A gradual but inevitable descent into cricket-based loathing and bile.

Classic Series Review: Akai Singer Champions Trophy 1997

Posted on March 16, 2015 by in Classic Series

The more eagle-eyed of our readers may have noticed that, after several months of not working properly, our oh-so-satirical polls have suddenly reappeared. While this might not seem all that significant in the grand scheme of things, it represents an important moment in the history of 51allout, being as it is a direct result of the reappearance of Editor Steve after several months of ‘business development’ trips. We were – naturally – delighted to see him prowl once more through the office, baseball bat in hand. Or at least we were until he started demanding that we stop playing the Metroid Prime trilogy and actually write some articles. Particularly worrying was his request to lighten the mood surrounding England’s ODI rubbishness by writing ‘something positive’ about them.

As challenges go that’s a pretty big one. It’s been nothing but doom and gloom for some time now. But then the work experience boy, his excitement at actually having something to contribute overtaking the urge to remain safely hidden in the shadows, piped up. What about the time that England conquered the world? He was referring, as we all knew, to the great Christmas of 1997, when we partied like never before as our heroes returned from the Middle East to collect MBEs in return for the gold, frankincense and myrrh that they had handed over to some sprog.

As we’re sure you all know by now, he was talking about the catchily titled Akai Singer Champions Trophy of 1997.

We put 'akai singer 1997' into Google and it thought we meant 'cacky singer 1997'.

We put ‘akai singer 1997’ into Google and for some reason it thought we meant ‘cacky singer 1997’.

Back then England were, just for a change, spectacularly bad at limited overs cricket, particularly away from home. 1996 had seen them thrashed 6-1 in South Africa, stink out the World Cup (in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) and whitewashed 3-0 in Zimbabwe. The following year started with a drawn series in New Zealand during the final defeat of which Chris Silverwood batted at number five (the same game that was Jack Russell’s only appearance in a 14-week tour), for reasons that we may never know. It was clear that England were being left behind and, as a result, the ECB accepted an invitation to send a team to take part in a four-team tournament in Sharjah later that year.

As well as this already fairly revolutionary idea, the ECB went even further, selecting an ODI-only captain for the very first time in the form of Adam Hollioake. As well as an audience with the Queen to impose upon him the importance of the task he was about to undertake for his country, he was given a squad of bits and pieces all-rounders to lead, including the likes of Ali Brown, Mark Ealham, Matthew Fleming and Dougie Brown alongside a few proper cricketers, such as Graeme Thorpe, Alec Stewart and one Nicholas Verity Knight.

Had Twitter been around, it would no doubt have been full of people pretending that they invented the #Verity hashtag.

Had 51allout and Twitter both been around at the time, it’s probably fair to say that we’d have spammed the shit out of #Verity.

The other three teams taking part were Pakistan, the West Indies and India, with the latter taking on England in the tournament opener. Batting first England collapsed under the weight of pressure after a promising start, going from 209/2 to 250 all out (stop us if you’ve heard this one before). Alec Stewart was the linchpin, making 116 from 111 balls as everyone else basically flailed around in traditional English fashion, running themselves out and generally hitting the ball straight up in the air a lot.

India’s response started well, Saba Karim and Saurav Ganguly putting on 60, before England’s medium paced dobbers did their thing, Ealham taking two wickets and Matthew Fleming four (including Sachin Tendulkar for 91). In the face of this onslaught of lack of pace, India eventually subsided to 243, giving England the win by just seven runs. The juggernaut was well and truly on its way.

It was a result that didn't go down terribly well back in India.

Losing to England didn’t go down terribly well back in India.

Next in the firing line were the mighty West Indies. In front of what looks on the video like a packed Sharjah crowd, Dougie Brown ripped through the top order, clean bowling Philo Wallace with the first ball of the match before pinning Brian Lara LBW two balls later. From there, with a frantic crowd (probably) behind them, England were unstoppable.

In the end the Windies ground their way to 197/7 from their 50 overs. Carl Hooper made exactly 100* but he would have known that it wouldn’t be enough. And so it proved, Graeme Thorpe making 57 and Mark Ealham a defiant, unbeaten and career-defining 28* from 49 balls as England cruised to a four wicket victory with 25 balls to spare.

By this stage, there seemed to be Akai Singer parties in the UK on every street.

By this stage, you couldn’t leave your home in the UK without stumbling across an Akai Singer party.

The final lambs to the slaughter were Pakistan. A now visibly confident England side brought all their tricks to the party: there was the strong opening partnership, the massive collapse against spin and some defiant lower-order hitting – Dougie Brown making 18* from 30 balls, an innings which included several near-boundaries – as they made 215/9.

Pakistan’s response started exactly the same way as the West Indies’ had, with Dougie Brown sending Shahid Afridi’s stumps in the direction of downtown Sharjah from the very first ball he faced. Dean Headley then took out Aamir Sohail, not so much clean bowled as mentally and physically crushed by the onslaught. From there England went to work on unraveling Pakistan’s middle order en masse. There were two wickets for Robert Croft, two for Adam Hollioake, one for Ealham and one for Fleming, plus two run outs. Indeed the run out of Manzoor Akhtar by #Verity was described by Wisden as ‘spectacular’. Pakistan finished on 207 all out. England were into the final!

Waiting in said final were the West Indies, bad news for the sponsors expecting an India vs. Pakistan showdown. Bowling first, England’s all-powerful seam attack, for once, didn’t rip through the opposition top order. In fact the Windies were 97 without loss in the 22nd over before Robert Croft struck. In the following over came the key moment, Lara being stumped in bizarre fashion:

From there England took control, with Matthew Fleming taking three wickets as the Windies stumbled to 235/7. England were just 236 runs away from restating their rightful place at the head of the global game. Despite the early loss of Alistair Brown, Stewart and Knight took England to a comfortable 89/1 before the latter ran himself out. Graeme Hick quickly came and went, followed to the pavilion by Stewart and captain Hollioake. When Mark Ealham departed for just four, bowled trying to hack Courtney Walsh, a nation held its breath. Would their destiny slip through their grasp once again?

Enter Matthew Fleming. Alongside Thorpe (66*), Fleming made a quickfire 33 to take the scores level before managing to be run out going for the last single. This merely allowed Dougie Brown his moment in the sun, working his first ball to the boundary to start the celebrations: England were the Akai Singer Champions (1997)!

Although Matthew Fleming's tickly cough rather ruined the celebrations.

Although Matthew Fleming’s tickly cough rather ruined the celebrations.

From there the rest is history. England completely misinterpreted the importance of the conditions and tried to build a team around bits and pieces allrounders for the next few years. They lost their next eight ODI series before going on to stink out the 1999 World Cup at home, in a tournament best known for Dave Stewart’s seminal official song, All Over The World, rather than anything that actually happened out in the middle.

Just in case we’ve mis-remembered any of this (which we definitely haven’t), here’s a ten minute roundup of the tournament that we found on YouTube:

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20 Mar 2015 22:50

As a kid I got to speak to John Barclay just as he started as a selector for England. Urged on by my family I created my England XI to give him, which was basically the current test team with a few Warwickshire players packed in. He graciously said that he was sure a few of them would be picked in the future but couldn’t stop himself from asking “…but why Dougie Brown?” If only I could print off this report, go back in time and show him what a match winner he could be in an England shirt.