Saturday, 10 March 2007

Cornered tigers

World Cup Analysis: 1992

The 1992 World Cup was co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand and ran from the 22nd of February to the 25th of March. It included several innovations, the most significant of which was a new format, which saw all nine countries play each other in a single group. The fairness of this format has led many to claim 1992 to be the best World Cup, where every team had an equal chance. The huge variety of venues, with very different pitches, might negate this view somewhat, but apart from Australia and New Zealand enjoying home advantage, the tournament did, at least, pit each country against all the others, with no excuses of tough or easy groups.

Of the 36 matches in the league stage only two were abandoned, though one of them was to have huge significance on the eventual outcome of the tournament. With the semi-finals and final, 39 games were played over the four week time-span, leading to claims that the World Cup just went on and on, lacking enough excitement to sustain the necessary momentum. I do remember feeling at the time that enough was enough and when were the important matches going to start. However, there was a certain enjoyment in the league format, with all its ups and downs, and there were a few good matches.

Colour was literally added to the 1992 World Cup with the use of different coloured clothing for each team, with the players’ names emblazoned on their shirts. Floodlights were also used, necessitating the introduction of the white ball for the first time. A new one was used at each end, much to the bowlers’ delight, leading to some sustained spells of high quality swing and seam bowling.

The pinch-hitter was also born in the 1992 tournament, as new field restrictions were brought in, allowing only two fielders outside the ring for the first 15 overs. Most sides employed at least one opener whose main purpose was to hit the ball over the infield, preferably over the rope. Though this tactic had variable success in 1992, it laid the foundations for Jayasuriya’s incredible opening assaults in the 1996 World Cup, which changed the nature of ODI batting forever.

Battle of the hosts

On the opening day of the tournament New Zealand notched up a comfortable win against Australia, setting a trend for the rest of the preliminary stage, which saw the holders and favourites, Australia, struggle, whilst their co-hosts, New Zealand, marched into the semi-finals, topping the league by 3 points, winning 7 of their 8 matches. The cornerstone of their victory over Australia was a magnificent century from their captain, Martin Crowe. He scored exactly 100 not out, with Ken Rutherford giving him great support in a stand worth 118 runs. New Zealand built on this platform with some excellent lower order hitting and reached 248, setting Australia a formidable target to chase.

In reply, Australia were never able to keep up with the required run rate, despite a wonderful 100 from the doughty David Boon. New Zealand utilised their medium pacers to good effect, strangling the Australians, a tactic they would use throughout the tournament. Even more radical, though, was Crowe’s decision to open the bowling with the slow, looping off-spin of Dipak Patel. This innovative ploy worked remarkably well, and was one of the reasons for New Zealand’s great success in the league stage of the Cup. In the end, Australia were bowled out for 211, with just under two overs of their allotted 50 left. The 37 run win for New Zealand in the battle of the hosts set both teams off on very different paths through the rest of the tournament.

The most significant of abandonments

When England and Pakistan took the field at Adelaide on the 1st of March few would have predicted that these two teams would meet again in the final. England had started the tournament strongly, winning their first two matches, whilst Pakistan had lost to the West Indies and only beaten Zimbabwe. With both teams having five matches left after this one it was hardly win or bust, but in a close league the point that Pakistan got here was vital. Without it they would not have made the semi-finals, let alone the final itself.

On a pitch that promised plenty for the seam bowlers and with perfect conditions for swing England’s captain, Graham Gooch, had no hesitation in putting Pakistan in to bat. The decision was quickly justified as Phil DeFreitas removed Rameez Raja and Inzamam-ul-Haq with just 5 runs on the board. However, despite bowling well, DeFreitas and Gladstone Small, the faster of the England bowlers, were unable to match the efforts of their three swing bowling colleagues, Derek Pringle, Ian Botham and Dermot Reeve. All three were unplayable in these conditions and the Pakistan batsmen could do nothing against them. One of Reeve’s overs encapsulated how much swing was available when he beat the batsman’s outside edge five balls in a row. By the end Pakistan were all out for just 74 off 40.2 overs, with Pringle taking 3 for 8 (off 8.2 overs), Botham 2 for 12 (off 10 overs) and Reeve 1 for 2 (off 5 overs). The win was in the bag it seemed.

Ironically it was the very clouds which had given England’s swing bowlers such favourable conditions that deprived them of victory. After just 8 overs of their reply, when England had scored 24 of the 75 they needed for the loss of only one wicket, the rain came and the match had to be abandoned. It was a bitter blow after such a fine bowling display, but England had two wins and a no result and would not have been too disappointed. It was only much later, when they faced Pakistan again in the final with the World Cup at stake, that they truly rued the rain that fell that day in Adelaide.

The last four finally decided

After what seemed to many the interminably long league stage of the 1992 World Cup the semi-finalists were finally decided on the 18th of March. New Zealand, by far the best team in the preliminary stage of the tournament, topped the league, losing just one of their 8 matches. The loss came on the very last day when Pakistan beat the joint hosts to claim fourth place in the league. England and South Africa, who both showed consistency throughout the league matches, were second and third, respectively, with Australia and West Indies disappointed to miss out on the semi-finals, just a point each behind Pakistan.

