In 1992 the New Zealand cricket team had an unlikely and romantic run at the World Cup. Simon Day retraces the tournament that changed his life forever.
I went to the opening game with my grandma and fell in love with Martin Crowe. After every game I watched on TV I’d call her to debrief. Together we went to the semi-final against Pakistan, full of hope and pride. Sitting in the Southern Stand at Eden Park reeling as Inzamam Ul-Haq turned certain victory into heartbreaking loss I started to feel nauseous. With about 10 overs to go, I demanded we leave. I couldn’t bear to watch my team have their dream dismantled.
For a month in the summer of 1992, the New Zealand cricket team captured the hearts of the country on their improbable journey to the World Cup semi-final. I was six, and this was the moment cricket grabbed me, and never let go.
For me, the 1992 World Cup became an obsession. I’ve watched the VHS recordings (and now Youtube videos) of the games hundreds of times, although I’ve never felt able to rewatch that semi-final. I’ve analysed the statistics in Wisden’s World Cup Almanac. I immediately skip to the 1992 World Cup chapter in cricket biographies. I collected Shell station cricket cards and spent 20 years looking for an authentic 1992 New Zealand shirt (I now own two, alongside thousands of dollars of 90s memorabilia).
Listen to the new episode of The Offspin, The Spinoff’s Cricket World Cup podcast, with guests Ali Ikram and his dad Hamid Ikram, who explain their role in Pakistan’s success at the 1992 Cricket World Cup. Download this episode (right click and save), listen on the player below, subscribe on iTunes or via Spotify.
For those seven games, the Young Guns were the best team in the world. In a tournament where modern cricket revealed its new colours and was played with a new pace and energy, New Zealand led its transformation. It might have ended in heartbreak, but it gave New Zealand cricket fans hope that we could beat anyone in the world. It’s hope I held on to for decades.
This is how it happened.
22 February 1992, New Zealand v Australia at Eden Park
Walking out in front of the 23,000 strong home crowd in the opening game of the World Cup against the old, dominant foe, captain Martin Crowe imagined this is what it must be like to be an All Black. A complex sportsman, he carried the burden of New Zealand’s sporting expectations as he made his way to the middle.
Earlier that summer Crowe’s leadership faced a coup after a disastrous test and one day series against England where New Zeland failed to win a match. Expectations weren’t high for the New Zealand team going into its first match against the reigning world champions. They weren’t lifted when veteran opener John Wright was bowled around his legs from the third ball of the game. The unorthodox Andrew Jones was gone soon after, and the Kiwis were 13/2.
In walked Crowe. From the moment he hit Tom Moody through mid-off for four the captain made the tournament his own. One of the best pullers in the game, Crowe smashed the Australian bowlers for seven boundaries through the leg side. But his best shot that afternoon was a classic off drive; Crowe held his follow through down on one knee. There should be a statue of that shot outside Eden Park alongside Michael Jones scoring the first try of the 1987 Rugby World Cup.
He played fluidly all afternoon and in the 50th over he scampered through, arms raised, to bring up his century, as a 21-year-old Chris Cairns dived to beat the run out. New Zealand finished 248/6 and fans stormed the field to congratulate Crowe.
From the second over of the Australian innings, Crowe’s captaincy proved itself almost as valuable as his batting. In a move that bogged the Aussies down from the start, he opened with off-spinner Dipak Patel and a dense offside field on the typically slow and low New Zealand pitch.
Patel’s first seven overs went for 19, and he finished his ten with 36/1. He was the tournament’s most economical bowler, despite bowling most of his overs when the new fielding restrictions allowed only two players outside the circle.
The 1992 World Cup was the first time where cricket’s third skill was recognised as a match winner. It was in this tournament that South African Jonty Rhodes signalled his arrival as one of the sport’s greatest fielders, when against Pakistan he charged in from point, collected the ball and dived full length to wipe out the three stumps for a run out. But New Zealand was the tournament’s best fielding team.
“We saw the importance of what a brilliant piece of fielding can be. One piece of fielding can win you a game. In 92 we started to discover that more and more,” said Rod Latham, New Zealand opening batsman.
Looking solid at 91/1 with David Boon and Dean Jones both settled, New Zealand’s fielding sealed the match. One day specialist Dean Jones, a whippet between the wickets, attempted two after a flick through square leg. Cairns fired a bullet right over the top of the stumps to run him out for 21 (although had the third umpire existed he might not have been given out). Latham took a spectacular caught-and-bowled, airborne to his left to remove Moody. Steve Waugh had started a brief fight back before Gavin Larsen took a great catch off his own bowling diving across the pitch.
