Craig McDermott turned out to be the difference between the sides that day © Getty Images
Craig McDermott turned out to be the difference between the sides that day © Getty Images

Australia had put up 267 in the semi-final at Lahore on November 4, 1987. Despite a long fourth-wicket stand and several cameos down the order, Pakistan lost a battle to Craig McDermott. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a story of lion-hearted fast bowling, aggressive batting, and a last over that cost Pakistan the match.

Australia had scored 249 for 8 after 49 overs. Pakistan were bowled out for 249 in 49 overs. The difference between the sides lay in those two wickets and the fact that Tim May hung around with Steve Waugh. That fateful last over from Saleem Jaffar went for 18, which eventually turned out to be the difference between the sides.

It was supposed to be a fairytale ending to Imran Khan’s career: He had been outstanding with the ball throughout the tournament; he had led Pakistan to five consecutive victories before losing an inconsequential match against West Indies; and if Pakistan won this, they would meet India (as the world expected) in the final at Eden Gardens.

Leading Pakistan to a World Cup win would have been the ideal swansong for the legend. The Lahore crowd, in full anticipation that it was going to be the great man’s last match at home, came out with posters with IMRAN WE’LL MISS YOU and equivalent on them. They were all pumped up to provide full support to their hero.

Australia had won their first match against India by a solitary run, and had barely scraped past New Zealand at Indore (by a three-run margin). India had their revenge with a 56-run win at Kotla, and Australia had never seemed a side good enough to topple the mighty Pakistanis. Thus, when Allan Border decided to bat, Gaddafi Stadium was full of hopes as Geoff Marsh and David Boon walked out.

A solid start

Not for the first time in the tournament, Marsh and Boon gave Australia a solid start, adding 73 in 78 minutes. For some reason Imran opened bowling with Jaffar, keeping Wasim Akram away from the new ball. Marsh eventually flicked a ball from Tauseef Ahmed and ran; Boon sent Marsh back, but it was too late: Saleem Malik’s direct hit (with only one visible stump) found him short of the crease.

The foundation laid, Dean Jones walked out. The men ran hard, helping lift the Australian run rate. Abdul Qadir trapped Jones plumb in front of the stumps in the 19th over, but Dickie Bird ruled him not out. Jones smashed the next ball through cover for four, and the following ball smashed into Saleem Yousuf’s mouth. Yousuf had to leave the field, which meant that Javed Miandad had to don the big gloves.

With 150 up in 30 overs, things looked ominous from Pakistan. It was then that Malik struck against the run of play: the ball was outside leg, and Miandad, sporting a floppy hat, showed amazing reflex to whip the bails off. Malik’s over ended with that ball, and when Tauseef bowled a straight delivery to start the next over, Jones tried to cut, missed completely, and was bowled; and Gaddafi erupted.

Imran dents Aussie onslaught

Mike Veletta walked out to join Border, and the pair added a brisk 60 before Mansoor Akhtar struck: Border pushed a ball to cover and ran, and Mansoor threw the stumps down with a nonchalant direct hit. Imran hit leg-stump to dismiss Veletta, and Simon O’Donnell lasted two balls before something bizarre happened.

Waugh ran the entire length of the crease, only to find O’Donnell standing at the other end. The bails were removed, and Waugh took the long walk back to the pavilion. The umpires, upon inspection, intervened: it was (probably) found that O’Donnell, who had left his crease, did not ground his bat, allowing Waugh to overtake him to the crease. O’Donnell was ruled out while Waugh stayed back: the decision probably cost Pakistan a berth in the final.

With Imran clean bowling Greg Dyer and Craig McDermott in quick succession (the middle-stump flew close to Miandad on the second occasion), and Gaddafi responded with banners of KING KHAN, WORLD CUP IS OURS, and more; unfortunately, with 49 overs gone Imran realised that Wasim, Qadir, Tauseef, and he himself had bowled out their full quotas. He had to choose between Jaffar (5-0-39-0) and Malik (4-0-22-1). He decided to go with the specialist.

That Jaffar over

Waugh was ready. He wore only the green Australian cap (the term Baggy Green was yet to be coined). He knew he had to make it big, and as Jaffar over-pitched, he middled the on-drive. The ball soared over the fence, and up went David Shepherd’s hands to signal a six. The next ball rushed through the vacant mid-wicket for four. He drove the third ball to long-on, and May ran maniacally to ensure a second run.