Though it took a long time to finish, the closeness of the league suggested it was the fairest way to find the best four teams and few would argue with the semi-final line-up. Pakistan were, perhaps, fortunate to pip Australia and West Indies at the post by virtue of the point gained for the no result against England, but after that match they played some great cricket and had a young and talented team, ably led by the great Imran Khan. They also beat both co-hosts in the league stage and showed they could perform under pressure, an attribute that was to serve them well in the final.

Home no advantage it seems

In the first semi-final Pakistan made light of New Zealand’s expected home advantage, by beating the co-hosts for the second time in three days. It seemed that New Zealand, who had been so brilliant throughout the league stage of the tournament, had peaked too early and were caught by a determined Pakistan team whose momentum had gathered pace at precisely the right moment.

New Zealand won the toss and batted, posting a competitive 262, built around another great innings from their captain, Martin Crowe, who scored 91 not out. Again he was ably assisted by Ken Rutherford, who notched up 50. Everyone else chipped in and New Zealand would have felt confident they could defend such a total.

Pakistan started slowly in reply, with Imran Khan scoring a very patient 44. Javed Miandad upped the momentum with his excellent 57 not out from just 69 balls, but it was the unheralded Inzamam-ul-Haq who played the vital knock. He blazed 60 off 37 deliveries, including 7 fours and a six, to make sure Pakistan kept up with the required run rate. Largely thanks to him they cruised home in the end, losing just six wickets, with an over to spare. It was a great win under pressure and proved that Pakistan had the players to win the tournament.

A farcical end to a great match

The second semi-final, between England and South Africa, was a close and fascinating game, until the weather intervened near the end and a glaring mistake was shown in the rules of the tournament.

South Africa won the toss and put England in, backing themselves to chase any score down. England batted well, scoring 252 off their allocated 45 overs. The foundation for this total was laid by Graeme Hick, who posted an excellent 83 off just 90 balls. No-one else got a score of note, but everyone made a few runs and England would have been satisfied with the total they reached.

Like England, South Africa batted as a team and were making a good fist of their reply when the rain came. At that time they needed 22 runs from 13 deliveries, which was a big ask, but not impossible. When the rain stopped, due to the unthought-through rules, they needed an impossible 21 runs off 1 ball. It was a farce, which did no-one any favours, bar England, and made a nonsense of what had been a very good match. Needless to say South Africa lost and could only shake their heads at the situation they had found themselves in. Much thinking was needed regarding the rules for rain and other delays in future one day matches, and the result was the eventual adoption of the complex Duckworth/Lewis system, which has stood the test of time.

Form tells in the final

Though they had played well in their semi-final against South Africa, England were not in the excellent form that had seen them dominate the early stages of the preliminary league. They had ended with an embarrassing loss to Zimbabwe and few of their players were at their best. Pakistan, however, were firing on all cylinders and had a superb blend of youth and experience, which had seen them rise from near elimination to the final.

Winning the toss, Pakistan chose to bat and promptly lost both their openers to Derek Pringle. Unfortunately, for England this brought the great Imran Khan and Javed Miandad together, who, much as they had in the semi-final against New Zealand, steered Pakistan towards a respectable total. This time they got 72 and 58, respectively, which provided the base for Inzamam-ul-Haq and Wasim Akram to launch some explosive late hitting. The 249 that Pakistan eventually got was a good score, but not one they could be totally confident in defending.

England’s reply started badly, with the top four batsmen falling for just 69 runs. It was up to Neil Fairbrother and Allan Lamb to build a middle order recovery, which they did very well. However, when Fairbrother fell to Aaqib Javed and Lamb and Chris Lewis were bowled by two wonder deliveries from Wasim Akram it was all over. England tried to fight on, but were bowled out 22 runs short with only 4 balls left. It was a triumph for Pakistan’s determination and ability, skilfully tempered by Imran Khan’s leadership. It was later revealed that Imran had told his players to play ‘as if you were a cornered tiger’, which was exactly what they did, being most dangerous when they seemed to be in trouble.

After thoughts

The 1992 World Cup was the last to be played by some of the great players of the late 70s and 80s, including Imran Khan, Ian Botham, Graham Gooch, Allan Border, Allan Lamb and Desmond Haynes. It also saw the early indications of what was to come from Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Inzamam-ul-Haq. It was a tournament which embraced innovation, but which proved that everyone playing everyone might be fair, but ultimately took too long and led to too many forgettable matches.

My memory of it is still vivid, though, especially that magic over from Dermot Reeve and those two incredible deliveries from Wasim Akram that seemed to blow England’s chances away. It was somehow fitting that the all-time great player and captain Imran Khan should lift the trophy and never play again. An epic end to an outstanding career.

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