Mike Brearley played a pivotal role in England’s semifinal win © Getty Images
Mike Brearley played a pivotal role in England’s semifinal win © Getty Images

England edged past New Zealand by 9 runs at Old Trafford on June 20, 1979 to reach the final. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at one of the earliest ODI cliff-hangers.

Though a World Cup had been played four years back, ODIs were still in their nascent stage. The second World Cup (probably the most low-key of them all) lasted a mere two weeks with only five playing days. Matches were seldom keenly contested; indeed, going into the semifinal at Old Trafford, the narrowest margin of victory by a team batting first in a World Cup was a 14 runs by England against Pakistan earlier that tournament.

Brearley consolidates

Mark Burgess put England in on what seemed like a helpful track. Richard Hadlee responded immediately by having Geoff Boycott (after he had a life off Gary Troup) caught at third slip, and though Wayne Larkins hung around, runs dried up as England crawled to 38 in 70 minutes. Having struggled during his painstaking stay at the crease, Larkins tried to loft Brian McKechnie, but ended up hitting it to Jeremy Coney at mid-off.

Mike Brearley was probably the finest captain in contemporary cricket, but never earned a reputation as a fine batsman (a Test average of 22 and an ODI average of 24 without an international hundred tell the story). On this occasion, however, he showed great determination as Burgess shuffled his bowlers around.

Graham Gooch finally provided some solidity, and the pair added 58 in 40 minutes. Brearley reached his fifty, but fell soon afterwards as he tried to chop one from Jeremy Coney: Warren Lees made no mistake. Brearley’s 53 had taken him 115 balls, but they were made out of a team score of 96. David Gower ran for a second off the first ball he faced and was run out by Lance Cairns.

Gooch, then Randall

Ian Botham was promoted over Derek Randall, and almost immediately helped lift the run rate. He scored a brisk 30-ball 21 before he tried to pull one off Cairns that kept low, and was ruled LBW. Gooch hit a straight six off McKechnie, and just when it seemed he would take England to a big score he chopped one from the same bowler on to the stumps. His 71 had come off 84 balls, and had included a four and 3 sixes.

Chris Old fell for a blob, but Randall found support in Bob Taylor. Randall accelerated towards the end and finished on an unbeaten 42 from 50 balls. Though Taylor was run out in the last over, England secured 25 from the last 3 overs to finish on 221 for 8. The New Zealand bowlers showed amazing consistency: Hadlee, Troup, Cairns, Coney, and McKechnie sent down 12 overs each and conceded between 32 and 46; barring McKechnie (who took two wickets) they all claimed one apiece.

LBWs galore

Yes, that is Geoff Boycott, bowling with his cap on © Getty Images
Yes, that is Geoff Boycott, bowling with his cap on © Getty Images

John Wright and Bruce Edgar began in style, adding 47 from 16 overs before Old trapped Edgar leg-before. Boycott trapped Geoff Howarth, but Coney stuck it out, helping Wright put on 46 before he was rapped on the pads by Mike Hendrick. Glenn Turner, batting low down the order, looked in good nick when disaster struck.

Wright later told ESPNCricinfo: “I got run out. My God, what a nightmare it was! I don’t like to remember that. I think I was looking for two and was sent back.” Randall’s through from deep square-leg was something that only he could pull off. Wright’s 137-ball 69 with 9 fours had put New Zealand on track, but with his dismissal, the tourists suffered a jolt, especially with Burgess’ run out that followed.

A valiant fightback

As it had always been their characteristic, New Zealand refused to give up. Turner found support in Hadlee before Lees walked out and lofted Hendrick over long-on into the stands. Cairns hit another six before falling to Hendrick, and when Lees fell to the same bowler New Zealand still needed 14 from the last over.

With McKechnie and Troup — the last pair — at the crease, Botham ran in to bowl. The pair managed only 4, and New Zealand lost the match by a mere 9 runs, at that time the smallest margin of victory in a World Cup match. As Wright rightly said (if you mind the pun), “now that I look back at that game, it was perhaps the closest we ever got to the final”.

What followed?

- England were duly thrashed by West Indies in the final at Lord’s by a 92-run margin.

- With 14 wickets at 14.90 Hendrick finished as the leading wicket-taker of the tournament (McKechnie, Old, and Asif Iqbal came next with 9 apiece).

- The margin of 9 runs have been bettered only twice in a World Cup knock-out match. Australia won both matches: they beat England by 7 runs in the 1987 final at Eden Gardens and West Indies by 5 runs in the 1996 semi-final at Mohali. However, things reached another level at Edgbaston in the semifinal of the 1999 edition when Australia (again?) tied against South Africa.

Brief scores:

England 221 for 8 in 60 overs (Mike Brearley 53, Graham Gooch 71, Derek Randall 42*) beat New Zealand 212 for 9 in 60 overs (John Wright 69; Mike Hendrick 3 for 55) by 9 runs.

Man of the match: Graham Gooch.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and cn be followed on Twitter here)