© Stamp Publicity
The five-week long cricket carnival was not just the first to be held in Australiasia. It was also the first to feature night cricket, coloured clothing, white balls and black sightscreen all the innovations brought into the game by Australian TV tycoon Kerry Packer in 1977 while promoting the breakaway World Series Cricket. But the most welcome feature of the fifth edition of the World Cup was South Africa's return to the international arena. In fact, the fixtures had already been drawn up with eight contestants when the decision was taken to re-admit South Africa. The organisers drew up a fresh fixture list and for the first time nine nations took part. The format was also changed. All the teams took part in a league competition in which they all played each other once. The top four teams qualified for the semifinals.
Australia were the favourites as the tournament commenced and few could argue with that. The holders had the home advantage besides being arguably the leading team in the world. But they were off to a bad start losing to New Zealand by 37 runs in the tournament opener and little went right for them after that and, though, they came briefly into contention for a berth in the semifinals with two straight victories late in the campaign, they were edged out. Ultimately they finished fifth in the league table with four victories and four defeats. Both the batting and bowling presented problems, symbolised by Allan Border scoring just 60 runs at an average of 8.57 and no bowler taking more than nine wickets. Some good work with the bat by David Boon, who hit two hundreds and Dean Jones were not enough to sustain the campaign beyond the preliminary stage.
The co-hosts fared much better. In fact, for a long while, New Zealand seemed the team to beat, for they registered seven successive wins. This surpassed the record held by the West Indies who scored six victories on the trot in 1983. They went down to a resurgent Pakistan team in their final league match but still finished clearly on top in the final standings. Imaginative strategies such as promoting big-hitting left-hander Mark Greatbach to the opening slot to take maximum advantage in the first 15 overs and having off-spinning all-rounder Dipak Patel to open the bowling were responsible for this dream run and underlined the fact that innovation is the name of the game in one-day cricket. The batting of Martin Crowe and Andrew Jones and the bowling of Gavin Larsen, Willie Watson and Chris Harris made New Zealand the `hot' team of the tournament until the end of the league stage.
Not unexpectedly, the return of South Africa evoked much interest and the team acquitted itself most creditably. The batting of Peter Kirsten, skipper Kepler Wessels and Andrew Hudson and the bowling of Allan Donald and Brian McMillan saw South Africa comfortably make the semifinals after they finished third in the league with five wins and three losses. But the one quality that made South Africa huge favourites with the spectators was their work in the field. Led by Jonty Rhodes, who carried fielding to the kind of standards that one had not witnessed before, South Africa were outstanding in this aspect.
They put up a gallant display in the semifinal against England and were in with a chance of making the title round. But a fiveminute rain delay robbed them of a possible victory. When play resumed, the huge scoreboard gave the unpalatable information that South Africa needed 22 runs off one ball for victory. This was of course impossible and exposed the absurdity of the rules.
England had a good tournament and deservingly made the final for the second successive year and for the third time in four competitions. They suffered a jolt when they lost to Zimbabwe in their final league match in the upset of the tournament and were probably a shade lucky to make the title round after South Africa were balked by rain in the semifinal. In the final, Pakistan almost always had the match under control and England went down by 22 runs. The batting of Graham Gooch, Graeme Hick, Neil Fairbrother and Alec Stewart, the bowling of Dermot Reeve and Phil DeFreitas and the all-round exploits of Ian Botham were the factors behind England's splendid showing.
The other teams never really had much of a chance, though, West Indies briefly were in the run for a spot in the semifinals. They finished with a record of four wins and four defeats and the batting of Brian Lara, Desmond Haynes and Keith Arthurton and the bowling of Anderson Cummins and Winston Benjamin were the few crumbs of comfort. For India, it was a campaign to forget. Little went right for them and the final standing of seventh was something that not even the most cynical follower of the game in the country would have bargained for. Two victories, five losses and one no result was a poor return for a team which had a number of fine players. Mohammad Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar came good with the bat while Manoj Prabhakar did well with the ball but these silver linings were woefully inadequate. Sri Lanka (two wins, five losses and one no result) and Zimbabwe (just that shock victory over England which followed seven straight defeats) were never really in the hunt for higher honours and they brought up the rear. But the performances of Arjuna Ranatunga and Roshan Mahanama for Sri Lanka and Andy Flower and Eddo Brandes for Zimbabwe did not go unnoticed.
And a new star was discovered in Inzamam-ul-Haq. The burly righthander was at his blazing best in the semifinal when he slammed 60 off just 37 balls to steer Pakistan to victory after New Zealand seemed to have the match in the bag. Overall, however, it was Imran's inspiring leadership he also pulled in his weight with both bat and ball that was a key factor in Pakistan's triumph.