Houghton's ton was the pick


David Houghton's 142 against New Zealand was the most sensational knock of the 1987 edition.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

THE first World Cup outside England was marked by some outstanding cricket. There were centuries galore, some pulsating climax and cricket of the highest quality. There was a new winner of the Cup too when Australia beat England in the final. Picking the innings of the tournament was a tough task, what with two knocks shining for their sheer timing and content.

The legendary Javed Miandad set the tone with a century against Sri Lanka in the Cup opener. A day later Geoff Marsh hit one against India at Madras. There was a century by David Houghton for Zimbabwe at Hyderabad. It was beginning to be a Cup for batsmen. More centuries followed, including the record-breaking 181 by Vivian Richards against Sri Lanka at Karachi, Richards took just 125 balls to smash those runs with 16 fours and seven sixes.

Now statistics would never do justice to an innings. The knock of 75 by David Boon in the final against England at the Eden Gardens was priceless on that given day. But it paled when compared to some other knocks of the Cup. For its value and for the effort, I would rate the 142 by Houghton against New Zealand as the most sensational batting performance of the 1987 World Cup.

It was Zimbabwe's opening fixture. As was New Zealand's. And few gave the Zimbabweans a chance against an opposition which was said to be a dark horse to win the title. There was little focus on this match and even the spectators had little interest in the contest once New Zealand, batting first, compiled 242 for seven. It was a stiff target for Zimbabwe which had no big name in its ranks.

The Zimbabwe response was on predictable lines. With the score reading 104 for seven, spectators had begun to leave the venue when Houghton produced a scorching performance, an all-time great innings in the history of one-day cricket. To begin with, statistical description of Houghton's knock would be appropriate here. Off just 137 balls, he cracked 142 with 13 fours and six sixes.

I asked him once how much he remembered of that knock. "Every little detail,'' was his excited remark. Even to this day, Houghton could recall the shots and the changing situation when he whipped the Kiwi attack around the Fateh Maidan.

Chatfield, Snedden, Watson, Bracewell, Patel and Boock formed the Kiwi attack. Not a mean combination but quite an effective one. Three spinners and three seamers to test the batting skills of Houghton, who proved adept at handling the challenge.

"Picking the gaps'' was the clinching factor as Houghton went about his job in a heroic fashion.

As the innings grew, so did the range of Houghton's strokes. The Kiwis were clueless as the match gradually slipped from their grasp. A stand of 117 runs between Houghton and Ian Buchart raised visions of a great win for Zimbabwe when the Kiwis made a breakthrough. Houghton was on fire, clubbing the bowlers at will and scoring runs at a pace which left New Zealand in a trance. It was a great innings and it needed a great catch by Martin Crowe in the deep to end Houghton's brilliant show.

The audience gave Houghton a standing ovation and even the opposition acknowledged the Zimbabwean's performance.

It was an unforgettable knock which carried the game to great heights. Zimbabwe lost the match by three runs but Houghton won a million hearts by his fabulous knock. It was an innings which signified Houghton's character.

"A great day for Zimbabwe cricket'' was how he had remembered that contest.