World Cup 1987: The Spark, The Australian Heritage > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more

Cricket news - World Cup 1987: The spark of the Australian legacy

"We got really good at one-day cricket, then got our Test cricket going forward us and when the Australian team won the Ashes in 1989, it signalled the onset of Australian cricket making a march towards what was to come."

In the build-up to the 2019 World Cup, Cricbuzz is publishing an eleven-part series to reminisce every bygone edition. In this fourth instalment, Craig McDermott recalls how the "worst team ever to go to a World Cup" sparked the beginning of what turned out to be a legacy of world domination, with their maiden title.

It might sound preposterous now, but there was a time an Australian team went into a cricket World Cup as relative no-hopers. They of course ended up then going on to win and laid the seeds for an all-conquering run. But back when Allan Border left for India with a rag-tag bunch of youngsters, some of whom like Steve Waugh, David Boon and Craig McDermott would go on to have stellar careers, they hadn't won a Test series in nearly four years and their one-day form was scratchy to say the least. It was arguably the darkest period in Australian cricket history before the Cape Town fiasco.

Craig McDermott: We were struggling at the time in Test cricket. We left the country as the worst team ever to go to a World Cup. We were quite a young side except for probably AB. We had a good bunch of young guys though who wanted to work hard, train hard and become the best we could possibly become at the time. It was great that we had that opportunity at the time. We were obviously excited to go. The rest of the guys had played a reasonable amount of Test cricket but as a one-day side we had done okay in the Benson & Hedges and things like that. When we got to India, everything just gelled well.

Former inspirational captain Bob Simpson had taken over the reins as the first-ever official coach of the Australian team a year earlier and in tandem with Border brought back the quintessential "always in it to win it" belief that had gone missing from the ranks. He also decided to organise practice sessions at the Chepauk stadium in Chennai (Madras then), where most from the squad had been a part of the dramatic tied Test 12 months prior.

McDermott: Bob Simpson did a great job in preparing us, and Errol Alcott, our physio, kept certain guys on the park when needed. It was just a great team effort. A number of us had been there the year before for the Test series. So we knew what to expect. The Poms (England team) and the New Zealanders took doctors. They were all paranoid about getting sick. We weren't. We knew what it would be like, and just got on with the job and played great cricket.

Australia began their campaign against defending champions and hosts India in Chennai. And much like in 1986, this game too went down to the wire though Border & Co. ensured that India finished two runs short of their target and won by a run. Though there was no three-figure score for Dean Jones, he did manage to play an integral role in the drama. A big hit off Maninder Singh had been adjudged as a four but Jones insisted that it had gone over the ropes, and at the innings break the Aussie team decided to have a word with the umpires.

McDermott: The only thing I remember is our manager Alan Crompton going to the umpires' room and arguing whether we had hit a six and not a four. That got changed courtesy our manager, Alan Crompton, and the score was changed and we won by a run. It was a very tense game. The crowd was going for India, the first game of the World Cup and winning by a run. We got better and better as the tournament went on.

Like in 1983, the teams had to face each opponent within their group twice before the top two qualified for the semifinals, and while India did exact revenge in their second outing, the Aussies overcame the Kiwis both times by narrow margins while comfortably seeing off Zimbabwe. Though not the most talented or experienced team on paper, the Aussies made up by training harder than everyone else.

McDermott: We believed that we go could actually win this after we beat India in that game. We trained probably harder than most other teams. We even had the Poms try and copy our fielding drills by the time we go to the finals. There was the time after we beat New Zealand we were out doing fielding drills at 6 am at the front of our hotel, where the New Zealand team was also staying. That wasn't great fun. (laughs) But we actually enjoyed our time in India, and I have always loved it there. We had a ball. I know a few guys from New Zealand struggled a bit there. We had a very tight-knit unit.

When Australia reached Lahore for the semifinal against the co-hosts, many in Pakistan believed this would be the last time they would be seeing their beloved Imran Khan in action in front of his home fans. And with India taking on England in the other semi, some had already started looking forward to a feisty final between the two neighbours instead of an age-old rivalry being played out on the grandest stage in world cricket. But the Australians ended up playing party-poopers in more ways than one. McDermott led the way with the ball finishing with 5-44 after Imran had kept his country's hopes alive.

McDermott: There were 40,000 people there and when I got the last wicket, you could hear a pin drop. It was just a great effort. Steve Waugh hit 18 off the last over, and we got home. I bowled well, we fielded well, again it was another team effort that got us home in a place where everybody in the world told us you're going to get beaten by Pakistan in Pakistan (no Australian team had won an ODI there before that). I got most wickets in the World Cup (18) and I held that record for a while. The pitches had nothing at all. Like everyone else, I too had developed a slower ball.

The Australian team were flown straight to Kolkata (Calcutta then) in a chartered flight for the final, and they would find a majority of the 100,000-odd supporters cheering for them.

McDermott: That was the fact, and again we just played really good cricket and the Indian people had a very good reason to support us and not the Poms.

David Boon, Geoff Marsh and Dean Jones provided a solid platform taking the score to 151 for 2 when McDermott found himself promoted up the order in one of the first instances of a pinch-hitter being used in a big World Cup game. He made only 14 off 8 balls, but it was good enough to get the English to change their plans.

McDermott: I just found out as the game progressed. I was told just better pad up, we'd done that on a number of occasions and it came off for us.

The England run-chase, for good reason, is always remembered for the failed attempt at the reverse-sweep from skipper Mike Gatting that turned the tide of the match. The lower-order though kept them in the game. But as he prepared to bowl the final ball of the match with England needing 8, McDermott had recalled Marsh running up to him and saying, "do anything but bowl a no-ball". He kept his front-foot within the crease, and helped his team cross the line to one of the loudest roars ever heard around Eden Gardens.

McDermott: I loved bowling in the death, and just another challenge, and bowled a good last over and we won. It felt like just another over in cricket.

Australia would go on to create a legacy of world domination over the next decade-and-a-half, and end up lifting the trophy on four more occasions. Many believe, and justifiably so, that it all began on that winter evening in Calcutta.

McDermott: It was one of the turning points and we got really good at one-day cricket, then got our Test cricket going forward us and when the Australian team won the Ashes in 1989, it signalled the onset of Australian cricket making a march towards what was to come.

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