Welcome to #RetroLive, ESPNcricinfo’s answer to the ongoing global sporting outage. Over the coming weeks and months, we will be dredging through the archives to relive classic matches via our unrivalled ball-by-ball commentary. And when better to start than this coming Wednesday, March 25, the anniversary of the England v Pakistan 1992 World Cup final? If you don’t want to know the scoreAfter 38 matches and 32 days, it all comes down to this, at the ‘G. England v Pakistan in the World Cup final, in front of a crowd that is expected to push 90,000. At some stage on Wednesday evening, Graham Gooch or Imran Khan – two of the most senior statesmen in the world game – will hoist the Benson & Hedges crystal-globe trophy to confirm the new first-time world champions. What a tantalising prospect we have in store.
If, after the spectacle we’ve been witnessing for the past month, pyjama cricket still isn’t quite your thing, then fear not, the two teams will be back in whites soon enough, locked in a five-match Test series during the English summer – one that is sure to have an extra piquancy given how much will have been won and lost in the coming hoursBut, even for die-hard traditionalists, it would be hard to dispute that cricket’s World Cup has come of age during its maiden staging in Australia and New Zealand. A festival of the sport that began, almost as an afterthought, in England in 1975 and was rattled off in a fortnight, has now grown to become a powerhouse competition in its own right.
And in the country where floodlit cricket was pioneered, 15 long years ago, by Kerry Packer and World Series Cricket, the concept has stepped up another level this month – the coloured clothing, white balls and black sightscreens providing a sneak peek into the sport’s future as a 21st century spectacle. And thankfully, the cricket, by and large (and give or take the odd rain rule), has lived up to its heightened billing.
Even in what proved to be a subdued and ultimately futile campaign, the hosts and holders, Australia, played a massive part in ramping up the excitement. After crashing to chastening losses to their Southern Hemisphere rivals – New Zealand in the opening match and South Africa in their thrilling return to the sporting big-time – the Australians’ tooth-and-nail battle to save their skins was compelling. But an agonising one-run win over India gave way to one final Botham-ing against England, and after that, they were always playing catch-up.
And so we are down to two. And while it’s customary to quibble about the exact identity of a tournament’s finalists, no two teams epitomise the spectacle of the 1992 World Cup better than England, the early tournament pace-setters, and Pakistan, the late-charging thoroughbreds, whose respective campaigns have utilised all the permutations that the tournament’s excellent round-robin format was designed to make possible.
Gooch’s men hit the ground running with five wins and a hugely significant no-result (more of that in a moment) in their first six matches, but they’ll need to blank out the slight nagging suspicion that they have peaked a week or two early. With qualification to the last four already secure, a distracted pair of defeats against Zimbabwe and New Zealand dented their aura a touch, and while they still have enviable depth in their batting and bowling stocks, injuries and fatigue after a long winter are encroaching.
Mind you, if ever there was an occasion to dredge one’s last ounces of energy, this is it. And while some of the squad, notably Robin Smith and Chris Lewis, are young and talented enough to lead the line in Asia in four years’ time, for several old warhorses – Gooch, Ian Botham, Allan Lamb, Derek Pringle – there can be no more tomorrows. Each of them has been in a losing World Cup final dressing room before – in Gooch’s case, twice – and each knows how long the regret can linger.Pakistan, by contrast, have had to grift and graft their way back into contention after looking for all the world as though their tournament was over following three losses in their first five. But, led imperiously by Imran, who would probably back himself to unite the subcontinent given half a chance, Pakistan then thumped Australia in a massively significant showdown in Perth, and have scarcely looked back. Breezy victories followed over Sri Lanka, again at the WACA, and the table-topping New Zealand in Christchurch, and few could argue that they have hit their stride at precisely the right time.
Unlike England, who boast an extraordinarily balanced XI in which every player has a first-class century to his name, Pakistan have got where they need to be with bursts of timely inspiration rather than any sort of coherent plan. And let’s not forget either their burst of divine intervention in Adelaide, when against these same opponents, Pakistan were routed for 74, only for rain to sweep to their rescue with elimination staring them in the face. The point they salvaged there proved just enough to vault them into the last four, and now here we are. Maybe Allah will be smiling on them after all …
Whatever transpires at a packed MCG, it’s been a month to remember. The emotional return of South Africa, and their every-bit-as-emotional departure; the home-spun endeavour of New Zealand, raised to the brink of glory by Martin Crowe’s class with the bat but foiled in the final analysis by his cruel hamstring tear, allied to Pakistan’s soaring faith in youth. And the galvanisation of Gooch’s one-day wonders – a team whose sky-blue shirts will surely retain a special place in their fan’s affections, whatever transpires on the day. But, for God’s sake, let’s hope it doesn’t rain
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