood between them and the World Cup.
The total of 253 might not have been achieved but for a largely forgotten gem of an innings by the unheralded Mike Veletta. After David Boon had taken his time to build the platform with a patient 75, 188 for four from 44 overs did not look very competitive. But, then, Veletta got stuck into Phil DeFreitas, and plundered 45 from just 31 balls as Australia managed 65 in the last six overs.
Now, with the dusk falling quickly on that November afternoon in Calcutta, England panicked. The set Bill Athey was run out going for a third run by a young 22-year-old Steve Waugh, The dependable Paul Downton threw his wicket away — once again to the innocuous Border. And at 218, John Emburey, dangerous with his unorthodox batting in the last few seasons, became yet another run out victim.
In the meantime, everything Border tried came off — as had been the story of the last few weeks. His ploy of bringing Craig McDermott for a two-over spell in the middle of the innings checked the run-rate and put immense pressure on the batsmen. And finally, his persistence with Steve Waugh’s ice cool nerves in the final overs saw culmination in glorious fruits.
Lamb fell for 45 with England still some distance away. At 220 for seven, with just a bit more than three overs to go, Waugh and McDermott to share the bowling, it did look almost hopeless.
Yet, there was a final twist in the tale. DeFreitas had come into the English side a season earlier, and had invited chuckles when some braveheart drew parallels with the young Ian Botham. Now, he produced a glimpse of some Bothamesque hitting ability as he clubbed McDermott for four, six and four in the next over.
At the other end, an unruffled Waugh’s devilish variations were submerged under his apparent harmless medium-pace offerings . When the last of English hopes tried to launch into him the same way as he had bludgeoned McDermott, he skied to the outfield where the towering Bruce Reid gratefully accepted the catch. Only two runs resulted from the 49th over, and the last wicket pair of Neil Foster and Gladstone Small was required to get 17 off the last over from McDermott. There was no way that was going to happen.
Australia triumphed by seven runs — a brilliant turnaround achieved by a side that had rebuilt itself from scratch following the retirements of Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee just three years earlier.
It was worth travelling half the world just to watch Allan Border’s delighted smile as he held the trophy.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)