World Cup rewind: When Australian cricketers felt nervous after beating Pakistan in 1987 semis & ‘ran away’

Australia were far from favourites in a tournament which was played in the sub-continent, not considered the best suitable for outside teams.

Australian cricketers
Australian cricketers. (Photo Source: Getty Images)
Shubham Ghosh

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Allan Border’s Australia had arrived to play the fourth edition of the cricket World Cup in India and Pakistan in 1987 as underdogs. With no title yet under their belt (the Aussies’ best performance at that point was them ending as the finalists in the 1975 edition), Australia were far from favourites in a tournament which was played in the sub-continent, not considered the best suitable for outside teams. But after Border’s men stunned India by one run in the first match in Chennai (then Madras), their journey got the touch of a qualitative change.

Australia gave Kapil Dev’s India, the defending champions a challenging competition to finish as the group toppers. They beat New Zealand twice and Zimbabwe twice and looked favourites to end up as the group champions but for Chetan Sharma and Sunil Gavaskar. The duo’s special efforts helped India blow away New Zealand in Nagpur in their final group encounter that put them ahead of the Kangaroos in terms of the net run-rate and avoid playing Pakistan in Pakistan in the semi-finals.

Australia were up with a tough task of playing Pakistan in their backyard

Australia instead were left to face Imran Khan’s Pakistan, considered favourites alongside India, in that edition. The match was in Lahore and Australia had little to gain confidence from history since they had never beaten Pakistan in their den in an ODI till then. The job in hand was not easy for Australia but they had the momentum. On November 4, Border won the toss and elected to bat first.

Despite Imran’s 3 for 36, Pakistan were not too up to the mark on that day with their bowling and the visitors went on to score 267 for 8 in 50 overs – a score which was always tricky.

Opener David Boon scored 65 while the find of that season, Mile Valetta, scored 48. Dean Jones chipped in with 38 while the other opener, Geoff Marsh, scored 31. Pakistan had a bad start and despite a 112-run partnership between veterans Javed Miandad (70) and Imran (58), the day was not Pakistan’s as they were bowled out for 249 in 49 overs, losing the game by 18 runs. Craig McDermott, the highest wicket-taker of the 1987 WC, bagged five wickets for 44 runs.

The grimace on dictator Zia’s face made the Australians nervous

Australia made their second World Cup final and a fresh hope rose about bagging the title for the first time. However, things did not look too comfortable for them after they shattered Pakistan’s hopes in front of their home crowd. Even the Pakistani dictator of the time, Zia-ul-Haq wore a grimace on his face at the presentation ceremony that had made the Australians really nervous. The mood among the local people was sombre.

As per a piece in The Australian, the “frozen rictus” on the face of Zia made the Australian cricketers tense. It cited Bruce Wilson of The Herald saying: “not a sight one would like to have as one’s last on earth”.

Greg Dyer, the Australian wicketkeeper who took four catches in the match, quoted his team manager as they returned from the ground. “Shit boys, I’m not sure I like the look of this. We’d better get out of here”, the Australian added. Dyer later described how they packed up fast and rushed to the waiting bus for the quickest exit. He said it was the only day in his career when he left a cricket ground with his spikes on.

In Calcutta, Australia were the locals’ favourites

Mike Veletta batting for Australia against Pakistan. (Photo by Getty Images)

Australia’s next destination was Kolkata (then Calcutta) where the final was to be played and the players left in a chartered flight. In India, however, Border’s side found things contrasting as the local supporters backed them – for two reasons. One, they had beaten the arch-rivals Pakistan and secondly, the Englishmen were not backed since they beat the home team in the other semi-final.

Border’s men didn’t let their supporters down as they went on to beat England by seven runs in the final on November 8 to lift the trophy for the first time. It was a rebirth for Australian cricket as they replaced the West Indies as the new power centre in the world of cricket and went on to win it for four more times in the next 28 years.

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