Heartbreaks January 15, 2015

Crowe's fatal gamble

Nagraj Gollapudi
New Zealand's captain had to decide whether to rest in the 1992 semi-final against Pakistan or risk aggravating his injury. He chose to sit out, and watched in agony as it all went to pieces

"Once Inzy started attacking the bowling, we headed into panic" © Getty Images

March 21, 1992. New Zealand were playing Pakistan in the semi-final in Auckland, Martin Crowe's home town. As he walked out for the toss alongside Imran Khan, Crowe had been handed a sheet of paper by one of the local officials, which read: "Weather forecast 21 March. Heavy thunderstorms by 2.30 pm. Rain all afternoon, worsening."

Crowe won the toss and opted to bat, keeping in mind the rain rule, which had been deployed for the first time in the tournament and had teams puzzled about its workings. New Zealand scored 262 and after 25 overs Pakistan were 87 for 2, behind the required run rate.

Crowe wondered why the thunderstorm, that had threatened to arrive halfway through the second innings, was nowhere to be seen. He was in the dressing room with his feet up and his left leg strapped. He had pulled a hamstring during the New Zealand innings and opted to sit out, confident that New Zealand would travel to Melbourne for the final.

"The thunderstorms never arrived till 7'o clock in the evening," Crowe says. It was the third time New Zealand had made the last four; for Pakistan, it was their fourth time in the semis.

The teams had taken contrasting paths. Pakistan were on the verge of heading home, having won just one of their first five matches. But wins in their final three matches and Australia's victory against West Indies paved their way to the final four.

New Zealand had lost just one of their eight matches in the preliminary phase - to Pakistan. From an unsettled unit prior to the tournament and far from a favourite, New Zealand were the bookies' favourites, thanks to their convincing victories against the big teams.

Mark Greatbatch ignored Crowe's suggestion about taking strike against Aaqib Javed and not Wasim Akram, who was responsible for New Zealand losing in Christchurch just three days prior, on what Crowe said was a fast and bouncy surface. At Eden Park, Greatbatch hit both Akram and Aaqib for sixes to make a swift beginning. But Aaqib defeated Greatbatch with a well-disguised slower delivery. Then John Wright went over the top against legspinner Mushtaq Ahmed and was caught in the deep.

Although Crowe and Andrew Jones settled down to take New Zealand to 87 off 25 overs, Pakistan were in control. Then Mushtaq trapped Jones lbw with a topspinner. New man Ken Rutherford struggled to settle down. He had 10 runs from 40 deliveries.

"Ken Rutherford had been in good form. But he seemed to be frozen a little bit. He took a long time to get off the mark - I think he took 25 balls or so, which is an extraordinary amount of time to get off the mark," Crowe said. "Once he broke the shackles he hit some big strokes against the other legspinner, Iqbal Sikander. He peeled off 50-odd in quick time." Rutherford got to his third fifty of the tournament, in 65 balls.

Then Rutherford tried to hook and top-edged into Moin Khan's hands. As Crowe ran for the single, he felt pain in his left hamstring. He was on 81. Heavily strapped by New Zealand physio Mark Plummer, Crowe asked Imran for a runner and got one.

But a terrible mix-up between his runner, Greatbatch, and non-striker Ian Smith forced Crowe to return nine runs short of his second century in the tournament. He blamed himself.

"I had hit it to deep extra-cover. I called because I saw it as an easy two. For some reason Greatbatch got a little bit misaligned. He was running to the far side, where the ball was. As he hesitated Ian Smith had run two. So Greatbach got run out coming back."

Still, New Zealand raised a formidable 262, which Crowe reckoned would easily compare to 300 today. "We thought 262 was 25 runs more than we desired, as 230-240 was the winning total against Australia [in the first match]."

Crowe also felt comfortable to sit out during the Pakistan innings and allow his deputy, Wright, to take over. "If we got 230 I might have been out on the park but because we got 260, we felt that I should not risk my leg."

Pakistan knew the target was steep. Javed Miandad wrote in his autobiography Cutting Edge : "Even though Eden Park has a short boundary, 263 from 50 overs is a demanding target under any conditions. We had, in fact, never reached that total batting second in the World Cup competition. It made us very nervous."

