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Australia's 1983 World Cup disaster: How selection ruined our chances

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Roar Guru
8th May, 2024
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The recent announcement of Australia’s T20 World Cup squad took me back to the 1983 ODI World Cup campaign – one of our great disasters as a cricketing nation.

A squad divided over the captaining abilities of Kim Hughes. Losing to Zimbabwe. Clandestine meetings with South Africans. Being thrashed by eventual winners India. Out of all Australia’s bad World Cup efforts (1979, 1992 and 2011 all had their moments), 1983 still stands on top. 

Looking back, was there anything Australia could have done differently apart from “play better”? Could a stronger squad have been picked? Could we have won instead of India?

Australia batsman Kim Hughes pulls a short ball to the boundary watched by fielder Gordon Greenidge during his innings of 69 during the 1983 Cricket World Cup match at Lords on June 18, 1983 in London, England. (Photo Adrian Murrell/Allsport/Getty Images)

Australia batsman Kim Hughes pulls a short ball to the boundary watched during his innings of 69 at the 1983 Cricket World Cup. (Photo Adrian Murrell/Allsport/Getty Images)

To set the scene, by the end of the 1982-83 summer Australia had retained the Ashes, won the WSC ODI series, beaten Sri Lanka in a Test and lost to them 2-0 in ODIs.

This is the original World Cup squad:

1. Kim Hughes (c)
2. Allan Border
3. Greg Chappell
4. Trevor Chappell
5. Tom Hogan
6. Rodney Hogg
7. David Hookes (vc)
8. Geoff Lawson
9. Dennis Lillie
10. Rod Marsh
11. Jeff Thomson
12. Kepler Wessels
13. Graeme Wood
14. Graham Yallop

Border had a rough starts to 1982-83 but found his form towards the end of the Ashes. Rod Marsh was an automatic pick. So too was David Hookes after his very good summer. Yallop had an incredible domestic season that earned him an international recall.

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There were more question marks over Graeme Wood, but he could perform at ODI cricket. Kepler Wessels was also excellent though there was a feeling he was too slow; it wasn’t until 1983-84 they would figure out how to use him in ODIs.

Many pushed for John Dyson, who’d played quite well for Australia in white ball; some liked the young Steven Smith (the other one). I’d have taken Smith over Wood but I appreciate Wood was more experienced in English conditions.

There was no way Geoff Lawson and Rodney Hogg weren’t going after their 82-83 summers (it’s often forgotten Hogg was a superb ODI bowler). Dennis Lillee had been injured and dropped from the ODI side but you don’t leave out a player of his class.

Jeff Thomson got back in the Test side due to injuries to Terry Alderman and Carl Rackemann and did well but never found his stripes in the ODI game – too expensive. They should have gone for John Maguire or Ken Macleay, who’d both played ODIs that summer.

Tom Hogan was a decent spinner and could stick in the Ray Bright mould. He was picked over Bruce Yardley who was Australia’s Test spinner, prompting Yardley to retire from first class cricket. The Yardley decision may have been due to concerns about (unfair) British fears over his action. Hogan was a decent white ball bowler though.

Greg Chappell had stepped down from ODI captaincy but originally still intended to go to the World Cup. He was an amazing ODI cricketer – it’s often overshadowed by his Test record but in addition to his batting and fielding he could give you ten overs.

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Chappell eventually pulled out of the tour, leaving a hole that could not be filled due to a lack of all-round ability in Australian cricket circa 1983 – this was just before Steve Waugh and Simon O’Donnell. They’d tried Shaun Graf and were tempted by Ken Macleay but both were really bowlers handy with the bat. 

Australia replaced Chappell with Macleay, who wasn’t a bad selection, but instead as a bowler. Macleay over Jeff Thomson yes – over Greg Chappell, no. You know who have been the smarter pick? John Inverarity, the former WA captain then playing for South Australia. Yes, he was 36, but so what? It was a World Cup. He was a batter who could easily bowl ten overs, he knew English conditions, and had experience which is invaluable on the world stage. He was the most consistent all rounder at the time. And ageism ruled out his selection.

Trevor Chappell was considered the surprise selection of the squad. Never in the class of his brothers, he offered a lot for ODIs: a better fielder than Greg, handy bowler and useful bat. His main problem – where exactly to play him in the order?

I would have picked John Inverarity over him too but once Greg Chappell pulled out, I still would’ve taken Trevor Chappell. There were no other all round options.

Then there was Kim Hughes. Exciting. Erratic. Weirdly not very good at one day cricket – look at his record, 25 with the bat and a strike rate of 67. Hughes had led unsuccessful overseas campaigns in 1979 (England, India), 1981 (England) and 1982 (Pakistan) – the penny really should have dropped that he wasn’t up to leadership.

 India players Mohinder Armanath (2nd left) and Yashpal Sharma celebrate on the players balcony after India had beaten Australia by 118 runs in the 1983 World Cup at Chelmsford on June 20th in England. (Photo by Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

India players Mohinder Armanath (2nd left) and Yashpal Sharma celebrate on the players balcony after India had beaten Australia by 118 runs in the 1983 World Cup at Chelmsford on June 20th in England. (Photo by Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

In terms of pure batting form, Hughes had a lousy run in the WSC ODIs, making 57 runs in nine innings, averaging seven. He should have been dropped. But Hughes’ luck held, and paid off  – winning the man of the finals. I still wouldn’t have taken Hughes, because of his one day batting. He never conquered the form.

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A great ‘what if’ of Australian cricket history… what if Hughes had been dropped from the ODI team… the captain for the World Cup would have been David Hookes or Rod Marsh.

Here’s the squad I would have picked:

1. Keper Wessels
2. Steve Smith
3. Graham Yallop
4. Allan Border
5. David Hookes
6. John Inverarity (vc)
7. Rod Marsh (c)
8. Ken Macleay
9. Tom Hogan
10. Rodney Hogg
11. Geoff Lawson
12. Graeme Wood
13. Dennis Lillee
14. Trevor Chappell

I recognise I am probably the only person in history to suggest John Inverarity for the 1983 Australian World Cup squad.

Looking back Australian selectors made the following major errors:
– investing in something that wasn’t working (i.e Kim Hughes’ ODI career); and
– not investing in replacement players – they should’ve tried harder to find more batters capable of bowling ten overs.

Would this squad have won?

Well I still think it would have lost twice to the West Indies, but beaten Zimbabwe. And maybe beaten India again. Which then would have knocked India out of the World Cup, but the flow on effect of their success may not have rocked the game. 

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So maybe it’s fate our 1983 World Cup squad wasn’t up to it.

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