There was an astute © Getty Images
There was an astute brain under those dreamy eyes of Bob Willis © Getty Images

Bob Willis won the Man of the Match in a World Cup encounter at Headingley on June 20, 1983. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the only such instance in the World Cup.

Bob Willis never seemed to steam in. In fact, when he took a wicket, he seemed almost bored in his celebrations — even in the iconic Headingley Test of 1981. Beneath those dreamy eyes and almost sleepy demeanour, however, lay a surprisingly astute brain: not many, after all, win a Man of the Match award for captaincy.

England, having won four of their five league matches (losing only against New Zealand at Edgbaston), had already qualified for the semifinal. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, had won a solitary match (also against New Zealand, at Derby). The match had thus been reduced to a formality.

Willis put Sri Lanka on, to quote Wisden, “a pitch which gave the bowlers a little help”. England brought in Norman Cowans to replace the injured Graham Dilley. Willis struck early; Ian Botham, brought on first-change, took out two wickets, Cowans removed Roy Dias; with Paul Allott also taking two wickets, Sri Lanka were reduced to a hopeless 54 for six in no time.

Willis shuffled his bowlers, made some immaculate field placements, and never let the Sri Lankans get on top. Sidath Wettimuny (22) was the top-scorer; Rumesh Ratnayake and Vinothen John added 33 for the last wicket, but could not stop the Sri Lankans from being bowled out for 136 in 50.4 overs.

On a side note, Tavare hit the second (and last) six of his international career during his crawl. He eventually finished with a strike rate of 30.6 at international level. He hit only two sixes off the 7,206 balls he faced — at about 600 overs per six.

Ashantha de Mel, easily Sri Lanka’s bowler of the tournament, had Chris Tavare caught-behind — though not before he had raced to a 48-ball 19, which was certainly express by his standards. Graeme Fowler (81 not out from 77 balls) and an in-form David Gower (27 not out from 24 balls) went after the bowling, and the target was chased down with more than 35 overs to spare.

The surprise, however, came during the presentation. Though Fowler had played a blinder (being especially harsh on the veteran Somachandra de Silva), he did not win the award; neither did Allott (three for 41), Botham (two for 12), Vic Marks (two for 18), or Cowans (two for 31).

Instead, Willis was called on to receive the award — not for his economic spell of 9-4-9-1 (to put things into perspective, Botham’s figures read 9-4-12-2), but because of his bowling changes and immaculate field placements.

They did not even consider Tavare.

What followed?

–   England lost the semifinal against India.

–   Willis captained England in only four matches after the World Cup, and quit cricket after the summer of 1984.

–   In 1992-93 at SCG, Mark Taylor scored a mere nine as Australia scored 101 for nine

–    in a 30-over contest. However, West Indies were bowled out for 87, and Taylor was named Man of the Match (though it should be mentioned here that he took four catches).

Brief scores:

Sri Lanka 136 in 50.4 overs (Paul Allott 3 for 41) lost to England 137 for 1 in 24.1 overs (Graeme Fowler 81*) by 9 wickets with 215 balls to spare.

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