Left arm spinners, Steve Waugh and India’s near misses twice in a row 

September 27, 2023 12:30 am | Updated September 29, 2023 11:51 am IST

File picture of Australia’s Steve Waugh.

File picture of Australia’s Steve Waugh. | Photo Credit: N. Sridharan - The Hindu Archives

The year was 1987. Sunil Gavaskar was to retire soon, Sachin Tendulkar hadn’t yet made his appearance in the Indian consciousness. Goa had become the 25th State of the Indian union. The population hadn’t touched a billion yet. Scandals over defence deals had been exposed in the media. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s ‘Mr Clean’ image was taking a beating. Writing in the Asian Journal, a think tank analyst said, “Indian democracy is on trial.” And World champions India hosted the first World Cup outside England.

The first-ever World Cup match in India was played in Chennai 36 years ago. A year earlier at the same venue, Maninder Singh had been dismissed leg before to signal only the second tied Test. Now here he was again, last man, with India needing two to win. You couldn’t blame him if his only thought was Oh No Not Again! Steve Waugh knocked back his stumps to give Australia victory by one run.

It was a dramatic start to the tournament and gave an early hint to the spirit of the Australian team which went on to win it and dominate world cricket for a few years. They had lost the home Ashes earlier, and five previous ODIs. Waugh, then 22, a bit of a bowler and a bit of a batsman, but one of the heroes of the Cup and later a world-beating batsman was to say the Australians were “rank outsiders.”

When a four became a six

In the Australian innings, Dean Jones had hit Maninder for a six which the neutral umpire signalled a four. At the break, the correction was made after the Australians spoke to the umpire. Sitting in the press box for my first World Cup match I thought it would be ironical if India lost by one run. Every run matters is an enduring cliché in the game.

India had won the title four years earlier and were captained once again by Kapil Dev, one of the heroes of that tournament. He had sportingly conceded that Jones’ shot might have been a six although Ravi Shastri, the fielder near the boundary had said it was a four.

It was too early for controversies. Australia were not taken seriously as opposition then (Zaheer Abbas said they were no better than a club side), and at any rate India had the firepower to get past their 270. They were 202 for two with some 15 overs to go, but managed to mess it up. Medium pacer Craig McDermott, after initial punishment, carved through the middle order finishing with four for 56.

It ended with the late Dean Jones throwing the ball into the crowd — not in a gentle looping arc, but with the force of a cover point looking for a run out. Luckily it missed a lady spectator.

Best-laid plans scuttled

Before the tournament began the hope was that India would beat Pakistan in the final at Eden Gardens in Kolkata and everybody would live happily ever after (in India, that is). Pakistan lost the semifinal to Australia in Lahore while England beat India in Mumbai, and fans discovered again what happens sometimes to the best-laid plans.

The cricket board toyed with the idea of having a third-place match between India and Pakistan, but the players, understandably, weren’t interested and did what anyone would do under the circumstances. They demanded an exorbitant fee, and the idea was dropped.

Bob Simpson, Australia’s coach had emphasised the importance of singles in one-day cricket, the importance of denying the bowler a dot ball. It is not something coaches today harp on because boundaries and sixes come more easily thanks to superior bats, fitter players, shorter boundaries, improved striking techniques and the influence of T20 cricket. Simpson also had a list of do’s and don’ts pasted onto kit bags, the most important being, To lose patience is to lose the battle. Modern coaches probably believe that too much patience can sometimes lose the battle.

At the next World Cup, India lost to Australia in Brisbane, venue of the first tied Test, by one run. Again a left arm spinner — Venkatapathy Raju — was last out, run out. Again it was Waugh who caused the dismissal, picking up and throwing to the ’keeper. Raju was out of the crease by a yard, so in effect India lost by 23 yards.

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