Jaffar was visibly nervous. He stopped in his run-up, and when he bowled, it turned out to be a full-toss; they ran for another brace to deep extra-cover. He squeezed in a dot ball, but Waugh slogged the last ball past wide mid-wicket; there was a misfield, and the resultant boundary took the score to 267 for 8. Waugh, unbeaten on a 22-ball 14 before the over, finished with a 28-ball 32.

Quick wickets and consolidation

Rameez Raja fell in the first over: Akhtar played to cover-point, Rameez ran, and fell short of the crease at the non-striker’s end as Border’s throw reached McDermott. A bareheaded Akhtar was himself bowled by McDermott shortly afterwards, and when Malik was fooled by Waugh’s slower delivery (he could only lob it to McDermott at mid-off), Pakistan needed 230 from 239 balls with seven wickets in hand.

This was when Imran walked out to join Miandad amidst tumultuous applause. Survival was the first option, and the two senior men went about their tasks diligently. Slowly, surely, they built up the score. Border held McDermott back for one final burst, but Bruce Reid, Waugh, or O’Donnell could not stop Miandad or Imran.

The closer they got to the target, the more vocal Gaddafi Stadium became; they pushed around Reid or singles; waited till the last moment to avoid being deceived by Waugh; and chanced their arms every now and then. They grew in confidence; the strokes became more purposeful and frequent; the hundred came up in the 26th over; and suddenly a victory seemed possible.

Imran, with his unkempt hair, sculpted torso, the green Pakistan cap, and dazzling footwork, controlled proceedings. Miandad, he of unflappable spirit and unwavering concentration, took a backseat for the time; he knew his time would come, but for now a support role was sufficient for the team. Inch by inch they closed in.

Border turned to May, and Imran went after him almost immediately. Miandad responded, reverse-sweeping May for four shortly afterwards, and Pakistan reached closer to the target with every passing over. They needed 118 from 90. Then Border brought on himself, Imran went for a wild slog, and was caught-behind for an 84-ball 58. The pair had added 112. Imran was cheered by the Lahore crowd; as he raised his bat, he probably knew that he should not have left the business unfinished.

Billy the Kid takes over

The match was far from over. Imran promoted Wasim above Ijaz Ahmed. Miandad reached his fifty, and when McDermott came back, Wasim thwacked him over his head, over the fence, and slog-swept Border for an encore. Then “Billy” took charge, flattening Wasim’s stumps as he gave him the charge once too many. Wasim had scored a 13-ball 20, but was it sufficient?

But they still had Miandad, and a teenaged Ijaz, who paddle-swept Border for four almost immediately. Unfortunately, he holed out to Jones at deep square-leg, trying to clear the fence off Reid. Miandad carried on, taking the fast bowlers by the horns, before Reid struck: Miandad moved his left leg out of the way to clear deep mid-wicket, but Reid knocked his off-stump back. They still needed 56 from 36. Miandad’s 70 had taken 104 balls.

Yousuf and Qadir, heroes of the chase in the league match against West Indies, now came together. They kept on playing their strokes, adding 24 in 16, but Yousuf was eventually caught-behind off McDermott for a 15-ball 21. Qadir and Jaffar ran like madmen, and Qadir even had an inside edge going for four, but the task remained a daunting one.

Eventually, with 21 to score from 11 balls, Jaffar went for a heave and was caught-behind off McDermott. Four balls later McDermott had Tauseef caught-behind to pick up the first, and only five-wicket haul of the World Cup, was named Man of the Match, but most importantly, he clinched a semi-final victory against Pakistan in their captain’s hometown in what was scheduled to be his last match. It does not get bigger than that.

What followed?

 –          Graham Gooch crushed a billion hearts (well, almost) at Wankhede, knocking India out of the tournament. The much-anticipated India-Pakistan clash turned out to be an Australia-England match, which Australia won.

–          With 18 wickets McDermott finished as the leading wicket-taker of the tournament.

–          Imran came out of retirement. He fulfilled his dream in the 1992 edition, lifting the World Cup in his last international match at MCG. In a reversal of roles from the Lahore semifinal (where Miandad scored 70 and Imran 58), Imran scored 72 in the MCG match and Miandad 58.

Brief scores:

Australia 267 for 8 in 50 overs (David Boon 65, Mike Veletta 48; Imran Khan 3 for 36) beat Pakistan 249 in 49 overs (Javed Miandad 70, Imran Khan 58; Craig McDermott 5 for 44) by 18 runs.

Man of the Match: Craig McDermott.

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