The semi-final of the FIFA Confederation Cup 2017 between Chile and Portugal last night in Kazan was everything that football is all about. There was passion in the cheers of the Chilean supporters in the crowd. Fight in the frustration of Alexis Sanchez when he could hardly believe his team’s luck when the ball rebounded twice of the post. There was a disappointment as well. Disappointment in the eyes of an off color, Cristiano Ronaldo, as he walked off from the arena. Then there was pride in the Fist pumps of Claudia Bravo after he made three penalty saves. And at the end of it all, there was a joy. Sheer happiness as Arturo Vidal and Gary Medel were dancing in their moment of glory. Football or for any other sport for that matter when played in the right spirit is a great theater; it just brings out a plethora of emotions. A culmination of which makes you fall for the game.
When you look beyond all that, you realize this was always Chile’s game. They kept pushing, creating chances, they were ripped off a penalty but when it mattered the most they held on to their chances scoring in the penalty shoot-out. And most of the times in sports, it all boils down to that; if you’re good enough to make the most of the opportunities you get or not? Chile was unlucky hence a lot of those chances went begging in the first 120 mins of the match. That is one end of the scale.
The other end is where you are served the opportunity on a platter and you still don’t cash in. You are just not good enough at that point of time. A bit like Portugal you feel. They made it to the penalty shoot out. But they kept hitting at the goalkeeper and not pass him. Then comes the third category, there is no scale here. Scale and sanity must have ended long before this one. It is when the opportunity still served on a platter is messed up with while doing the unthinkable, unexplainable and almost unpardonable. And that, after a longish football intro, that is what about this cricket flashback is all about.
The English summer of 1985
The English Summer of 1985; the summer of Borris Becker’s Wimbledon triumph or say just another summer of familiar rain, overcast conditions and more rain. This was also the summer when Australia toured England. The tour that went on for four months. Just to give you an idea of how vintage cricketing tours used to be, Australia played seven warm-up games before even playing their first ODI. They also played eight tour matches during the six test matches.
The Australian side was without Greg Chappell, Rod Marsh and Dennis Lillee; as all three of them retired in the same Test at Sydney against Pakistan in 1984. They further lost a number of players who had signed up for a rebel tour to South Africa. Captained by Allan Border, the visitors hardly possessed any threat to a well-balanced English side.
The hosts had Ian Botham. A superstar. One who could do everything on a cricket field. Then there was their skipper, David Gower. One of world’s finest left-handed batsmen was just starting to rediscover his lost form. Along with Graham Gooch and Alan Lamb they had a solid batting unit. With all of their bases covered, England looked well on course to regain the Ashes and they did.
The first Test at Headingly belonged to England’s Tim Robinson who batted for close to seven hours and scored a match winning 175. Australia’s second innings was dismantled by a fiver from John Emburey and England won the match by five wickets.
The conquest at Lord’s
The contest moved to the home of cricket in England, Lord’s. Apart from the historical significance that Lord’s has, one of the reasons I believe a test match at Lord’s becomes such a ceremonial affair is that over the years it has become a happy hunting ground for a lot of the visiting teams. So, exactly 32 years ago on June, 27, as Australia stepped onto the hallowed turf of Lord’s, they were determined to bounce back.
After winning the toss and electing to field first, AB demanded results from his bowling unit. A 20-year-old Queenslander rose to the occasion. Craig McDermott along with his new-ball partner Geoff Lawson blew away the English batting line up. Both were accurate, both loved the out-swingers but McDermott was the one that hurt England the most. He ended with a six-wicket haul and the hosts were bundled out for 290. That too largely due to the efforts of a patient 86 by David Gower.
In reply, Australia lost both of their openers in quick succession and their captain Allan Border walked into bat at number four. Border, Australia’s only hope. Or say the only Australian batsman who was “Aussie” in his approach, stubborn he was! He was also in supreme form in that summer scoring eight hundred. AB made a solid start to his innings. The stroke full genius he was, he latched onto to any bad ball that was offered. From 24 for 2, Australia had moved to 4 down for 178. 87 of them belonged to AB. Just thirteen short of a Lord’s hundred he was facing the left-arm spinner Phil Edmonds and then it happened. The moment had finally arrived. The one that’s beyond any scale or sanity, the act that is almost indefensible.
He was also in supreme form in that summer scoring eight hundreds. AB made a solid start to his innings. The stroke full genius he was, he latched onto to any bad ball that was offered. From 24 for 2, Australia had moved to 4 down for 178. 87 of them belonged to AB. Just thirteen short of a Lord’s hundred he was facing the left-arm spinner Phil Edmonds and then it happened. The moment had finally arrived. The one that’s beyond any scale or sanity, the act that is almost indefensible.
Left – arm round Edmonds had a silly point and short leg for the left-hander. He tossed this one up. AB almost anxiously ran down the pitch and played a flick. In at short- leg was Mike Gatting. Gatting anticipated the shot and shifted to the left to get in the line of the shot. The ball found Gatting’s wrists. At this point of time, AB had seen enough to realize that he wasn’t getting that hundred. He turned his back and he had just started taking the long walk. In less than a fraction of second of him turning his back, he heard a series of cries and turned around. And he saw that the ball was on the ground. So was Gatting along with the Wicket Keeper Paul Downton. The bowler Edmonds was still in utter disbelief and he had his hands on his hips. And the funniest of all, there, was a confused Ian Botham who had walked in from short mid-wicket trying his best to makes sense of what had just happened. This is what Alan Border saw. What he missed was gold. Mike Gatting, had the ball. He thought he had it so well that he attempted to celebrate prematurely by throwing it in the air. The ball escaped the desperate lunge of the fielder and that was that. Ian Botham’s late appeal was eventually turned by the Umpire Dickie Bird and Border survived.
Border along with Greg Ritchie stitched a momentous fourth wicket partnership of 216 runs. Border continued his Midas touch and registered his highest test score. His innings of 196 runs were not only a fine exhibition of high-quality batting but also the context in which he scored those runs makes that one of the best Test match innings of all times. The captain, Border felt like being cheated well before he began the series when he lost his seven players because of the rebel South African tour. The loss at Headingley would have jolted the confidence even more. Then, to walk out and build an innings of such caliber spoke volumes of his character.
With 135 runs behind, England too got off to a bad start when both of their openers fell cheaply. The English skipper decided to send in not one but two night-watchmen. Australian pacer Geoff Lawson removed both. When Gower was caught behind off the bowling of McDermott, England had slumped to 77 for five. Then it was Mike Gatting who tried to compensate for his fatal error earlier got in with Ian Botham and put on 131 runs for the seventh wicket that took England to 261, giving Australia a target of 127 to level the series.
Before the close of play the same day Australian top order just like the first innings had failed as they were placed on 46 for three. Botham had picked two of them which had taken his wickets tally to 326, this made him England’s highest wicket taker then. On the final morning with Australia tottering at 65 for 5, it was that man again; Allan Border who scored a crucial 41 that ensured Australia had registered a famous win at Lord’s.
This was Allan Border’s Test Match. He had scored 43 percentages of his team’s aggregate runs. He also went on score 597 runs at an average of 66.33 in the six test match series just second on the list to David Gower’s 732. England won the series 3-1. The score line was justified. But Australia’s only victory in the series was perhaps the best match of that series. And as it turned out, it was about Gatting’s drop chance and Border making the most of that opportunity.
Written by Babasish Nanda