In the early days of the Reliance World Cup 1987, David Houghton conjured up a magical century to take Zimbabwe within a gasp of victory against New Zealand. It took another miracle to stop them from striding through the home-stretch. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the two amazing events of that day 25 years ago.
It was late afternoon on October 10, 1987.
The ball hung in the air for an eternity. Dave Houghton’s eyes followed it, willing it along. The fate of this amazing thriller hinged on the travelling streak of red.
A large crowd had assembled at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium, Hyderabad, in spite of an unsung New Zealand taking on a Zimbabwe side yet to achieve Test status. Such was the lure of the Reliance World Cup. And all those who had turned up were amply rewarded.
Till nearly the halfway stage of the Zimbabwean innings, the match had followed the expected script. New Zealand had scored 242, with makeshift opener Martin Snedden and the brilliant Martin Crowe getting half centuries. The wily old John Traicos had been miserly, conceding just 28 in his 10 overs.
In reply, Zimbabwe had collapsed to 104 for seven, only Andy Pycroft managing to reach double figures apart from the breathtaking Houghton.
And then, there had been this amazing turnaround. Ian Butchart had refused to give his wicket away, and Houghton had batted as if cocooned in his wildest dream.
Boundaries had been nonchalantly struck to all corners of the ground, and along with them had sky-rocketed half a dozen sixes. The wicket-keeper batsman had blazed his way to an epic hundred, and had continued in the same vein after that – only significantly more murderous. As runs had come in torrents, the Kiwis had shown signs of panic. Gaping holes had appeared in the field and had been picked with élan by the curly haired Houghton.
The two had added 117 runs, and the equation had been reduced to 22 needed from 21 balls as Snedden had run in. Fresh from a flurry of boundaries, and tiring after almost three hours under the Deccan sun, Houghton had noticed the mid-on up in the circle, the boundary invitingly stretching out behind him. Both feet in the air, he had swung mightily. The ball soared over the fielder. Thousands of eyes turned towards the fence - all but Martin Crowe’s. His eyes never left the ball. The star of the Kiwi line-up whirled around and ran full tilt, looking heavenward, covering the outfield in quick strides, almost all the way to the long-on fence. And even then, the ball looked all set to win the race, when the fielder flung himself – full stretch. And somehow, he got his hands to it - and the ball stuck! He tumbled and rolled, but held on. Crowe completed one of the greatest-ever catches.
A miraculous innings had been brought to an end by an equally incredible catch. Houghton could not believe his eyes, and perhaps neither could Crowe as he looked at the red cherry clutched in his palm. The Zimbabwean hero walked back for 142 magnificent runs, scored from 137 balls, studded with 13 fours and six sixes.
The minnows lost the match by three runs.
(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