Sweeping down memory lane as Ashes rivals get ready for World Cup dust-up
Mike Gatting’s dismissal in the 1987 World Cup final against Australia in Calcutta was blamed for costing England the match.
“What a way to go,” sighed Jack Bannister on commentary, reflecting the mood of the public back home.
As England and Australia go head-to-head in a World Cup game in India for the first time since then, in Ahmedabad on Saturday, it seems an appropriate time to drag Gatting’s infamous reverse sweep from out of the broom cupboard.
When he perished at an Eden Gardens venue into which 95,000 spectators were crammed, with most having hoped for a meeting between joint-hosts India and Pakistan that never materialised, England were 135-2 in the 32nd over in pursuit of 254 for victory in the 50-over contest.
Even by the standards of yesteryear, it should have been a stroll in the park.
Why, the cigars were pretty much unwrapped and the champagne on ice as England closed in on their first World Cup triumph. Then disaster…
Allan Border, captain of an Australian team barely expected to disturb branches at the tournament, let alone pull up trees, brought himself on to bowl left-arm spin.
His leading spinner, Tim May, had not been effective and with Gatting and the former Yorkshire batsman Bill Athey at the crease, the match was slipping away, the third-wicket stand worth 69.
So, captain against captain, the match on the line. What came next was, for Gatting, second only to his subsequent involvement in Shane Warne’s so-called “Ball of the Century” for dramatic effect.
Border – never more than a part-time bowler, although good enough to take more than 100 international wickets – delivered a loosener down the leg-side that would have been a wide had Gatting not intercepted it in predetermined style.
The ball clipped the top edge and flew up into his shoulder, then spooned up gently to give wicketkeeper Greg Dyer the easiest of catches.
“The Australians’ joy was unconcealed,” wrote Wisden, while all England banged its collective fist.
In his autobiography published the following year, in a penultimate chapter written by the book’s co-author, Angela Patmore (the rest of the book is penned in the usual first person style), the following reflection was attributed to Gatting.
“Gatting felt that the one criticism fairly laid at his door was that he had chosen to reverse-sweep Border’s first delivery,” wrote Patmore.
In other words, Gatting might have had a look first to see what Border was doing instead of attacking straight away.
Patmore continued: “He (Gatting) knew it would be something down the leg-side; it was just a little wider than he had anticipated.
“The reason he got out was not because of the stroke itself, but because the ball hit his shoulder.
“(Gatting) was gone for 41 – ready for the newspapers to get stuck into him, if the worse came to the worse.”
Alas, it did, Gatting’s dismissal followed by the run-out of Athey for 58 from 103 balls as England’s challenge gradually collapsed.
Allan Lamb did his best to pull things round, striking 45 from 55 balls, and Phil DeFreitas played a cameo towards the finish.
But England came up eight runs short with two wickets remaining, Border also removing wicketkeeper Paul Downton to finish with 2-38 from seven overs.
Waugh was marginally the most successful bowler with 2-37 from nine, the Australia opener David Boon claiming the man-of-the-match award for the top score of 75 in his team’s 253-5 after Border won the toss, Mike Valetta producing a brisk, undefeated 45, Dean Jones 33 and Border himself 31.
Afterwards, Gatting took his share of flak, despite having used the reverse-sweep to telling effect in the semi-final victory against India when – surprise, surprise – there was no criticism.
“It was the first time he had ever got out using the reverse-sweep,” asserted Patmore in the book.
“Over the last two or three years the stroke had got him a lot of runs, and in important innings. It has the advantage of putting the bowler off his rhythm, too, and stops him using negative tactics – part of the competition between batsman and bowler that goes on all the time out there in the middle.
“It’s (the reverse-sweep) just an improvisation born out of the pressures of the modern game, and Gatting is not the only batsman to use it, by any means.”
Also quick to defend Gatting was Don Bennett, the Yorkshire-born ex-Middlesex all-rounder and then coach of Middlesex – Gatting’s county.
“Most of the criticism has come from people who haven’t played limited-over cricket, where the pressures on the batsman must be out of this world, really, and they’ve got to think of ways to combat different situations and strategies,” said Bennett.
“The reverse-sweep is a fairly recent development. I suppose Mushtaq Mohammad was the first one I ever saw playing it.
“Botham does it, of course, and so does Gatt – and Gatt plays it very well, in fact, usually.”
Back then, when one-day cricket was pretty much unrecognisable from what it is now, Gatting’s stroke was notable for its brazen audacity.
In those days, and despite Gatting’s own success with the shot previously, reverse-sweeping in public was as frowned on as smoking in public is today.
It was the sort of thing that you only did out of sight in the nets – the cricketing equivalent of a drag behind the bikesheds.
It was not so far removed, in fact, from the footballer who casually saunters up to the penalty spot trying to be Mr Cool instead of simply running up and planting his laces through the ball; it all looks fine and dandy if it comes off, less so if it doesn’t.
Fast forward 36 years (can it really be that long ago?) and the reverse-sweep is an essential part of a batsman’s weaponry; talented exponents abound.
Alas, Gatting’s 1987 winter went from bad to worse.
A few weeks after the World Cup final, he had his infamous set-to with umpire Shakoor Rana during the Faisalabad Test.
Their finger-wagging exchange went viral after Shakoor accused him of cheating.
How Gatting must have wished he could have pulled out his bat, had a quick look round to make sure that no one was watching, and then planted a firm reverse sweep in the direction of Shakoor.