Perhaps the only international cricket captain to have grown younger on the job was Australia’s Allan Border—and then only in late 1987. He had been captain of a poor, losing Australian team for a little over two years, the two toughest years of a long, illustrious career. Yet when Dean Jones and Craig McDermott lifted Border and the 1987 World Cup onto their shoulders after the relatively unknown and definitely unfancied team’s win over England in the final at Eden Gardens on November 8, 1987, the hard years and the bitter disappointments seemed to drain from Border’s sun-lined face. He looked young again.
Most teams enjoy being the underdogs. It is easier coming from behind. The reasons are simple: there are fewer expectations, little to lose and everything to gain. That’s how it was for Border’s team in 1987. After all, that win was their first significant success since he took over the captaincy in 1984 and it remains amongstone of his most treasured cricket memories.
"That triumph as rank outsiders propelled Australia towards today’s prosperity," Border says. "The 1992 campaign on home soil spluttered from the start and can never be classed as anything but a major disappointment. Still, psychologically the success of ’87 is a plus for the 14 players of today as they go into the 1996 tournament knowing that winning the Cup on the subcontinent is not Mission Impossible."
Several memories loom large in Border’s mind now, some eight and half years since that sole Cup win. First was the tactical thinking and preparation which came before the flight to India. Then came a good pre-tournament week that the team enjoyed in Madras. "That week in Madras was crucial," Border reminisces. "We were blessed with a good net set-up and ground bowlers, we worked the fielding hard and we were thinking one-day cricket. We also spent 24 hours a day together. As well as that week had gone, we still had to play India first up in Madras." A tough start. And the course of events turned there.
"I look back at that as the pivotal day. We upset India by one run, which was a huge kick-start. So, one game into the tournament and we were already celebrating like we’d won the whole thing. If we’d lost that game in such dramatic circumstances, our whole energy for the tournament would have been different. Losing by one run would have been so disheartening. Instead, the snowball started rolling."
In the folklore surrounding Border’s decade as captain, the party in Madras that night is considered more significant than even the one after the final triumph. That victory proved they could win important games against the best teams. Players still talk about the "special feeling" in the air that night.
The hard work and the luck that it attracts paid off for Border’s team in Calcutta when they won the final by another close margin, seven runs this time. Border recalls the twilight scenes as the winners took their lap of honour, the wonderfully warm response from the Indian crowds who supported the Australians that day, the scenes in the dressing room later when both teams mixed happily and England off-spinner John Emburey managed to bowl one more off-break, this time with the gem-encrusted ball that had been screwed into the top of the trophy and especially thescenes in the Oberoi Grand Hotel as the celebrations continued.
Border remembers sitting on the floor of the party room, next to Graham Gooch, sipping a can of beer and wondering whether the win was "the start of something big".
The next morning, as the team bus pulled off to the airport for the trip home, Border sat up front, with the World Cup nestled in his arms. His one thought: "A new era!"
He was right too. For Australian cricket, the bad times of the early to mid-1980s were over. One-day success would continue and in the middle of 1989, Australia would regain the Ashes on a triumphant tour of England. As Border acknowledges, the prosperity that reigns now for Mark Taylor’s team can be traced to many events and many contributions from nearly as many people, yet in the captain’s mind that month in late 1987 in India was the beginning of it all.
What of Australia’s chances in 1996? "Australia are the team to beat in my book ahead of India," Border says. "Sri Lanka and the West Indies are the sleepers."