Any hope of an Australian victory was ended when Chris Harris fired from 35 metres, square on, to hit the single stump and run David Boon our just after he’d brought up his century. Boon didn’t break stride as he continued back to the pavilion and Kiwi fans began bowing on hands and knees in the Eden Park outfield.
When Australia was dismissed 37 runs short, hundreds of fans invaded the field to celebrate the upset. Sitting in the members stand with gran, the team instantly became my heroes. The victory set off a Mexican wave of public support that travelled with the team around New Zealand.
“You can’t underestimate how important that first game at Eden Park was. City to city I have never seen anything like it. Just bumping into so many people who have such vivid memories you realise what cricket means to people in this country,” said Larsen.
25 February 1992, New Zealand v Sri Lanka at Trust Bank Park.
For years New Zealand’s one-day uniforms were strangely dull. The ironically famous beige was followed by equally dreary permutations of grey for the majority of the 90s. Now in a market flooded by replicas, the original grey jerseys have become collector’s items. A dad coaching Saturday cricket once turned down my $400 offer for his shirt – he’d bought it at the Eden Park semi-final and it was apparently priceless. At grounds around the country, original jersey holders acknowledge each other with a nod.
The 1992 uniform was fitting for a team made up of bit part players who were labelled “bland”. Behind the superstar Crowe, the team was built from young upstarts, some solid batsmen and a group of veteran journeymen. Somehow they were nicknamed the “Young Guns”, despite the team’s average age being 29. They were a humble group who during the tournament created a team environment that saw them beat the best players in the world.
“They were such honest toilers and were never going to be big names in world cricket. Even though they were playing on the big stage, they didn’t think it was theirs. We all thought we borrowed the stage,” said Warren Lees, who coached the New Zealand team from 1990 – 1993.
It was a team performance in the second game in Hamilton that showed the Kiwis weren’t the 50-1 outsiders bookies offered before the World Cup. Playing on the sticky low New Zealand pitches, the slow medium pacers of Larsen, Harris, Latham and Willie Watson became affectionately known as the “dibbly dobblies.” Throughout the tournament Crowe bowled them in short two over spells, never allowing the batsmen to settle. At Trust Bank Park they restricted Sri Lanka to 206.
Crowe was out for five. But the experienced batsmen of Wright, Jones, and Ken Rutherford carried the Kiwis home with ten balls to spare.
“We weren’t a team of stars and that was why New Zealand bought into it. We really had to work well as a team and gel as a unit. That was what made that team so successful. Everyone at different times stepped up and helped us win games. That was something we created,” said Harris.
29 February 1992, New Zealand v South Africa at Eden Park
In 1977 Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket gave birth to the modern game. It introduced coloured uniforms, white balls and day-night games. In nearly destroying cricket as he drove a wedge between the world’s best players and the boards that controlled the game, Packer saved the sport from itself, injecting life into its suffocating traditions.
“The Packer thing had a negative effect on the game, and huge advantages. It gave the game a new lease of life. You can thank Packer for what actually happened. I don’t think they realised the effects of what they actually did,” said New Zealand great and Packer recruit, Sir Richard Hadlee.
The 1992 tournament was the coming out party for cricket’s new flamboyance as it shed some of its stuffy traditions. The fifth world cup was an entertainment spectacle as much a cricket competition. While the first four world cups were played in crickets conventional whites with red balls, the 1992 tournament embraced Packer’s innovations of coloured kit, white balls and day-night games under lights.
“It was a showpiece for the game. It was a little bit different it became a stage show more than a cricket tournament. All those things came through in that World Cup. That is what grabbed the public’s attention,” said veteran broadcaster Bryan Waddle.
And it was the first to welcome South Africa back to international sport after 22 years. Just four months out from the tournament’s first ball, following high-level political negotiations including Nelson Mandela, British prime minister John Major and Australian prime minister Bob Hawke, the ICC gave South Africa wildcard entry to play in its first World Cup.
During the tournament, white South Africans voted on a referendum to continue reforms to end apartheid. Advertising hoardings urging a ‘yes’ voted were erected at grounds. The team had promised to withdraw if the people voted ‘no’. After the South African’s had qualified for a semi-final, they faced a nervous wait before the news arrived that President F W De Klerk had won the vote for racial reform.
