The fourth edition of the cricket World Cup in 1987, also known as the Reliance Cup, was the first World Cup to be played outside England. Defending champions, India and Pakistan were joint hosts of the tournament that got underway on the 8th of October and ended exactly a month later. India Australia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe were put into group A while Pakistan, England, West Indies and Sri Lanka made up group B. Each team had to play the others in the group twice, with the top two teams in each group moving to the semi-finals. Unlike the previous editions, the number of overs per innings was brought down to 50 overs instead of 60. India had followed up their victory in the 1983 World Cup with a triumph in the Benson and Hedges World Championship of Cricket in 1985. With the tournament being played at their own backyard, India were hot favourites to lift the trophy. Pakistan too had a good team and fancied their chances at home. Both the host nations made it to the semi-finals, but their journey ended there as India lost out to England whereas Pakistan couldn’t overcome the Aussies. Australia went on to defeat their old foes in the final at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata to lift their first ever World Cup.
Proceedings got underway in group A with a couple of nail-biting encounters. Geoff Marsh’s century propelled the Aussies to 270 against India. A four-wicket haul from Craig McDermott secured the narrowest of victories, by just 1 run, for Australia despite a couple of fighting 70s from Navjot Singh Sidhu and Krishnamachari Srikanth. Elsewhere, a valiant 142 by Dave Houghton was not good enough to take Zimbabwe past the target set by New Zealand. The Kiwis scraped home by just 3 runs. Australia consolidated their position at the top of group A with a comfortable victory over Zimbabwe. India managed to get their act back on track against the Kiwis to register their first victory of the tournament courtesy half centuries from Sidhu and Kapil Dev. India notched up another comfortable victory against the Zimbabweans while David Boon’s knock of 87 enabled the Aussies to clinch a tight match against New Zealand by just 3 runs. Four half-centuries from the top and middle order helped India avenge their loss to Australia in the opening match. The Kiwis, powered by skipper Jeff Crowe’s unbeaten 88, recorded a second victory over Zimbabwe. India registered a semi-final spot with a victory over Zimbabwe whereas Geoff March’s second century of the tourney took Australia past New Zealand and into the semis. The Aussies won their last league match against Zimbabwe too. In India’s last league match, Chetan Sharma got the first hat-trick in a World Cup. Sunil Gavaskar followed it up with his first ever ODI century to take India to the top of group A. Thus, India went into the semis as the group toppers where they were joined by the Aussies.
In group B, Pakistan got off to a winning start against Sri Lanka on the back of a century from Javed Miandad. Allan Lamb helped England pull off a close victory against West Indies to get their campaign under way. A wonderful spell of leg spin from Abdul Qadir was enough to take Pakistan past England. Meanwhile, West Indies demolished Sri Lanka by a massive 191 runs in their second match. Desmond Haynes scored a century at the top of the order but it was Viv Richards who tore into the bowling with a 125-ball 181 that took West Indies to an almost unchaseable 360. Pakistan kept up the momentum with a last ball victory over the Windies while England held on to the second spot with a comfortable victory over the Lankans, courtesy a solid batting performance. Rameez Raja’s century gave Pakistan their fourth victory on the trot, this time over England. West Indies got back into the mix with a 25-run win over Sri Lanka. However, a loss to England in the following match brought down the curtains on their semi-final hopes. The Englishmen ended the group stage on a high with another impressive all-round performance against the Lankans. West Indies, powered by Richie Richardson’s century, dealt Pakistan their first defeat of the tourney thus far in the final group stage match. Despite that, Pakistan qualified for the semi-finals as the group winner with England joining them as the second team from group B.
The first semi-final at Lahore was a big disappointment for the home fans. Decent contributions from the top six batsmen, including a half-century from David Boon (65), took Australia to a competitive total of 267. Imran Khan led the way with the ball with figures of 3 for 36. Pakistan’s chase was propelled by a 112-run third wicket stand between Imran (58) and Miandad (70). But the remaining line-up couldn’t carry forward the baton and the co-hosts eventually fell short by 18 runs. McDermott was the wrecker in chief with a five-wicket haul to his credit. The outcome of the second semi-final at Mumbai was similar too as co-hosts India ended up on the losing side. Graham Gooch’s steady knock of 115 took England to a challenging 254. Barring Mohammad Azharuddin (64), none of the Indian batsmen could convert their starts into substantial knocks. Eddie Hemmings and Neil Foster did well with the ball, picking up wickets at regular intervals to bowl India out for 219, 35 runs short of the target. Both England and Australia had lost a World Cup final each and now its was the turn for one of them to clinch a maiden World Cup title.
The final at Eden Gardens in Kolkatawas a cracking match between fierce cricketing rivals, England and Australia. David Boon held things together for Australia at the top as they made steady progress. Things were looking well set at 151 for 1 when disaster struck. Three wickets fell in a space of 17 runs, including that of Boon (75) and England were back in the contest. That’s when Mike Veletta and Allan Border came together and the duo put together a quick fire 73-run stand that tilted the balance towards Australia. Valetta chipped in with an invaluable 31-ball 45. Set 254 to win, England lost Tim Robinson early. But Gooch and the middle order got things back on track. Bill Athey and Mike Gatting seemed to be cruising as England seemed to be approaching victory with ease. That’s when Gatting (41) decided to commit one of the greatest blunders in cricketing history. He tried to reverse sweep Border, only to get a top edge that was snapped up by keeper Greg Dyer. Athey too ran himself out soon after his half-century. Allan Lamb kept on fighting. He got good company from Phil DeFreitas who struck a couple of hefty blows to bring the equation down to 19 off the last two overs. Steve Waugh took the ball in the 49th over and he bowled a gem of an over, getting the wicket of DeFreitas and conceding just two runs. 17 runs off McDermott’s final over was too big an ask and England finally fell short by 10 runs.
Australia’s unexpected triumph was a big achievement for a nation that had been struggling in the recent past. This victory was probably the first major event that led to the development of the Aussies as the top most cricketing nation in the world. Boon was awarded the man-of-the-match in the final for his 75. Graham Gooch was the highest run-getter whereas McDermott topped the wicket-takers list. Quite a few records too were set in the tournament. Chetan Sharma became the first man to take a hat-trick in a world cup match. Viv Richards’ 181 was the highest individual score by in a wrold cup at that time. The World Cup in the subcontinent brought a lot more people closer to the game. The semi-finals were followed by a large section people throughout the region. The work done by the organising committee was worth appreciating. The weather too played its part and the rains stayed away from all but one game. The decision to hold the tourney outside England did achieve the objective of increasing the game’s popularity in the sub-continent. It was now the turn of Australia and New Zealand to host the fifth cricket World Cup.