Rewind: Colour, noise, record turnout and a World Cup win – Australia’s tryst with the City of Joy

Australian team after winning the Women's World Cup in 1997. © Getty Images

It is an understatement to say World Cup wins are memorable. It is about the game, alright. It is about the bowlers’ wickets, agreed. It is about the runs scored, okay. It is about the splendid catches taken, fine. But it’s also about the crowd, and the atmosphere they create. And what better time than this pandemic to make us realise how much crowds add to a contest.

“That was an amazing day in itself. It’s funny that two things jump to my mind immediately – the colour, the crowd,” says Melanie Jones, who was part of Australia’s team that won the Women’s World Cup in 1997.

Australia had gotten past India while New Zealand defeated England in the semi-finals to set up the title clash at the iconic Eden Gardens in Kolkata. The capital city of West Bengal is well known for its grand colonial architecture, art galleries and its colourful heritage. The image in Jones’ mind, hence, isn’t entirely misplaced. What’s more, reports suggested that about 80,000 spectators had come to watch the final.

“Everyone rocked in, in the most beautiful, colourful saris. You looked around the ground and it was just a sea of rainbow colours. It was just visually stunning.”

Like in most matches in India, New Zealand had opted to bat first, on what was described as an atypical Indian wicket because of the grass left on the pitch. Their hopes were pinned on Debbie Hockley and Emily Drumm, their openers. But only Hockley kept steady at one end as she continued losing partners at the other, as New Zealand were reduced to 49 for 3.

It seemed as if Australia adjusted to the crowd better. They made early inroads and the decibel levels hardly seemed to matter to them. The noise was so much that the players couldn’t hear each other from cover to cover-point, said Jones. But what impressed her more was their knowledgeable nature.

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“They knew exactly where the game was,” she recalls, admitting that she has clearer memories of the crowd as compared to the match itself. “Thankfully, we were playing NZ not India. You could sense the people through all parts of the match. The crowd were in it. They were riding every delivery with you.”

Hockley had managed to add 38 for the fourth wicket with captain Maia Lewis, when leg-spinner Olivia Magno trapped Lewis in front for 10. Soon 87 for 4 became 125 for 7 as Karen Rolton, the pick of Australia’s bowlers (2 for 25), got into the act, dismissing Clare Nicholson and Sarah McLauchlan.

Cathryn Fitzpatrick, one of the key threats as singled out by oppositions, then struck the killer blow by bowling Hockley. The latter had made a solid 79 off 121 and occupied the crease for a good part of over two and a half hours. The Kiwis were bowled out for 164, with Bronwyn Calver (2 for 29) and Charmaine Mason (2 for 32) also picking two wickets each.

Innings break – generally the time for skippers to say something to motivate the players in a final. So Belinda Clark must have said something…

“Clark is an amazing leader to begin with. For something to stand out, it must be a Nobel-prize winning speech,” says Jones with a laugh.

“She led so brilliantly from her own actions not just on the field but also off it. Between her and John Harmer, the coach, they did so much work before the moment itself. So, they basically were very simple at the end of the day.”

80000 spectators attended the 1997 World Cup final at the Eden Gardens. ©All Sport

The backbone of Australia’s chase – a successful one that – was the 71-run partnership for the second wicket between Clark and Michelle Goszko. The latter fell when Australia were on 107 while the former followed ten runs later. Goszko missed her half century by 13 runs but the captain got hers and was eventually dismissed for 52.

Jones and Rolton then took Australia closer before falling at the doorstep of a win. The Aussies finally clinched the silverware with a five-wicket win, their fourth World Cup win in six tournaments.

“We went into that World Cup ranked fourth – all the rankings were based on the previous World Cup,” says Jones, who scored 17 in the chase.

“I remember also that we, without exaggerating, travelled the most. They had us going from every single point of the country. Even though we might have been ranked fourth, people certainly saw us as the danger team,” she laughs.

“But in saying that, it bonded us even more because we were on the road, we were travelling in trains, planes, buses and the like. We were getting to the see the magnificent places in the country at the same time.”

Having lost the previous World Cup, Australia had borne the fruits of early preparation for this edition.

“We had an Australian youth team tour there in 1994 in preparation for that World Cup. I think six players from that youth team – it was a part of the preparation – made that World Cup side… Olivia Magno, Julia Price, Lisa Keightley, Karen Rolton, myself and, I think, Avril Faye. That was a big part of the preparation that John Harmer and Chris Matthews took us there and got us ready.”

“We had actually taken a lot of video footage on that tour. We started to show the squad preparing for the World Cup what was like to tour (India). We went through the streets, the training facilities, the games and all that sort of stuff to just try and get people’s head around touring India because none of the rest of the squad had done it before. So there was just that big part to try and take away the shock factor, because this wasn’t like playing cricket at home.”

Meticulous planning had helped Australia win yet another world title. 80,000 people had attended the clash – unthinkable at those times, especially given that the hosts weren’t a part of the clash. It was only in 2017 at Lord’s and recently at the Melbourne Cricket Ground that women’s cricket then witnessed humongous crowd. To imagine that the seeds were actually sown 23 years ago…

 

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