South African Captain Kepler Wessels was the only player with any international experience having previously played for Australia before returning to his homeland. South Africa’s return to the world stage began and its run to the semi-finals captivated the nation.
“It was huge for the team and the country. This was a unifying experience, it brought the country closer together,” Wessels said.
The opening game against Australia at the SCG quickly sold out and tickets were fetching big prices on the black market. South Africa restricted Australia to 170 and then Wessels scored 81* in a nine-wicket victory.
In a symbol of sport’s political power in South Africa, the country’s largest paper ran a front-page photo of the African National Congress’s sports mediator, Steve Tshwete, who had been imprisoned on Robben Island, embracing Wessels, a white Afrikaner. The tournament has become permanently etched in the cultural history of South Africa, and the memories of the players who were the first to represent their country after decades of exile.
“If you play international cricket for a number for years the ODIs blend into each other. Whereas my memories of that 92 world cup are exceptionally clear. I can remember the smallest of details of that tournament,” said David Richardson, the South African wicketkeeper and current ICC president.
A detail vivid in Richardson’s memory was the arrival of New Zealand’s second star to the tournament. Mark Greatbatch, was called up to open the batting after Wright was injured and his explosive approach made him (and his SS Turbo) an instant idol and changed the way team’s approached the start of their innings. While New Zealand’s slow bowlers were again accurate and effective giving away just 190 runs, the South African quicks, including a young Allan Donald, were smashed out of the ground – including a Greatbatch six deposited on the North Stand roof. After scoring just 30 runs in his last five internationals Greatbatch hit nine fours and three sixes in his 68 and blew the South Africans off the park. The Kiwis won with more than 15 overs to spare.
“The faster you bowled the further he seemed to hit the ball,” remembers Richardson.
3 March 1992, New Zealand v Zimbabwe at McLean Park
After reading Born to Win, the story of Australia II’s 1982 victory in the America’s Cup, Crowe followed skipper John Bertrand’s approach in dehumanising the opposition. Within the Kiwi camp, Australia became the yellow team, England the blue, South Africa the green. Each team was treated equally, each there to be beaten.
Despite Zimbabwe not yet achieving test status, the Young Guns approached the “red team”, ruthlessly in a rain-affected match in Napier. In a rush for runs as showers kept pulling the players from the field, Crowe hit the fastest half-century in World Cup history from 31 balls. In a 129 run partnership with Andrew Jones, Crowe finished on 71* off 44 balls, and would almost certainly have broken the 62 ball record for fastest ODI century had the game not been cut to 20 overs.
The red team never got close. The Kiwi slow bowlers hurried through to reach the 15 overs required for an official result. Suddenly, the chance of a semi-final appearance, an almost certain impossibility before the World Cup started, was just one win away.
8 March 1992, New Zealand v West Indies at Eden Park
The contrast of New Zealand’s bowling attack, that opened with Patel’s off-spin, to the raw pace of the mighty West Indies bowling attack led by Malcolm Marshall and Curtly Ambrose, was almost funny. But as Mark Greatbatch came down the wicket to the world’s most fearsome pace attack and hit them back over their head time and time again, it was the Kiwi team that laughed.
“I remember sitting next to Ian Smith giggling to himself saying this is ridiculous. It was like nothing we had ever seen,” said Harris.
When Greatbatch came out of his crease to hit 2.05m Curtly Ambrose for six, his opening partner Rod Latham remembers the West Indian fast bowler threatening that the next ball would be a beamer. The threat didn’t worry Greatbatch. He nearly decapitated the umpire with a straight drive. The legendary Malcolm Marshall was left with his hands on his hips as he watched the ball sail deep into the West Stand where a fanatic Kiwi crowd raised their yellow DB Draught six signs in delight.
“I wonder if Marshall has ever been hit over extra cover for six in his life before?” asked the excitable old Etonian Henry Blofeld from the commentary box.
But as the middle order stuttered, Crowe played another stunning knock. At a run a ball he hit 81 of the final 109 runs. Finishing not out again he led the team to a five-wicket victory with nine balls to spare. The New Zealand team had confirmed their place in the semi-finals.
“It was my finest one-day innings, played under pressure, one to remember forever,” Crowe wrote in his autobiography, Out on a Limb.
