Sunday, 9 March 2014

1985: World Championship of Cricket

The Greatest Show on Turf. In truth, the 1985 World Championships of Cricket failed to live up to its billing - The Wettest of Damp Squibs may have been a better tag line - the unofficial World Cup contested in Australia between the seven Test playing nations failing to catch the imagination of the public. In fact, the tournament raised many concerns about the direction cricket was taking, as journalists and players alike voiced their opinions on a variety of matters, from player burn out to the flogging of the one day game. The greatest show on turf it wasn't.

The tournament was supposedly established to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Victoria, although many felt that this was just an excuse for Kerry Packer, the various cricket boards, and players to make cash. If money was the real incentive, then in this regard the World Championships of Cricket was an unmitigated failure. Prior to the tournament it was estimated that an average gate of 30,000 would be enough for the Victorian Cricket Board to make a profit, but with attendances of 6956 at the India/Pakistan group match, 7499 for New Zealand's clash with the West Indies, and less than 8000 turning up for the England/Pakistan game, the hope of financial prosperity vanished into thin air.

A lack of any close matches hardly helped matters, neither did the lopsided nature of the groups, an unfortunate consequence of only having seven teams involved. The countries were split into two groups, Australia, England, India and Pakistan in Group A, with the West Indies, New Zealand and Sri Lanka in the other, the top two from each progressing to the semi-finals. As Sri Lanka were still finding their feet at international level, this meant that effectively the other two nations in that pool already had a foot in the semi-finals, a situation made worse when the match between the West Indies and New Zealand was abandoned due to rain.

Packer's influence over proceedings would be evident throughout the thirteen matches spread over 22 days. Coloured "pyjama" clothing would be worn, with two white balls used per innings (one from each end). Black sight screens, fielding restrictions, and Daddles the Duck were present, all key components of the "Packer Pirate Circus" as the Daily Mirror called it. Another Packer innovation would make its debut at the MCG, as day-night cricket was played under the new floodlights at the famous old ground (Sydney was the other venue used). To many, it just wasn't cricket, and as the tournament developed, the dissenting voices grew louder and louder.

The overwhelming favourites for the event were the West Indies, hardly surprising considering that they had only lost five ODIs in 38 matches since their shock defeat in the 1983 World Cup final to India, their odds of 1/3 indicating where the bookies thought the title was going. In what would be Clive Lloyd's final appearances at international level, the Caribbean juggernaut was expected to continue where they had left off in the recent World Series Cup in Australia, where they had beaten Australia 2-1 in the finals, after winning all ten qualification matches previously.

Despite being reigning world champions, India were 12/1, and with Australia second favourites at 5/1 and England at 8/1, the Indians and Pakistanis were not even expected to get out of their group. Colin Bateman, writing in the Daily Express was extremely bullish over England's prospects: "England should qualify nevertheless. They are still tactically superior to all three Group opponents at the limited-over version of cricket, and have as good a side as anyone here apart from the West Indies".

On paper England seemed fine, but in reality the players involved were not in the right place mentally for the challenges ahead. After a gruelling four-month tour of India, where Gower's men had triumphed in adversity, the visit to Australia was hardly ideal, motivation for the tournament lacking after what had gone before. A lacklustre warm-up match against a Sydney Metropolitan XI should have been enough of a wake-up call for what was to follow, as quite frankly, England bombed.

The opening ceremony, involving an Olympic style procession of the competing countries, along with military bands, fireworks, tumbling clowns, and parachutists, was the prelude to probably the biggest match of the tournament, as England took on Australia under the new lights at Melbourne. Prime Minister Bob Hawke tossed the coin, which David Gower called correctly, but that was about as good as it got for the visitors.

In front of 82,424, England actually started well, new opener Paul Downton, and Graeme Fowler putting on 61 for the first wicket. Within the space of five overs, both had gone though, as had Gower, and although Allan Lamb and Mike Gatting fought back, another clutch of wickets resulted in England limping meekly to 214/8 from their 49 overs (Australia did not bowl their overs in time, resulting in a fine).

At 58/3, England had a sniff, but two 23-year-old batsmen put an end to any lingering hopes of an opening win. Robbie Kerr, playing in only his second international match, and Dean Jones put on 167 in 30 overs, as Australia comfortably reached their target with a little under four overs to spare. The defeat did not spell the end for England, but it was a sign of things to come.

Although in hindsight the tournament was not a rip-roaring success, it did at least showcase the talents of two young men that would become big names in the sport; Mohammad Azharuddin and Wasim Akram. Both had made impressions in their brief international careers thus far. Azharuddin's three centuries in his first three Tests against England were proof enough that here was a special talent, and Akram had announced himself to the world by taking 10/128 in only his second Test against New Zealand in Dunedin, a match in which Akram had struck Lance Cairns on the head and almost forced him to miss the World Championships.

