The Eagerly Awaited Title Clash That Never Took Place
Down Memory Lane - a TC Sports column
India’s overall record in the Fifty 50 World Cup is decidedly mixed. Twice champions, runners-up once, three time semifinalists, eliminated at the group or preliminary stage four times and at the Super Six stage once is a balance sheet that has slightly more ups than downs. But if there is one campaign in which the Indian team raised the hopes of their fans sky high and then dashed them to earth it has to be the 1987 World Cup.
Three decades ago interest in the country had finally shifted from Test cricket to the one day game thanks to the unexpected World Cup triumph in 1983. And enthusiasm for the 1987 World Cup was at fever pitch as it was the first to be played outside England. The sub continent won the right to stage the event and India and Pakistan were joint hosts. And on the eve of the competition the co-hosts were listed as joint favourites for the title. Not only did they have home advantage but they also had well balanced outfits. The Indian team in particular had the nucleus of the triumphant World Cup squad of four years ago and everyone was already looking forward to the dream conclusion of an India – Pakistan final at the Eden Gardens in Calcutta. Among the other sides only West Indies and England seemed to have a chance while Australia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Sri Lanka were all considered outsiders.
India were placed in Pool A along with Australia, Zimbabwe and New Zealand. Kapil Dev was again the captain and other heroes from the triumphant 1983 squa included Sunil Gavaskar, Kris Srikkanth, Roger Binny, Dilip Vengsarkar and Ravi Shastri. The team’s batting was strong with Navjot Singh Sidhu and Md Azharuddin also around while the bowling with three seamers (Kapil, Chetsn Sharma and Manoj Prabhakar) and two spinners in Shastri and Maninder Singh looked balanced for limited overs cricket in Indian conditions.
It was fairly obvious that the semifinals from this pool would be India and Australia. Pool B looked to be tougher because Pakistan, England and West Indies were grouped together with the fourth team being Sri Lanka. Pakistan however were off to a flyer with and with five straight victories were the first team to make it to the semifinal. The juggernaut was however halted in the last group match with West Indies defeating them by 28 runs. That did not stop Pakistan from topping the group comfortably. England with two well deserved wins over the West Indies was the second team from the group to make it to the semifinals.
India lost their opening game against Australia by one run but thereafter they could do little wrong and went from one emphatic victory to another. Five straight wins saw the team peaking and they topped the group just ahead of Australia managing to avoid a potentially dangerous clash with Pakistan in the semifinal. Both India and Australia ended with a record of five wins and one loss but the co-hosts topped the group on a slightly better net run rate.
So the stage was set for the semifinals between India and England at Bombay and Pakistan and Australia at Lahore making the path clear it seemed for the final that everyone was waiting for since the start of the tournament. Pakistan were clear favourites against Australia and India were in a similar position against England who had a record of four wins and two losses in the group. Every cricket fan was already looking beyond the semifinals to the grand finale between India and Pakistan even as the Eden Gardens was being decked up for the big occasion.
Pakistan had lost a bit of its momentum with the loss to the West Indies but everyone reckoned that it was only a bit of a stutter and they would regroup strongly against Australia. Allan Border’s unheralded team however pulled the rug from under their feet with a totally unexpected 18-run victory, All over India there was much rejoicing for it was felt that Australia had made India’s task of retaining the World Cup that much easier. However on the following day India went down to a shock 35-run defeat to England. Indian cricket fans were too stunned to react. This was a result they could never have envisaged and it took a long time for them to come to terms with it. They could not accept that an England team which was no match for a well oiled Indian machine – or so they thought – had won the semifinal encounter.
Particularly galling was the manner in which India had collapsed. Chasing an eminently gettable target of 255 India were on course at 168 for four needing 87 runs more in 15 overs with six wickets intact. Kapil Dev however played a rash stroke at this stage after getting 30 off just 22 balls and the skipper’s dismissal in the ultimate analysis was the crucial, almost decisive moment. Azharuddin and Shastri took the score to 204 without further loss and India needing just 51 runs from ten overs were still favourites to win and make the title clash. In a swift slide however the last five wickets fell for just 15 runs with off spinner Eddie Hemmings taking three of them and the Wankhede stadium was stunned into silence as the Indian innings was suddenly terminated at 219 in the 46th over.
So there was no India – Pakistan title clash at the Eden Gardens. As more than one cricket follower commented ''the marriage pandal was decorated and ready but both the bride and groom were missing.’’ Instead the contestants were Australia and England and even though the final drew 90,000 spectators to the ground there was a strange lack of atmosphere. The spectators had obviously purchased tickets for an India – Pakistan final and they came over to witness the match most reluctantly and were comparatively subdued. For the record Australia won by seven runs to win the World Cup for the first time but for days afterwards it was only the semifinal defeats of India and Pakistan that were being discussed. The way in which hopes of sub continental cricket fans soared and the manner in which they were dashed remains unique to the fourth World Cup