Greatbatch ended the tournament with 14 sixes, the most by any player. The next best was Crowe with 6. His accidental promotion to the top of the order and freedom to attack captivated the New Zealand public and smashed a path for pinch hitters at the top of the order. His SS Turbo would become the summer’s bat of choice for young Kiwi cricketers. His fearless approach to the new ball created a model for big-hitting openers like Romesh Kaluwitharana and Adam Gilchrist.
“Prior to (the 1992 World Cup) teams… didn’t change how they played ODIs from how they played test cricket. At international level, the one day game took a leap, and ever since then it has taken off and is still evolving,” said Richardson.
12 March 1992, New Zealand v India at Carisbrook
The 1992 World Cup saw the emergence of a new generation of cricket’s stars. It was the first World Cup for West Indian great Brian Lara who scored a blazing 52 against New Zealand. It was the first time the world saw Allan Donald bowl. It was the last tournament for all time greats Kapil Dev, Ian Botham, and Allan Border.
It was also the first World Cup for a teenage Sachin Tendulkar. Perhaps it was this game in Dunedin that forever coloured his thoughts of New Zealand. In his biography, Tendulkar complains of our country’s weather, food and accents.
“It’s often windy and chilly and that, coupled with the short boundaries in most of the grounds, makes it very different from conditions back home in India,” he writes.
That day in 1992 temperatures barely reached double figures as 120 km winds blew in from Antarctica. Despite the weather, Tendulkar hit a beautiful 84 with six fours through the offside. The 18-year-old finished the 14th highest run scorer in the tournament.
But the “dibbly dobblies” choked India. Patel finished his 10 overs with 2/29. And the batsmen were able to easily chase down the 230 with 4 overs to spare.
15 March, New Zealand v England at the Basin Reserve
It was in Dunedin two months earlier during the humiliating English tour that Crowe first tested the tactic he used to gag opposing batsmen throughout the World Cup. Facing another loss, Crowe handed the ball to part-time bowler Rod Latham. On the slowest of wickets, his gentle pace stuck on the deck and he finished with 3/25.
In three tests and three ODIs against England, a draw in the final test was the best result of the tour. During that last test, just two weeks out from the World Cup, the selectors asked Crowe to quit as captain. He refused to resign.
“That threw him and I much closer together. It was a pretty desperate couple of hours. It made our determination stronger,” said coach Lees.
With a chip on his shoulder, Crowe was determined to succeed at the World Cup. And after winning six in a row he was desperate to wreak revenge on England. Those tactics he developed in the ODI series would suffocate England and complete Crowe’s redemption with a record seventh consecutive World Cup victory.
“We got hammered in the test series and the ODI series. I think deep down, Martin and Warren were testing the waters a little bit. To beat England was quite special,” said Latham.
18 March 1992, New Zealand v Pakistan, Lancaster Park
Coming into the last round-robin game New Zealand were assured of qualifying for the semifinals in first place. Pakistan were not. They needed to beat New Zealand and then for Australia to win against the West Indies to get through in fourth place. The week earlier Imran had issued his famous “cornered tiger” speech. They were fired up.
For the first time in the tournament, the New Zealand batsmen failed. Greatbatch was the only player in the top eight to make double figures. Pakistan chased down the meagre 167 easily.
I pretended this game never happened. It didn’t matter. We were off to the semi-final at Eden Park… against Pakistan.
21 March, semifinal: New Zealand v Pakistan at Eden Park
Over the past month, the nearly perfect Young Guns had earned the adoration of the New Zealand public. Eden Park was packed. “You are Gods,” read giant banners blowing in a cold Auckland wind.
Their opponent, a dysfunctional Pakistan had stumbled through their first five games with just one victory. On the verge of being eliminated, their inspirational captain (and now Pakistan president) Imran Khan gave his legendary “cornered tiger” speech the morning before their match against Australia. In his famous t-shirt imprinted with a pouncing tiger, he addressed every player personally affirming their individual skill. He urged his team to fight like cornered tigers. If they did, he knew they would win the World Cup, he told them.
A different team emerged that day and Khan’s team defeated Australia by 48 runs. With victories in their final three matches, Pakistan snuck into the semi-final against New Zealand.
With the threat of rain Crowe won the toss and chose to bat. But after smashing two sixes, the explosive Greatbatch was dismissed for just 17 by a brilliant Aaqib Javed slower ball and New Zealand hobbled to 87/3. Then Crowe took over the game. In partnership with Rutherford, the pair added 107 in 113 balls.
