Andy Flower – The Debutant Hit Hard in World Cup 1992
Andy Flower “I was there” at Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Sri Lanka vs. Zimbabwe, World Cup 1992, February 23. This was the first blood the debutant hit hard, but the Sri Lankans came back strong, as it was the perfect stage. The grass-terraced, pyramid-shaped banks that surrounded Pukekura Park Oval had just witnessed Zimbabwe hit the World Cup 1992 running. We had qualified for the World Cup by winning the ICC Associates tournament held in Holland the previous year. More significantly, we were on the verge of test status.
Our cricketing exposure before 1992 had been restricted to playing English county sides on tours to Zimbabwe, the odd A-team tour, and the occasional ICC tournament. Our domestic cricket consisted mainly of limited-overs and two-day matches. The World Cup side comprised two professional cricketers (David Houghton and myself), two tobacco farmers, three lawyers, and four businessmen. Our goal was to create a few upsets, and we were looking to target a couple of the “weaker” teams.
I had mulled over the possible outcomes of my international debut on the long flight to Australia. I was well aware that we were a relatively weak side in the international arena, but I recall making a conscious decision to put on a special effort and to not allow myself or ourselves to accept performances that did not make us proud. Opening the batting against a relatively weak attack on a small and fast oval was a good start for me.
I’ve always viewed the opening spot in ODIS as the best place to bat—the new ball races off the bat, and once you’re past the first 15 overs, captains invariably defend and offer risk-free singles. With only Champaka Ramanayake as an experienced campaigner, a young Pramodya Wickremasinghe at first change, and Asanka Gurusinha and Ruwan Kalpage bowling in the middle of the innings, international cricket seemed quite acceptable to me!
I was comfortable playing the anchor, as we had planned beforehand. At first, Kevin Arnott became the aggressor and allowed me the luxury of alternating the strike. Then Andy Waller took the attack to the bowlers, and we flew to a seemingly unbeatable total. You know scores of 300 or more were rare back then. Aggressive pinch-hitting was yet to become regular, and most teams approached an inning conventionally. Here, though, the Lankans hit us hard. “Big Sam” Athula Samarasekera had experienced success against Zimbabwe before while touring the country.
A front-foot bully against medium pace, he tore into Eddo Brandes and Co. with gusto. Sri Lanka’s success in the 1996 World Cup four years down the line was based upon aggression upfront and then having the skillful middle order maintain the momentum. That was how it was in this match, too. Big Sam scored 75 off 61 balls, Roshan Mahanama anchored, and though Arevinda de Silva failed, the ever-combative Arjuna Ranatunga mixed masterful glances with beefy blows on both sides of the wicket to make 88.
A cameo appearance from a young Sanath Jayasuriya at No. 6 accelerated them toward 300, and an intelligent hand from Hashan Tillakaratne applied the finishing touches. Our bowlers had no answers. We had not done our homework. We did not have a Plan B, and Plan A had long since been tossed out of the window by the Sri Lankans. Dave Houghton, our captain, even bowled two overs himself, claiming a wicket but conceding 19 runs. Only one bowler survived the carnage.
A wily 40-year-old lawyer, an Egyptian-born Greek, who had played Test cricket for South Africa over 20 years before John Traicos now used that experience to supplement his cunning, and he finished with astounding figures of 10-1-33-1. And this is a total of 313! My elation at scoring a ton on debut and helping set what had seemed like a winning total was short-lived as the Sri Lankans cantered home in the last over. The Man of the Match award was scant consolation; it now sits in a box in a room in my brother’s house in Zimbabwe.