Akram would go wicketless against India, Azharuddin's sublime knock of 93 not out anchoring India's successful run-chase. But he certainly made up for it in Pakistan's win over Australia in front of a crowd of 19,224, a spell of 5/13 in 28-balls ripping out the heart of the Australian innings, giving Pakistan an easy 62-run victory, and leaving Australia, India and Pakistan each on two points.

England desperately needed a win in Sydney over the Indians, but injuries to Tim Robinson and Chris Cowdrey left them with only twelve fit players to choose from, and yearning for the return of the absent Ian Botham - during his self-imposed rest, Beefy had been busy attending Scunthorpe Magistrates Court and had received a fine for possessing cannabis. India had lost the one-day series 4-1 at home when the two sides had met in the winter, but with six of the 1983 World Cup final team playing in Sydney, this was a different affair.

The match seemed to be in the balance at the halfway point of England's innings. Chasing 236, England moved to 94/1, yet skipper Gower's dismissal loosened the first bolt, as the wheels well and truly came off, the last eight wickets falling for just 54 runs, a batting collapse right up there in England's impressive list of the decade. The spin duo of Laxman Sivaramakrishnan and Ravi Shastri ran through the England batting order, taking a combined 6/69 in their 20 overs, as England succumbed meekly.

Technically England still had a chance to make the semis, yet Gower was realistic about their hopes: "Instead of having a chance of sneaking into the semi-final by the back door, all that is left now to us is the cat flap - and that's fairly firmly shut".

England manager Tony Brown was fairly candid regarding his assessment of England's showings. "The squad was thrown together in India, there was often not much to do and even net practice came as a light relief. There are alternative forms of entertainment (in Australia), the players have been visiting friends and relations and motivation after India may have been a problem". Brown would also be one of many Englishmen to brand this form of the game as "not real cricket", which was telling. More of which later.

With no motivation and a holiday atmosphere surrounding the mini-tour, a comical loss to a New South Wales Second XI was almost inevitable, England dismissed for 111 in a shambolic display. This snowballed on to the Pakistan match, as England attempted in vain to chase Pakistan's 213 at a rate of 6.55 runs an over, in order to overhaul Pakistan and then hope for an Indian victory over Australia the next day.
Fittingly, England fell well short, dismissed for 146 in 24.2 overs, only Lamb's 81 from 69 balls preventing a complete embarrassment; Lamb would later win the Kit-Kat strike-rate champion at the end of the tournament, so England did win something at least.

Any hope that the tournament could come alive was dashed the very next day, as India crushed Australia by eight wickets to well and truly bring the party to an end. In what was Australia's 21st ODI in the last six months, John Woodcock of The Times detailed the concerns of skipper Allan Border: "Border yesterday accused administrators of overkill in one-day cricket. He said the Australian public had become tired of it, and the workload on his side was unbearable". Too much cricket and player burnout was beginning to raise its head even back in the 1980s.

Once the West Indies-New Zealand match was rained off, Group B merely came down to which of these two teams could defeat Sri Lanka the most emphatically. The farcical nature of the abandonment only seemed to reflect the peculiar nature of the competition: the match started on Feb 19, but the reserve day was switched to Feb 21, so that the rearranged fixture did not clash with the India-Pakistan contest. Indeed the reason the tournament spanned 22 days was so that every individual match could be shown on Packer's Channel Nine, which meant that after New Zealand defeated Sri Lanka by 51 runs on Feb 23, the squad went home for a week whilst the rest of the tournament dragged on.

The West Indies did top the group, their eight wicket win with 23.5 overs to spare, enough to give them a superior run rate to New Zealand. However, the victory was not without incident, with Ashantha de Mel drawing blood from Richie Richardson's cheekbone, Rumesh Ratnayake breaking the nose of Larry Gomes and removing two of Gomes' teeth at the same time, and Clive Lloyd also struck on the head. The same Melbourne pitch had been used five times in the tournament, which probably went a long way to explaining the uneven bounce the Sri Lankans exploited, and the general low scoring throughout.

Eventually the semi-finals arrived; India v New Zealand at Sydney, and the West Indies v Pakistan at Melbourne. For the only time in the tournament, India would concede over 200 runs, although New Zealand's total of206 never looked like being enough. Madan Lal with 4/34 and Shastri (3/31) did the damage, with only John Reid managing to pass 50 for the New Zealanders.

In reply, Richard Hadlee was at his miserly best, his first six overs costing just 12 runs, and when India reached 102/3 - Shastri making 53 - there appeared to be a brief glimmer of a chance for Geoff Howarth's team. But a 105 run partnership between Dilip Vengsarkar and Kapil Dev ended any doubt, Hadlee's last 2.3 overs going for 38 runs, as Dev in particular cut loose. The world champions were once again in a one-day final, with the cricketing world now awaiting a repeat of the 1983 World Cup final, as the West Indies took on Pakistan in the other semi.