But tragedy struck. As the batsmen crossed when Rutherford skied the ball to the keeper, Crowe pulled his hamstring. He continued with a runner but was run out on 91, from just 83 balls in an almost flawless innings. He limped off the field to a standing ovation.
The run rate never slowed. An agricultural Ian Smith and the tail hit 50 from the last five overs taking New Zealand to an imposing 262/7 (think 340 by today’s standards).
The injured Crowe didn’t take the field and handed the captaincy to Wright. He was advised that if he wanted to play in the final four days later he needed his hamstring iced, compressed and elevated. And at 140/4 after 35 overs the game looked like New Zealand’s.
But when a tiger is cornered it attacks. A 22-year-old Inzamam Ul-Haq played a vicious innings that could not be contained by Eden Park’s small boundaries. He smashed 60 from 37 balls. The Auckland crowd was stunned. By the time he was brilliantly run out by Chris Harris, the damage was done. Javed Miandad kissed the turf after he brought the Pakistanis home with an over to spare.
Wright struggled to manage his bowlers. While Crowe was making as many as 15 bowling changes an innings in the previous eight games, Wright made only seven. The slow-medium pacers who had been so successful when changed frequently were bowled until the Pakistan batsman got a handle on their awkward pace and they were hit out of the park.
But, Wright’s coach and teammates refuse to place any blame on the stand-in captain. And Inzamam’s innings was a unique moment of sporting dominance that took the game away from the New Zealand team.
“He did the job to the best of his ability, he can’t be responsible for the way people bowled,” said Latham.
They do acknowledge what a loss the leadership of Crowe was. He had captained the team with such precise instincts and a sense of paternity, the players were unsure what to do without his presence on the field.
“Not having Martin on the field was a massive blow. He was inspirational in all areas. That made it difficult and that was really telling,” said Harris.
Four days later it was Pakistan’s demigod captain Khan who raised the crystal globe at the MCG. In the final act of his career, the 39-year-old led Pakistan to glory. Glory that was meant to belong to Crowe, to the team that had exceeded all expectations, and to all those New Zealanders like me who’d joined them on that ride.
Crowe finished the World Cup the highest scorer with 456 runs at an average of 114 and was named player of the tournament. But despite the individual achievements Crowe has long struggled with the semi-final failure. Alongside his 299, the decision not to take the field in the second innings haunted him.
“In very dark times I blamed others, like John Wright, and I felt guilty at having done so. In truth, I simply blamed myself. It was the one real chance for glory for my country, to lift the World Cup, and I was beside myself that I had misjudged the moment, under the West Stand at Eden Park that day,” Crowe wrote in a 2014 column for ESPN Cricinfo.
I sat in the carpark crying with my grandma, while my heroes broke down in tears of their own as they lapped Eden Park to thank New Zealand for the support over the last month. The huge crowd remained to return the gratitude.
“It was a highlight but heartbreaking too. Walking around the ground we felt like we let New Zealand down,” said Latham, whose face was streaked with tears as he circled the boundary.
Despite falling short, the 1992 World Cup remains the pinnacle for many of the New Zealand players. The public support, the consistent performances, and the spirit forged by that team became a defining moment in many of those players careers.
“Apart from getting married and having children, it was one of the most special times in my life, those 30 days. The atmosphere and hype that we created is something I will never forget. The whole of New Zealand bought into it,” said Harris
It was also a defining moment in my life. It laid the path for my intense cricket fandom. For the next 23 years, I grasped for that same intense buzz that Crowe’s team had gifted me. I found it in the tournament’s return to New Zealand and Australia in 2015, and the way Brendon McCullum’s team embraced that same spirit of joy in the game that Crowe had instilled in his team. Like the Young Guns there was something heroic about the way they played.
And then Grant Elliot finally set my 1992 demons free. I was there, in the front row of the east stand, across the ground from where my grandma and I had sat in the 1992 semi-final.
The next week I travelled to Melbourne to watch the final at the MCG. This time it only took five deliveries for that sickening feeling to arrive. Just like 1992 I’ve never watched a reply of that match. I hope it doesn’t take another 23 years for New Zealand to take that final step.
This story was originally published in 2015. It’s been updated to reflect the emotional significance of the 2015 World Cup to the author.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the day's best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.