Aggression was the key

Wicketkeeper Moin Khan was an exception to the general raggedness on the field by the Pakistan team.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Limited-overs cricket made much progress in a World Cup in which many myths were blown. New theories were spelt out and new strategies carried out. By R. Mohan.

The last four World Cups have produced four different champions. The winners of the last three had not won the Cup before and only one of them had previously been in the final. There is a lesson in this. One-day cricket is more open than ever before. All teams have the skills for it but not the same degree of motivation.

Limited-overs cricket made much progress in a World Cup in which many myths were blown. New theories were spelt out and new strategies carried out. The triumph was, ultimately, that of the team which peaked at the right time. Pakistan may have been lucky in that its cricket came together at the appropriate time. England and New Zealand may have set the pace but their cricket tended to sag a bit at the vital end.

It is not as if the two fittest teams were in the final, far from it. What the finalists had in common was the degree of skills needed to put a major part of their act together.

South Africa had the fierce motivation to succeed. A first outing was seen as a gigantic opportunity to impress the cricket world. It was the best fielding team in the cup. And, perhaps, the most consistently quick bowling side. That aggression in bowling may bring success one day as it did to Pakistan this time.

Slow, restrictive medium pace may have had its uses in the World Cup on the sub-continent. The utility swing bowlers may have succeeded in England. What Australian conditions called for was pace bowling that could make the most of the pitches which gave assistance in proportion to how much the bowlers put in.

The South African pacers were impressively quick but they may have tended to go too high on the speed versus movement graph. Wasim Akram was the bowler of the World Cup because he always went for the jugular, irrespective of his contribution to the opposition in terms of extras. The bowlers of the ’87 World Cup were not the McDermotts or the Akrams. It was the World Cup of Steve Waugh and Simon O’Donnell.

New Zealand was more supportive of older theories like slow medium pace. But there is a limit to the efficiency and strike power of such an approach. Inzamam-ul-Haq’s amazing onslaught on such bowling was the key to Pakistan’s triumph in the semifinal.

The most successful batsmen in terms of match-winning contributions were the Inzamam-ul-Haqs. For England, Dermot Reeve swung a semifinal. His attack on Donald with the old ball was spectacular and potentially decisive though the dreaded rain rule was the arbiter at the end. Fairbrother and Lewis were the successful ones in a hard chase. At the highest level, it is still the quality of aggression that decides cricket matches.

In explaining the shortcomings of England’s approach, Imran spoke of “stereotyped cricket.” He criticised the West Indies for preferring the medium pacers over the true speedsters. He was referring to Winston Benjamin playing rather than Patrick Patterson and so on. He said similarly Australia lost much by not playing Merv Hughes. “I will not ask Akram to bowl line and length, will I?” he asked rhetorically.

Being neither here nor there, as in the case of a few trundlers, did not help. The winning formula for this World Cup ultimately lay in attack being the better form of defence in one-day cricket, too. India was more successful in Australia where its two leading seamers Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar bowled exceedingly well. They gave the side every chance which the batsmen were to waste in their inability to think in the same terms of aggressiveness.

New Zealand came close enough to achieving the impossible through batting aggression. The slow home wickets were more likely to blunt pace and the entire strategy was worked around the batsmen offering the cushion and the fielders supporting the bowlers. An injured Martin Crowe, propped up on the window sill of the dressing room, was seen signalling the end of Pakistan when he drew his hand across his neck in a cutting motion. He may have sincerely believed then that the batsmen had, once again, done their job towards giving the bowlers a bank of runs to bowl with. He may not have reckoned with the Inzamam-ul-Haq factor. And yet Crowe had, in association with Warren Lees, done so much to retrieve New Zealand’s reputation, the greatest tribute to which is the fact that the Auckland semifinal proved a lot harder for Pakistan than the final at the MCG.

England’s strength, like Australia’s, may have lain in accurate fast medium pace with the variety of movement. But that could carry the team this far only. Had England possessed such an attack in ’83 rather than the rattling pace of Bob Willis, it may have gone further. The ’83 championship was the World Cup of the swing bowlers like Roger Binny, Madan Lal and Mohinder Amarnath. The bowling all-rounders, like the first two named, were cut out for greatness then.

The fielding standards were higher in this World Cup for which the presence of South Africa was mainly responsible. There cannot be a better fielder than Jonty Rhodes. His rugby style tackles of the ball at point were emulated but not bettered by Chris Lewis of England. The South Africans have restored the romance of fielding. The Zimbabweans may have fallen some from the impossible standards they set in the ’83 World Cup and still they were good enough to be out of the ordinary here. New Zealand displayed a tigerish resolve on the field. Its fielding on the boundaries, with the sliding tackle being the norm rather than the exception, was a highlight.

Pakistan may well have been the worst fielding side. There was such needless panic in the throwing. The team may have made up in bowling aggression. Here again, the point about wicket-taking bowlers is stressed. Moin Khan may have been the exception to the general raggedness on the field. It was a good World Cup for ’keepers, there having been some outstanding work from Ian Healy who took some unbelievable catches that may have eluded first slip had there been one and Kiran More whose run out dismissal of Martin Crowe was an unforgettable incident.

Great batting deeds were innumerable. Crowe’s flowing aggression, Miandad’s crafty distribution of the ball in the manner of a coach testing his fielders by placing the ball precisely where it would be hardest to retrieve and Inzamam-ul-Haq and Wasim Akram’s outright assault were features of the final stages. There is no substitute to attack, especially in modern one-day cricket.

(This article was published in The Sportstar, dated April 4, 1992)