1992 World Cup: New Zealand springs surprise in familiar conditions

The Kiwis were simply superb in the World Cup. They gave a new dimension to one day cricket with their well contrived strategies.

Never in his career before the Cup had Dipak Patel been given an important role; he was not thought to be good enough to hold a permanent place in the team.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

Sir Richard Hadlee, the numero uno of New Zealand cricket, thinks the 1980s was a golden era and that it will be hard for the present lot to do an encore. New Zealand’s major successes were achieved under the dynamic captaincy of Geoff Howarth; the Kiwis did not lose a series at home from 1980 to 1991. Seven series wins and four drawn ones amply reflect the Kiwis' consistency and the advantage of playing in home conditions. There were some notable one-day triumphs, too, with experienced bowlers in Richard Hadlee, Ewen Chatfield and Martin Snedden shouldering the responsibility of containing the opposition.

When the time came for the ageing bowlers to call it quits, New Zealand suddenly faced a drought in its bowling department. Off-spinner John Bracewell’s premature retirement from first-class cricket only compounded the problems. Indeed, the dearth of bowling talent was conspicuous in the 1992 home series (Tests and One-Dayers) against Graham Gooch’s England. The new crop of bowlers had proved their supremacy against Sri Lanka in early 1991, but they could barely stretch England in the three Tests and as many One-Day Internationals prior to the World Cup.

It was morale shattering to say the least. New Zealand’s captain Martin Crowe felt the strain. The Kiwis’ No. 1 batsman, Crowe, was far from confident against the English attack. Apparently the appointment of Crowe as captain was not wholly appreciated. John Wright, on the verge of retirement, was least interested in taking the burden but Bracewell had hoped that he would get the job. So when it eluded him, Bracewell bid adieu to Test cricket.

The reverse against England raised a storm against Crowe. The chairman of the selection committee, Mr. Don Neely, and selector Bruce Taylor went to the extent of asking Crowe to step down, which of course did not materialise.

“The fact we did not play international cricket for nine months robbed the youngsters of exposure. When suddenly confronted by a top notch professional outfit, some of the new players had a hard time. There is a vast difference between Shell Trophy and international cricket. To the players it was an eye opener and they went through the learning process against England. By the end of the series I was sure the lessons against England would be useful in the World Cup,” said Crowe.

In spite of the confidence being low, Crowe was optimistic that New Zealand would be hard to beat in the competition at home. Crowe had devised a plan, and he put it into action.

Aussie skipper Allan Border’s fears of New Zealand’s capabilities became a reality and the Kiwis inspired, by the Cup opener win against Australia, were unbeaten in all but one match in the league. New Zealand played all its nine matches at home and was the solitary team not to appear in Australia. It was knocked out by the surging Pakistanis in the semifinal at Auckland, but from February 22 to March 17 (before the match against Pakistan at Christchurch), New Zealand and Crowe gave a new dimension to One-Day cricket.

The Kiwis knew their limitations, glaring in the bowling attack, yet Crowe contrived with his meagre resources to almost make New Zealand the champion side. No visiting captain shed a tear nor complained about the slow surfaces at most of the cup venues. A slow pitch was the norm wherever New Zealand played, except for the wicket at Lancaster Park, which was fast and bouncy. The Kiwis had trained their bowlers keeping in mind the slow pitches and Crowe attacked through defensive manoeuvres.

Off-spinner Dipak Patel was the key bowler in Crowe’s scheme. The 33-year-old Patel had been under the shadow of Bracewell, but Crowe’s shrewdness put Patel in the forefront literally. Never in his career before the Cup had Patel been given an important role; he was not thought to be good enough to hold a permanent place in the team.

With the white new ball, Patel was in command and the off-spinner was simply brilliant in opening the attack. The most experienced opening pair in the competition, David Boon and Geoff Marsh, failed to cope with Patel’s off-breaks, which tended to cut sharply, skid through or even bounce on a few occasions. Even at the smaller grounds, batsmen could not afford to hit out against Patel. Rameez Raja, the Pakistan opener, was probably the only batsman to attack Patel in his opening spell.

Patel was the one trump card Crowe had. Chris Cairns proved far too expensive against Australia and Crowe wisely did not ask the budding all-rounder to open the bowling again. The Kiwis’ skipper had even dropped Danny Morrison against Australia. Morrison was New Zealand’s highest wicket-taker in limited-overs games, but being quicker than the others, he did not fit into Crowe’s plans. Crowe had the medium pacers in Chris Harris and Gavin Larsen and having given a long opening spell to Patel, Crowe shuffled his seamers, giving them short runs of two or three overs.

“This was purely meant to break the rhythm of the batsmen, who otherwise would have got used to the pace and movement off the pitch,” Crowe viewed. Gavin Larsen is one bowler totally cut out for the short game. He was New Zealand’s most economical bowler. With his short run-up and stump-to-stump line, Larsen shackled the batsmen in the middle overs and Crowe was quite pleased to give him 10 overs on the trot.

Superb fielding supplemented the bowlers’ efforts. Particularly outstanding was Harris. Apart from picking up wickets in the end overs, he made some astounding direct hits to run out scampering batsmen. The Kiwis wilted against Pakistan in the semifinal at Eden Park because they missed their motivating leader, Crowe.

Left-handed opener Mark Greatbatch was another great success. Out for form for two years after a sensational entry into international cricket, Greatbatch did not play the first two matches in the competition. A shoulder injury to Wright against Sri Lanka at Hamilton gave Greatbatch the opportunity and thereafter his rampaging batsmanship in the first 15 overs made New Zealand’s task far easier. It was once again Crowe’s strategy to use Greatbatch as a tool to clear the infield in the first 15 overs. Greatbatch was quickly at the top of the list of batsmen hitting the highest number of sixes and fours. “I did not instruct him to hit out, but to bat naturally. It’s good for New Zealand and himself. The runs are flowing," Crowe said after the match against South Africa.

With Crowe not in the thick of action when Pakistan chased 262, New Zealand missed its playmaker. Crowe had posted three useful partnerships for New Zealand in the crunch match, but was confined to the dressing room when Pakistan made a successful chase. But overall. New Zealand’s stock in the competition was high.

Edited excerpts from The Sportstar, April 11, 1992.