Intelligence in Sport, and the Lack of it – Part One, Cricket

World Cup Blunders

In the writing, broadcasting and discussion of sport, we are assailed with opinions about the skill, power, speed, nerve and bravery of individual sportsmen and women. The importance of one factor is too often neglected. Intelligence, or the lack of it, sometimes makes all the difference.


Too often in sport, captains are selected, neither for their intelligence, nor even for their capacity to lead but on their perceived ability in the sport they play. Nowhere does this occur more often than in cricket, a sport which requires more than most, the capacity for intelligent thinking.

In 1987 the cricket world cup was held for the first time outside England, in India and Pakistan. The final was contested by England and Australia, two countries which had not won the trophy. Restricting Australia to 253, England was well on the way to victory on 135 for 2, with captain Mike Gatting going strongly. Allan Border, the sort of bowler used to fill in a few overs, brought himself on.

Mike Gatting (photo credit -

Mike Gatting (photo credit –

To the very first ball, Gatting attempted a clumsy reverse sweep, a stroke still in its infancy at that time and was caught. It changed the game and England fell seven runs short, handing Australia the first of its four titles. England has never won the world cup. It is regarded as an infamous moment in English cricket but there is more to tell. In the semi-final, Gatting, going well on 56, had attempted the very same stroke and played the ball into his stumps. The ability to learn from one’s mistakes is a basic tenet of intelligence.

Following South Africa’s return to cricket, Kepler Wessels led the side at its first world cup in 1992. To the surprise of most, South Africa made it into the semi-finals where the opponent was England. Rain had already contributed significantly to results in the tournament and one of the finalists, Pakistan, after three losses, was in the final only because of a washout, when they had been dismissed for 74 by England.

Kepler Wessels

Kepler Wessels

The rules at the time favoured the side batting first, particularly in the event of rain late in the second innings. On this occasion, rain was not immediately threatening but it was a distinct possibility later on. Wessels, a dour and conservative captain never known for his enterprise, won the toss and surprisingly, elected to field. It was a foolish and fateful decision.

After England had compiled 252-6, South Africa moved to 231-6, McMillan and Richardson both scoring freely and required 22 to win off 13 balls. Down came the rain and the umpires offered England captain Gooch the opportunity to leave the field. By the time they returned, 22 was required from 1 ball. South Africa was sunk and the fact that after the tournament the rules were changed was no consolation.

Meyrick Pringle

Meyrick Pringle

These particulars are widely known but as with the 1987 final, there is more to tell. Throughout the tournament the South African fast bowlers had regularly overstepped and contributed generously to opposition scores. In this semi-final, England did not bowl a no ball, South Africa bowled seven and from one of these, bowled by Meyrick Pringle, not renowned for his grey matter, man of the match Hick was caught at slip when he had scored 5. He went on to top score in the match with 83. Once again there had been a failure to learn the lessons of previous matches.

In Part Two, South Africa will again feature prominently.

Terence Dale Lace lives with his wife, Sara, and son Tim along with their two dogs. He is a keen follower of school rugby and cricket. He writes about topical issues in sport news where original and sometimes controversial writing will, he hopes, spark thoughtful responses.

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Posted in Cricket, Intelligence in Sport

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