With the 2019 edition of the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup set to begin in May, we look back at the most memorable moments from the tournament’s four-decade-long history. You can read the entire series here.
Moment No 17
A couple of years back, the phrase “brain fade” entered the cricket lexicon courtesy former Australian captain Steve Smith.
The term is as self-explanatory as it is common for most people. Which of us can claim not to have suffered one?
But when a brain fade happens in full public view, say live telecast of a top-flight sports event, it is not just embarrassing or awkward, it becomes a different story altogether and can have far-reaching consequences.
One such unwitting brain fade moment was suffered by former England captain Mike Gatting, who may have well changed the course of ODI cricket.
The year was 1987 and the cricket World Cup was seeing several firsts.
It was the first time the tournament was hosted outside England. It was the first time that West Indies didn’t make the semis (party due to another iconic moment in World Cup history) and it was the first time that Australia, who would go on to become the most successful teams in World Cup history, lifted the trophy.
Jointly hosted by India and Pakistan, the two teams were expected to make the final. But the final turned out to be between two equally intense rivals – England and Australia.
There was going to be a new champion in the format. Australia had lost to West Indies in the inaugural edition 1975 and England had fallen to the same team in 1979. This was their chance to grab the elusive trophy.
Now, back in 1987, Australia was not an ODI superpower yet. Captain Allan Border himself admitted that were a “very unfancied side back in those days.” The team was young and impacted by the retirements of their legendary players.
But in the final, they put up a good batting performance after choosing to bat first at the Eden gardens. The Kolkata crowd, according to those who were there, was firmly behind Border’s team and not with England, the team that had knocked out defending champions India in the semi-finals.
Opener David Boon laid the foundation with a solid 75 off 125 balls while Geoff Marsh (24), Dean Jones (33) and Border (31) chipped it. But it was the T20-style batting of the forgotten Mike Veletta that gave then target the momentum it needed. Veletta smashed an unbeaten 45 from only 31 balls as Australia added 65 runs in the final six overs to finish their innings on 253/5. A formidable target, but one not improbable.
England were in the chase despite opener Tim Robinson scoring a golden duck as Graham Gooch (35) and Bill Athey (58) kept them steady. And with captain Gatting looking set on 41 on 45, it looked like a comfortable chase at 135/2.
Till Allan Border came into the attack, a part-timer who bowled left-arm orthodox spin. In a video interview with ICC, he later said he was “cajoled into it” after Tim May went for runs.
It’s hard to imagine what was going on in the minds of the two captains under pressure. A World Cup final against your oldest rival is a situation that can shatter the best. And it was Gatting who cracked first. And it was a literal, visible crack as he played a shot that can be succinctly described as a brain fade.
With the chase steady, there was no need for a risk on the first ball of a part-timer’s spell. But somehow the reliable Gatting decided to reverse sweep the spinner. This was a time when the reverse sweep was neither a popular nor even common shot. It was unusual to play and that why Gatting went for it in such a big match remains a mystery.
But he did and the ball caught an edge in the bat hit his shoulder and shot up to the right. The wicket-keeper Greg Dyer was so astounded by the potential lollipop on offer, he almost didn’t get it. But a quick dash and it was caught safely, and the winning captain sent his counterpart packing.
Ian Chappell called this ill-fated reverse sweep the turning point of the final. He said that perhaps this was the moment Australia believed they could win the final and they went for it.
Steve Waugh had an interesting take on it in Out Of My Comfort Zone – An Autobiography.
“From my close vantage point, at backward point, the shot was only a few centimetres from entering legendary status. It was obviously premeditated because he was in position early and in fact, hit it almost perfectly – but he finessed it with not quite enough blade, meaning it caught his own shoulder in the way through and popped straight up for a caught-behind dismissal that both sides knew would be influential.
“Gatt’ was like that: a player of enormous talent, an innovative mind and competitive juices, but often with a doomsday cloud hovering above him that seemed to drop bad karma on him from time to time.”
Even then, England came close. Allan Lamb made 45 while Phil DeFreitas got 17 from 10 before being dismissed by a young Steve Waugh. It then fell to Neil Foster and Gladstone Small to get 17 off the last over to be bowled by Craig McDermott. And before the T20 era, that was an almost impossible equation for the lower order.
Australia won their first World Cup trophy by seven runs. They would go on to win four more, three of them back-to-back, to become the most successful team in history. Border would go on to become one of their biggest legends, not so much for his bowling. On the other hand, England’s wait for the trophy continues to this day.
You can watch Gatting’s moment of madness here.