January 22, 2017

'How'd I do that?'

Thirty years on, Tom Moody reflects on Australia's World Cup triumph of 1987 - the tournament that no one expected them to win

Mike Gatting's fall to the reverse sweep was the break Australia needed to claw back into the 1987 World Cup Final © Getty Images

Tom Moody can remember the squelching sound his boots made in the heat of Chennai as Australia's 1987 World Cup squad prepared for a tournament no one expected them to win.

"We wore the Puma Sheffield Shield shoes with holes at the top of the foot, and I remember water squirting out of those holes, as that was how much the sweat had come through your shoes and socks."

If this doesn't exactly sound pleasant, it was music to the ears of the captain Allan Border and the coach Bob Simpson, who took a young and somewhat impressionable group to India and Pakistan for the Cup after more than three years of desperately barren times for Australian cricket. Only the previous summer they had allowed Mike Gatting's Englishmen the courtesy of an Ashes victory, plus wins in the World Series Cup and the one-off Perth Challenge.

Those results helped in allowing the selectors to choose a largely unproven squad to fly to India, where they worked hard in the shadow of the Chidambaram Stadium. "The nets are out at the back and I remember being part of a human file of carriers ferrying water out to the nets," Moody says, "Because as soon as we were drinking them, it was just disappearing out of our pores.

"That was also my first taste of the discipline and hard work Bob Simpson put into the Australian team. There were no prisoners. He didn't miss anyone with regards to practice and making sure it was done at a very high level. He had an enormous influence in where Australian cricket is now. Because we were so far ahead of our opponents in terms of how we prepared, how hard we worked, and he built a very strong foundation."

Less was expected of Border's team, perhaps, than even the touring party Steven Smith is about to take to India. But those hard early days under the Chennai sun were to be rewarded with a narrow opening victory over the hosts, the match decided by only one run. That result began a productive pattern for the Australians - batting first, putting top-order runs on the board and then defending the target with a combination of skill, desperation and innovation.

"That was the first sighting of a Steve Waugh back-of-the-hand slower ball - a significant influence in that match but also through the entire tournament," Moody says. "Australia had suddenly developed a fifth bowler who had some real skill from a defensive point of view in one-day cricket. We could rely on him in the last ten overs of an innings, which was pretty rare.

"We had a strike bowler in Craig McDermott, then two very clever bowlers in [Simon] O'Donnell and Waugh, and when you're defending a total with not only the change of pace but also the mystery, which it was back then, of a back-of-the-hand slower ball that they both had, you become a powerful defensive side, because that ball is not just a run-stopper but a wicket-taker. It's pretty common now but then it was one of the main reasons we were defensively good."

A young Steve Waugh enjoys a beer after the World Cup final victory © Getty Images

Much of Australia's planning had the advantage of a greater sample size of matches from which to make strategic decisions. In the wake of World Series Cricket, Border's men played more than twice the annual number of ODIs most other sides did, and without doubt this allowed Border, in particular, to become one of the format's very finest captains - helped by his own agile fielding and deadly left arm from midwicket.

"The team celebration after that India win was the beginning of a group of players who didn't really know each other that well, but by the end of the night it was a group who effectively grew very close," Moody says. "It was nearly like we'd won the World Cup that moment, given we'd beat the favourites in what was seen as an unwinnable game. The combination of that friendship and the hard work Allan Border and Bob Simpson put into place just got stronger and stronger for a team considered horrible, rank outsiders."

There was another tight contest against New Zealand in the group stage, and a couple of wrestles with a Zimbabwe side that held its own - Border was the lone survivor from the Australian team that had infamously lost to a side featuring Duncan Fletcher, among others, in the 1983 edition.

In addition to McDermott, O'Donnell and Waugh, the batting core of Geoff Marsh, David Boon and Dean Jones operated with a high degree of effectiveness, placing a premium on running between the wickets. Marsh twice held the innings for spinal centuries. Boon was cast as the dasher at the other end, taking advantage of the hardness of the new ball to commonly help the score reach a then outlandish 50 from ten overs.

Australia's formula was briefly halted by India during the return fixture, in Delhi, where Border lost the toss and his side's chase was undone by spin. That meant Australia would need to trek to Lahore for a semi-final against Pakistan. It seemed the logical conclusion to a doughty campaign.

"I remember that being a bit of a body blow. We had this enormous confidence in our campaign, and then suddenly it was like we got derailed by being told, 'By the way, you're playing a semi-final in Lahore out of India', so I think everyone felt it may have just taken the momentum away," Moody says. "But what salvaged it was, we batted first and batted well. The wicket was like an ice-skating rink - that hard and flat and shiny.

"Mike Veletta got 48 in that semi-final, he came into the side in the middle order. We all knew him as an opening bat, but he adapted brilliantly well and along with Steve Waugh enabled us to get that competitive platform. If you look back on that total, the highest score was 65, so we were missing someone getting a hundred, but Veletta covered for that with Steve Waugh."

Moody, intercostal tear and all, chipped in when the side carried Allan Border on their shoulders at Eden Gardens © Getty Images

While Imran Khan clean-bowled three Australians in a fiery second spell, Waugh hammered 18 from the final over of the innings, delivered by Saleem Jaffar. As McDermott went to work with 5 for 44, those runs off Waugh's bat turned out to be precisely the winning margin. A century of sweeps by Graham Gooch in Mumbai, meanwhile, had eliminated India, and the two old Ashes rivals would meet again in the final at a heaving Eden Gardens.

