McDermott was just too good

G. VISWANATH

Craig McDermott not only sent down a lethal spell against India but also topped the wicket-takers' list.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

EVEN as Australian cricket was prepared for a period of lull following the retirement of its fine exponents of speed, swing and seam, Craig John McDermott appeared on the scene to spearhead Australia's World Cup campaign. He made a tremendous impact on Asian soil. Dennis K. Lillee had left in his trail a magnificent haul of 355 wickets from only 70 Test matches, a tremendous impact as the greatest Australian bowler. With Lillee leading the pace pack Australian cricket prospered and advanced as the No. 1 team in the World.

Lillee's departure did not create a void though, for Australian cricket to hunt for a replacement. McDermott was hot on the heels of Lillee's phenomenal career that was refreshing for fourteen summers. McDermott was only 19 when he was presented the baggy green for the first time in 1984 against the West Indies at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. He dismissed Richie Richardson, Larry Gomes and Jeff Dujon in seven balls demonstrating his wares like `banana' inswingers, toe-crushing yorker length deliveries and slower ones he mastered after taking advice from baseball player Dave Nilsson.

He was a success in his first `Ashes' series, but it was in the subcontinent that he won his spurs as he topped the pile of wicket takers in the Reliance World Cup hosted by India and Pakistan. McDermott dismissed 18 batsmen, not going wicketless in any of the eight matches he played.

His best spell was against Pakistan in the semifinal, but the fact the wickets were of Mansoor Akhtar, Wasim Akram, Salim Jaffer, Salim Yousuf and Taslim Arif made it a `runner-up' to another feat that deserved the top spot as far as the bowling department went in the quadrennial event.

McDermott struck form in his first World Cup match that was played against India at Chepauk. Though Geoffrey Marsh had held the Australian innings together and made his first century of the tournament and he eventually won the `Man of the Match' award, it was McDermott who opened the sluice gates of victory for Allan Border's team.

Australia made 270 for six wickets in the 50 over match, but the high total always looked vulnerable because the riposte from the Indian top order was strong and too good to believe. India's first wicket (Sunil Gavaskar) fell at 69 and the second (Krishnamachari Srikkanth 70) at 131. It looked as though the match would go to the wire. It did, but Australia finally had the last laugh, scraping through by, what can be described as the narrowest margin of one run.

At 207 for two when Navjot Sidhu and Dilip Vengsarkar were in control of things, it looked like a cakewalk for India before McDermott emerged with a lethal second spell in which he had in his bag the following: Sidhu (73), Vengsarkar (29), Mohammed Azharuddin (10) and Ravi Shastri (12). In between Simon O'Donnell chipped in with the wicket of Kapil Dev. At 246 for six, the writing on the wall was clear for the home team as the sporting Madras crowd waited with bated breath for the outcome of the match.

McDermott bowled 10 overs and dismissed four genuine batsmen for 56 runs.

After this fine performance, he took one for 13 against Zimbabwe, one for 30 against New Zealand, three for 61 against India, one for 43 against New Zealand, two for 43 against Zimbabwe, five for 44 against Pakistan in the semifinal and one for 51 in the final that saw Australia win the World Cup at Eden Gardens defeating England by seven runs.

There were other splendid bowling performances from a seasoned and world class bowler in Imran Khan — he had identical figures of four for 47 against the West Indies at Lahore and England at Karachi — and leg spinner Abdul Qadir who dismissed four England batsmen in another league match at Rawalpindi.

But for the sheer exhilarating contest between the two countries and his four wickets in his comeback spell placed McDermott's performance on top.