Australia conquer the sub-continent

Published: Monday, February 26, 2007, 20:59 [IST]
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When the World Cup moved out of England to the sub-continent in 1987, Australia were certainly not the favourites to win it in front of 70,000 spectators at the Eden Gardens in Calcutta.

The unthinkable happened when Allan Border's young side pulled off a stunning seven-run victory over Mike Gatting's Englishmen in the final to begin what later developed into a glorious "Australian run".

The tournament tested the organisational skills of rivals-turned-hosts India and Pakistan but in the end it was a big success.

The format was the same as that of the previous edition, with four teams in two groups playing each other twice in the league and the top two from each group advancing to the semi-finals.

The tournament was the first to see neutral umpires, but it threw up its own challenges. The matches were not confined to major cities, but spread over more than 20 venues in a bid to take the game to the masses.

The tournament tested not only players' mental toughness, but also physical fitness. Gone were the days when four group matches were played the same day.

The live telecast of the final was watched by more people than before and television would continue to play a major role in the development of the game in coming years.

Australia emerged the best in the contest, their discipline and concentration being the talking points. Led by a strong captain, they held their nerve when it mattered most.

Border summed up his team's successful campaign when he said: "We unearthed players like Steve Waugh, Dean Jones, Simon O'Donnell, Geoff Marsh and Bruce Reid who all blossomed over the next few years."

Their party began on the opening day after beating India by one run at Madras. The ability to win close matches stood Australia in good stead, culminating with winning the Cup after another tight finish against England.

It was not the only edge-of-the-seat thriller on low, slow sub-continental pitches where spinners also played crucial roles, with Pakistani leg-spin wizard Abdul Qadir often being in the news.

But it was not the tournament for the hosts who had left the party in the semi-finals, leaving millions of fans in India and Pakistan stunned and disappointed.

Australian paceman Craig McDermott stopped Pakistan with a five-wicket haul to lead his team to victory at Lahore. He was also the tournament's most successful bowler with 18 wickets.

India were in the mourning the following day at Bombay when England's Graham Gooch swept the hosts' spinners on way to a superb century which led to his team's win in the other semi-final.

The Bombay match was also legendary Indian opener Sunil Gavaskar's last international appearance.

"That day, Gooch played, in terms of planning, execution and pressure of occasion, the greatest one-day innings I have ever seen," said England fast bowler Derek Pringle.

Australia had the crowd support at the neutral Eden Gardens venue after England had knocked out the hosts. They were also fortune's favourites as an ill-timed reverse-sweep by Gatting suddenly made their day.

Australia rode on David Boon's 75 to post 253-5, a total which never looked safe during the Bill Athey-Gatting partnership. England were strongly placed at 135-2 before disaster struck.

Gatting (41) attempted a reverse-sweep off his counterpart Border, an occasional left-arm spinner, only to give wicket-keeper Greg Dyer a simple catch. England eventually fell short in their second appearance in the final.

The next edition, jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand, saw coloured clothing for the first time and South Africa's return to international cricket after more than two decades of isolation due to apartheid.

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