Pakistan's subsequent win was met with general shock in the British press. "The sparse 11,433 crowd could hardly believe that the Caribbean giants were being so utterly humbled," wrote the Daily Mirror's Chris Lander, under a headline of "KINGS SENT PACKING". After Tahir Naqqash had removed Haynes, Richardson and Richards in quick succession, Mudassar Nazar got to work, taking 5/28, as the West Indies could only muster 159, Clive Lloyd top scoring with just 25 in his last match. Rameez Raja's 60 helped Pakistan to a comfortable win with four overs to spare, and the favourites were out, although they did win the Plate final - the third-place play-off to you and me - against New Zealand.

Before the start of the World Championship of Cricket, Sunil Gavaskar had announced that he would be stepping down as captain after the event. What an appropriate way to end, much better than the criticism and abuse that had come his way during England's successful tour. Both teams would be missing key players for the final - India without Roger Binny who was suffering from a temperature, and Pakistan lacking Wasim Akram after he had chipped a finger in practice - but with a crowd of 35,296 at the MCG, hopes were high for an exciting final that the tournament desperately needed.

Alas it didn't quite turn out like that. Three wickets from Kapil Dev soon helped to reduce Pakistan to 33/4, a situation that could have been a whole lot worse when the Indians were convinced that Imran Khan had been caught behind before he had scored. Imran, who before the championships had missed 18 months of international cricket due to injury, steadied the ship along with the captain Javed Miandad, but Imran's run out and three wickets from the impressive Sivaramakrishnan restricted Pakistan to 176/9. It was the only time that India didn't bowl out their opponents in Australia, although this was obviously of little concern to the world champions.

Then it was time for the Srikkanth and Shastri show, as the openers continued their fine form in the tournament, putting on 103 for the first wicket. Srikkanth's 67 earned him the man of the match award, but it would be Shastri who would scoop the Benson and Hedges Champion of Champions prize for the player of the event. Shastri's 182 runs and 8 wickets put him marginally ahead of Srikkanth (238 runs) and Sivaramakrishnan (10 wickets), his reward a £25,000 Audi which he enjoyed taking for a spin around the MCG with his team mates after India had wrapped up an easy eight wicket win.

"The players have delivered the perfect present in my last game as captain of my country," stated Gavaskar, as reports came through of Indian supporters dancing in the streets back home, in stark contrast to the scenes at Bangalore in January that had seen irate supporters hurl bottles at the Indian team during a ODI loss against England. There could be no doubting that throughout the Indians had been the dominant side, and had fully deserved their victory - ten individual fifties and 49 wickets out of a possible 50 highlighting this point - as India's completed the World Cup and World Championship of Cricket double.

And so ended a tournament that failed massively to live up to the hype, the British press collectively scathing in their criticism. The Daily Express' Pat Gibson described the event as "...a garish television spectacular utilising a bat and ball staged in concrete stadia under floodlights with war-painted warriors in multi-coloured clothes", adding "Indeed, I am not sure that we should call it cricket at all". He was not alone.

John Woodcock raised concerns about the future of the Test cricket: "In the meantime Test cricket will continue to be dwarfed by the infinitely more superficial one-day game, and the next generation of Australian cricketers will think that the right way to play is the way of heave and slog which they see, night after night, on television". Woodcock's readers were equally appalled, a Mr Edward Pursglove penning the following letter: "Sir, considering the depths of farce the game of cricket has been reduced to nowadays with its funny headgear, pyjama clothing, barracking from spectators, etc, is it not time that the word ceased to be used as a simile for fair play?" To traditionalists in England, this just wasn't cricket.

However, there were voices of discontent in Australia too, Allan Border distinctly unhappy with the overload of one day cricket."Everything is suffering - Tests the Sheffield Shield. The people, even the players, are starting to say 'Oh God, not another one-day match'," complained Border, an opinion that certainly gained credibility during Australia's Test woes of the mid-1980s.

Sport is often cyclical. For the gripes with one day cricket back in the 1980s, read the issues surrounding the growth of Twenty20 cricket in the modern era; too much cricket, over commercialisation, concerns relating to player techniques, and most important of all, the role for Test cricket in the sport. Back then, just as now, there was a real worry that Test cricket would be swamped by the growth of the shorter versions of the game. When you see a Test series as gripping as the recent South Africa-Australia contest, then you wonder how this can be.

The World Championship of Cricket would never reappear, the 1985 event a one-off. In the ever expanding calendar of one day cricket, finding a space would have been a challenge, and there didn't seem much call for a repeat. Incredibly, just 12 days after the final, the Rothmans Trophy commenced in Sharjah, as the players of India, Pakistan, Australia and England were expected to put their bodies through more, as fans tried their best to get excited about yet another one day tournament. India won that too, so perhaps the state of the sport may have been in doubt, but there could be no disputing who were the one day experts at the time.

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