“Make no mistake. Gatting was not the highest scorer in the tournament. His 354 runs were behind four men, including teammate Gooch. He averaged 50.57, which didn’t even feature in the top ten. And even if one put a cut-off of 200 runs, his excellent strike rate of 95.9 was less than Viv Richards’s 107.4”
There is little doubt over the fact that Mike Gatting let his side down in the 1987 World Cup final. Chasing 254, England were 135 for 2 despite losing Tim Robinson for a golden duck. Gatting had arrived after England lost Graham Gooch – the hero of the semi-final against India – and had taken charge. A resolute Bill Athey was at the other end. England were cruising.
Then Allan Border brought himself on. And Gatting decided to play the reverse-sweep first ball. It was not a bad idea, for he had played the shot well off Maninder Singh and Ravi Shastri in the semi-final. But then, he had also been bowled in the semi-final while attempting a sweep…
The ball pitched on leg. Behind the stumps, Greg Dyer initiated his movement outside leg-stump. Despite his bulk, Gatting went down on one knee and tried to place the ball towards third-man; the ball took the top edge and ballooned up in the air; Dyer changed direction and accepted the catch gleefully.
Allan Lamb got a quick 45 and Athey grafted out 58, but England lost by 7 runs.
And Gatting, one of the finest batsmen of the tournament, was turned into a villain in that one instant that Wisden referred to as “too crass to contemplate”. Forgotten in an instant was his stupendous performance throughout the tournament.
Make no mistake. Gatting was not the highest scorer in the tournament. His 354 runs were behind four men, including teammate Gooch. He averaged 50.57, which didn’t even feature in the top ten. And even if one put a cut-off of 200 runs, his excellent strike rate of 95.9 was less than Viv Richards’s 107.4.
But these aggregates included performances against the “lesser teams”. Richards’s tally of 391 was, for example, bolstered by a brutal 181 against Sri Lanka – who, like Zimbabwe, did not win a single match in the tournament. And New Zealand won only two of their six matches, against Zimbabwe.
But if one took these three teams away, Gatting still struck at 94, significantly more than Lamb’s 86.8. How good are these numbers?
Let us consider oppositions. Let us consider West Indies, Australia, England, New Zealand, Pakistan, and India for the first six World Cups, add South Africa for the seventh, and Sri Lanka from the eighth onwards.
Put a 250-run cut-off by any batsman against these teams in a single edition of the World Cup, and Gatting’s strike rate was not matched till 2007.
It was not just about the strike rate either. Gatting batted seven times in the tournament; crossed 25 every time; and scored at a strike rate of over 90 every time. Unfortunately, he top-scored only once, and got only 3 fifties, none of them in excess of 60, which meant that his consistency went largely unnoticed.
Another feature of his batting in the tournament was his girth-defying running between the wickets. He knew his gaps, placed them uncannily well, and ran for 238 of his 354 runs – and still maintained that strike rate of 96. One must remember here that he also ran for his partners.
How did he fare in the tournament?
England had to chase 244 against West Indies in their tournament opener, at Gujranwala. Gatting arrived after they lost Broad and Robinson early and lifted the pace with a 25-ball 23. England won in the last over.
Chasing 240 against Pakistan, England were 186 for 3 in the second match, at Rawalpindi. Then Gatting was bowled by Saleem Jaffar for 43 (in 47 balls), and England collapsed to 221. And he joined others in a run-fest against Sri Lanka, smashing a 63-ball 58 at Peshawar.
But his finest innings in the group stage came against Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Abdul Qadir, and Tauseef Ahmed at Karachi, where he smashed 60 in 65 balls. Of his teammates, Athey (86) was the only other one to go past 20.
He followed this with a 24-ball 25 against West Indies at Jaipur – with a single boundary. His 40-ball 46 not out against Sri Lanka at Pune – a game of academic interest – can be ignored.
There was another special performance in the semi-final. Gooch, having practised the sweep for two days in the nets, countered the twin threat of Maninder Singh and Ravi Shastri with 136-ball 115. But the more belligerent innings came from Gatting. He got 56 off just 62 balls and helped add added 117 for the third wicket.
And then, just when India were threatening to cut loose during the chase, Gatting placed himself at deep mid-wicket, not a usual place for captains of the era, more so because not quite the greatest fielder of the era. And Kapil Dev hit Hemmings almost into his throat.
And then came the final.
What happened to Gatting?
Later that year, Gatting got involved in a heated argument with umpire Shakoor Rana at Faisalabad. While the board was supportive at that point, Gatting was sacked as captain during the home series against West Indies next summer. He was the first of four English captains that series.
He later ran into further controversy when he led a rebel team to South Africa, where he referred to an anti-apartheid protest group as “a few people singing and dancing”.
He played till 1995, finishing with 4,409 Test runs. Unfortunately, getting bowled by Shane Warne’s Ball of the Century remains the highlight of his last days.
He later coached Middlesex and served as Managing Director of Cricket at ECB and as MCC President.
Tournament record: Matches 7 | R 354 | Ave 50.57 | SR 95.93 | C 1