Once more, Boon helped the Australians get off to a swift start, but after he and others became bogged down it was Border and Veletta who ensured a sizeable chase for England. "They say at the time it could fit about 100,000... the atmosphere was outrageous," Moody recalls. "Thankfully it wasn't against India, because that would have been bedlam."

O'Donnell struck a telling early blow by winning an lbw verdict against Gooch, but Gatting and Bill Athey seemed well in control of the chase until Border brought himself on. Writing for the Independent, Martin Johnson captured what happened next:

"The reverse sweep itself, especially the way Gatting plays it, is a perfectly legitimate one, whatever the views of Peter May. However, to attempt it to Border's first ball was more than a little startling. Thanks to a thickish edge (and in the opinion of some observers, a thickish head as well) the ball plopped into the wicketkeeper's gloves, and the England chairman - watching from the VIP box - very probably laid an egg."

For a watching Moody, who had torn an intercostal muscle bowling to Veletta in the nets before the semi-final, this was the turning point of a match that helped turn Australian cricket. "They were cruising in their chase, and it wasn't until the Gatting reverse sweep off Border that the game turned on its head," he says. "Bill Athey went from negotiating a comfortable chase to having a very difficult situation where he was losing wickets at the other end.

"I tore an intercostal in the nets bowling to Veletta before the semi-final. In this day and age I probably would have been sent home because it was about a week to go in the tournament, but I was fortunate to be able to stay. I was walking laps with Errol Alcott, because I couldn't help with bowling or hitting catches.

"We did a lap of honour at the end and it was amazing. With the adrenaline of winning, you suddenly forget you've got an intercostal tear, because Craig McDermott and I had AB on our shoulders. I look back at that photo and think, 'How'd I do that?'"

As they are presented to the crowd at the SCG on Sunday afternoon, the rest of the team of '87 have good reason to think back 30 years and ponder the same.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

Comments have now been closed for this article

  •   Venkatesh Venkatesh on January 24, 2017, 12:26 GMT

    It was memorable victory for Australia in fact they were under dogs but that tag was over turned was a history be alive me it was much sweeter than other world cup wins everybody contributed to team cause the sprit and tenacity was the deciding factor in front of very huge crowd in Eden Gardens only two players were known to cricketing world their skipper Border and fast bowler McDermott but after this match every member of the team was become famous for their contribution to cause of Australia's win it was young team too . The ultimate goal was achieved from their contributions from every member of the team that sent poms to go home empty hand .How that Sunday was spent still fresh in my memory but the question still un answered is can we get another bunch of cricketers like that Australia had then who can do their work without making much noise in & out of the stadium

  • Ross on January 24, 2017, 8:08 GMT

    None of the other matches were broadcast but I remember being able to watch Australia bat in the final on free to air TV back then. However, if you wanted to watch the second innings, you had to go to a licenced venue that had sky TV as Englands run chase wasn't going to be shown. As it was a Sunday night I went to bed only to wake up and realised I should have gone to my local after all.

  • Chaitanya on January 24, 2017, 5:56 GMT

    brilliant article to read and reminisce ! however, isn't that dean jones with craig mcdermott holding up allan border?!

  • Karthik on January 24, 2017, 1:34 GMT

    History is written by small events gathering significance over time. If I remember correctly, that match which India lost to Aus, there were doubts about whether a particular ball crossed the rope on full or pitched before it (during Aussie innings). The umpire had signalled it as a 4; but I think Kapil was magnanimous (or foolish.. your take) enough to consider that as 6 and adjust the score during the lunch. What a difference those 2 runs made! To be fair to that Aussie team, they would have found a way to defend that score too. :)

  • Terry on January 23, 2017, 22:33 GMT

    Tom Moody does talk about carrying Border on the lap of honour ... obviously its not this photo as its Dean Jones (with Mike Veletta peering over his right shoulder) helping Craig McDermott. Maybe Tom helped out later on the lap. England would have won comfortably if Gatting had stayed in. A reverse sweep in 1987 was thought of as madness to be honest. As with the Warne ball Gatting WAS the man for iconic moments.

  • Steve on January 23, 2017, 16:59 GMT

    I feel the Aussies started believing in themselves after the very first match when they snatched the win from the jaws of defeat against the defending champions and tournament favorite, India. If I recall correctly, Indians had it pretty much won before they imploded in the last 2/3 overs. Aussies were considered a bunch of no hopers at the start of the tournament. Only one of WI and Pak along with Ind were expected to lift the trophy. Great story for the books.

  • Ramana on January 23, 2017, 16:56 GMT

    This was the Reliance World Cup, hosted by the defending champions, the surprise victors of 1983. India were strong contenders for the title and an India-Pak Final in Calcutta was billed as the dream finale. Aus were indeed rank outsiders in winning this tournament. As with Gatting in one semi-final, it was a rash shot by the Captain, Kapil Dev that did India in.

  • Cricinfo on January 23, 2017, 14:53 GMT

    @NTALGERI, you're right, the two players carrying Border are Dean Jones (left) and Craig McDermott. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • Nikhil on January 23, 2017, 12:23 GMT

    Isn't the guy carrying Border actually Dean Jones? The 2 cricketers in the picture look like Jones and McDermott.