Martin Crowe (left) could not lead New Zealand's defence during the semi-final against Pakistan in 1992. MAustralia would hope Michael Clarke doesn't face a similar fate © Getty Images
Martin Crowe (left) could not lead New Zealand’s defence during the semi-final against Pakistan in 1992. Australia would hope Michael Clarke doesn’t face a similar fate © Getty Images

By Gaurav Joshi

The last time Australia and New Zealand hosted the World Cup in 1992, the Black Caps were arguably the form team through the tournament. They had won seven out of eight pool matches and were heavy favourites to knock over Pakistan in the semi-final in front of their adoring fans at Eden Park. Everything seemed to be going the Kiwis way on the day. Batting first, they had made a formidable 262 runs with their inspirational skipper, Martin Crowe leading the way with sublime 91.

But on route to his 91, Crowe had twinged his hamstring on 80, he continued batting but failed to lead his team while fielding. It was the greatest regret of Crowe cricketing life as he watched in his deputy, John Wright fail to follow the plans that he had conjured throughout the tournament.

The game has moved ahead a long way in last 23 years but given the rush to ease Michael Clarke back into the World Cup team, Australia needs to be aware of the consequences if the skipper suffers a Crowe-like setback in the knockout matches.

It is evident George Bailey’s place in the team depends on Clarke’s fitness. This means that if Clarke is in the playing XI, then Steven Smith will be his deputy. In the case, if Clarke suffers an injury before a knockout match, then Bailey should take over the duties. Now there is fair chance Bailey could be leading a team directly without having been on the field for majority of the World Cup.

That was exactly the case for New Zealand in the semi-final against Pakistan. Their deputy John Wright had missed a few games due to injury and all of sudden was in deep end making all the decisions. According to Crowe it proved to be catastrophic as Wright deviated from all the plans that were chalked out throughout the tournament.

“In all we should be making minimum 13 bowling changes, that how we had played throughout the tournament. Under Wright’s leadership we made six. Danny Morrison would always bowl only five up front because of his fitness, Wright had tossed him the bowl for sixth that day and Danny went for 14. I always wanted to part timer Andrew Jones to bowl two-three overs in the middle, to take the load of Chris Harris” — What was Wrighty thinking?” said Crowe.

It even got to a stage that at the second drinks break and with 16 overs to go, Wright came into the dressing room for a toilet break and asked for Crowe to write down the combinations. By the time Crowe had written out the plans and the note was sent out, another two overs had been bowled and the tactics were once again pointless as Wright had to make his own decision due to the lack of time and pressure.

In hindsight it probably cost New Zealand a berth in the World Cup final but as Crowe put it, “It is difficult to blame Wrighty he had not been playing in all the games or sat out due to injury or the combinations.”

Putting that in perspective, there is every chance that Clarke’s fragile body may give way and Smith or Bailey could be thrown straight into the deep end. Smith might be in the form of life and Bailey may have led in majority of the ODIs in the past two years, but it is safe to say both men are fair way behind Clarke in terms of their decision making on the field during a crunch situations.

To be fair, it could also happen to other teams in the World Cup. But for all the top teams, their vice captains are certain starters and will stand adjacent to their respective skippers. For Australia that may well not be the case and with the possibility of Clarke none sustaining himself, his team could face New Zealand’s predicament. If Clarke isn’t available, Australia would hope Bailey or Smith are ready.

(Gaurav Joshi is an Indian-born Australian who played with Michael Clarke in his junior days. He coaches and reports for a Sydney radio station. Over the years he has freelanced for Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and is a regular on ABC cricket show Cow Corner. He is the author of the book “Teen Thunder Down Under” – The inside story of India’s 2012 U19 World Cup Triumph)