They lost Aamer Sohail in the seventh, trying a sweep shot. Imran walked in at No. 3, and along with Ramiz Raja steadied Pakistan.

Crowe, meanwhile, was fidgety and restless in the dressing room. Along with New Zealand coach Wally Lees, he had laid out an elaborate bowling plan with a heavy emphasis on rotating bowlers. As many as 17 bowling changes were planned and Crowe had worked out how many over spells each of them would bowl in the chase.

"I was the only one who knew the script really," Crowe says. "Lots of bowling changes, short spells, was the key really because that would not allow any batsman to get in." But Wright decided to attack straightaway.

"Danny Morrison had knocked over a couple of Pakistan batsmen in the first over three days earlier. And for some reason John Wright started off with Dipak Patel rather than Danny. I felt that was weird. So everything changed - he just interpreted it completely opposite to the way I did. But he just did not know it as well as I knew it [the plan] and I should have been out in the middle," Crowe says. Incidentally Wright had missed the Christchurch match due to injury.

Pakistan, though they were going slow, still had wickets in hand. But then Ramiz hit straight to Morrison off Willie Watson. Wright then stuck with Gavin Larsen. "I was concerned because our tactics had changed," Crowe said. "We were bowling guys in long spells until they got hit. And we weren't bowling Andrew Jones, our fifth bowler. Andrew Jones had to bowl. And I did not understand why he wasn't."

The ploy of opening with Dipak Patel worked for New Zealand through the tournament, but for the semi-final, Crowe had other plans
The ploy of opening with Dipak Patel worked for New Zealand through the tournament, but for the semi-final, Crowe had other plans © Getty Images

When Wright did finally throw the ball to Harris, Imran and Miandad took a shine to his slow-medium pace. But in going for the big hit, Imran fell. An over later, Pakistan were in some trouble when Saleem Malik, out of form, hit straight into the hands of Rod Latham, the substitute fielder, at short cover.

Pakistan were 140 for 4 after 35 overs, needing 123 from the final 15. New man Inzamam-ul-Haq was clueless. "Inzi walked up to me for advice. He seemed nervous and overawed and looked like he had seen a ghost," Miandad wrote.

Crowe thought applying pressure on a new batsman before the death overs could be vital, but Wright continued with Larsen and Harris. Inzamam got off the mark with a leg-side push that raced to the square-leg boundary. He then hit Harris for another ten runs. Crowe was miserable.

"We had always protected the over - in other words, the last two balls of an over we had always put the maximum men on the boundary when we were defending. But for some reason we did not do that when Inzamam was batting. And he got away with some easy, early boundaries. And since the bowling was not changed around, he just got used to certain bowlers and then started to attack them. And then we headed into a panic. It all happened very quickly. Of course Javed did a good job at the other end, keeping his charge going. He played beautifully, played aggressively. That is why I felt we had to bowl our spinners in the last ten overs."

Pakistan needed 104 from the final 13 overs. At the drinks break after 37 overs, Wright came into the dressing room to visit the toilet. He asked Crowe for the bowling plan. "I said he had to bowl Jones and Patel out straightaway," Crowe said. "Get through four quick overs while Inzamam was settling in. But he did not heed advice. That meant Chris Harris had to bowl in the last five [with Pakistan needing 36 runs]. The writing was on the wall."

Inzamam's fifty came off just 31 balls and he was run out five balls later. But the 87-run partnership had resuscitated Pakistan, and Moin Khan hit the winning runs.

Crowe blames no one but himself. "I had that dilemma of whether to go out on the field and captain the side and probably rule myself out of the final appearance if we made it, or to rest up and think that we had enough and I could kill two birds with one stone by not fielding.

"In other words, the team would win and I would be fit for the final. With what unfolded, I had made a massive mistake in not taking the field despite a hamstring injury, because I was trying to be fit for the final as opposed to getting the team through to the final."

Crowe thought New Zealand could have got the better of England in the final. "We always felt, having beaten England a week earlier that they were on the wane. They looked tired and injured. And we had no problems apart from my hamstring. We felt we really had the measure of England if we got to Melbourne. It was purely bad luck that my leg decided to turn around."

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo