During the 1993 Women’s Cricket World Cup in England, the International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC) held a meeting at which India put forward their case to hold the next edition of the tournament. As the event was scheduled for 1997, 20 years after India last hosted, the IWCC felt it was fitting that the tournament would return to the subcontinent.

Although they were quick to give the hosting rights to India, the IWCC would not find organising the tournament to be a simple affair. In the two years around the event, IWCC chair, Mary Brito, estimated she spent about NZ$4500 on faxes and phone calls as she desperately tried to get the Indian organisers to commit to a schedule.

Through the process of organising that schedule, there was one constant: the final would be played on December 28th at the cauldron of Eden Gardens, Calcutta. At her home in New Zealand, Brito was at least able to pencil this in and give some details to the team’s attending the tournament. As it was, many of those teams left for the tournament unsure of where they would be playing and who their opponents would be. This was further complicated when, three weeks out, the date of the final shifted out by a day, moved to avoid a conflict with an India v Sri Lanka men’s match scheduled for the 28th.

For New Zealand, the issue of not knowing their opponents was the most pressing concern as they left for India. In the earliest stages of planning the tournament was to feature 12 teams – a massive increase from previous World Cups – including Japan making their debut. That dream was short-lived as Japan were ruled out almost as quickly as they were penciled in. The same fate would befall the Canadians who were mooted to take Japan’s spot, leaving organisers scrambling to find their 12th team.

When the New Zealanders boarded their flight, they believed they’d be facing Bangladesh in their tournament opener. When they landed, they found out that, in spite of being offered playing equipment and travel costs, Bangladesh wouldn’t be attending. The 12-team tournament was down to 11 and New Zealand’s opening match was, effectively, a bye.


 

The intention to feature a dozen teams – a 50% increase on the 1993 tournament – put immense pressure on the Indian organisers. Anuradh Dutt, secretary of the Indian Women’s Cricket Association and tournament organiser, decried the IWCC for landing her with a such a large tournament.

We repeatedly requested them not to have so many teams but they would not listen to us and it made life very difficult for us.
– Anuradh Dutt

The expansion also created some serious mismatches with Pakistan, who had been welcomed to ODI cricket in 1996 with a world-record loss to New Zealand, being particularly disappointing. Against Australia they would make just 27. While New Zealand didn’t face the Pakistan side, the experienced Debbie Hockley felt their matches against the minnows were just as much of a waste of time: they bowled the West Indies out for 55 while Sri Lanka fared little better in making 71.

Where the organisers did have some success, however, was in securing a major sponsor for the tournament. Sourcing sponsorship had been a major stumbling block for the 1993 organisers, so having Hero Honda, a local motorcycle manufacturer, come on board was a major coup for Dutt and her team. However, their sponsorship came late in the piece and didn’t provide funding to fully cover the tournament’s costs. Although various local governments came to the aid – Eden Gardens, for example, was provided for free – Brito believed the Indian organisers were still mired in debt a year after the tournament concluded.

Government assistance was required to assist with another issue too. Indian cricket crowds were generally male-dominated due to the religious-like passion for the sport. With the World Cup expected to draw crowds of women, many of them bused in and given free entry to games, there would be a facilities issue. Organisers had to get officials to approve their female spectators using, relabelled, male toilets.


 

On the field, New Zealand were keen to go one better than their defeat in the 1993 final. The road to rectifying that result began on December 11th 1997 against the Netherlands at Ghaziabad. It was scheduled to be the 6th match of the tournament but, after less than 100 overs of a potential 500 overs were played in the opening games, it saw just the 3rd result of the tournament. With just one of the Dutch players reaching double figures in their rain-reduced 20 over innings, New Zealand easily chased down 48, taking less than 9 overs to do so.

In their chase, New Zealand lost two wickets, both falling to Nicola Payne. Born in Canada, Payne had already represented the Netherlands at the 1988 and 1993 World Cups. What was different about the tournament in India was the fact she had been a mainstay of Canterbury’s side since 1995, making her a regular teammate of many of the New Zealanders. When the two sides met again at the 2000 World Cup, Payne would be wearing black.


 

New Zealand’s next two games were the mismatches against Sri Lanka (won by 165 runs) and the West Indies (won by 198 runs). The undoubted highlight of these games was the form of Debbie Hockley who went back-to-back in hitting an even century in each match. In the Sri Lanka match she carried her bat for 100* in a innings that saw her become the second woman with 1000 World Cup runs and the first to pass 3000 ODI runs. There were a couple of other statistical quirks in that match as Rebecca Rolls finally conceded a bye in her 12th ODI as wicketkeeper and Sri Lanka’s Kalpana Liyanarachchi hit 4 off 83 balls.

Their bowling was quite flat and a lot of balls kept low. I stood a long way out of my crease to try and negate the lbws.
– Hockley on her 100* v Sri Lanka, Evening Post, December 15th 1997


 

The next challenge for New Zealand came in the form of the hosts. During their dominant run through pool play at the 1993 World Cup, the Indian side proved to be New Zealand’s toughest opponent and that would be true again in 1997. After winning the toss and choosing to bat, New Zealand made a strong start off the back of their two stars, Hockley and Emily Drumm. When Drumm fell for 69 with the score at 111, it looked like a big score was on the cards. India, however, had other ideas and, through the bowling of Neetu David and Purnima Rau, the pegged New Zealand back to finish on 176 for 9.

Just like Drumm for their opponents, the Indian innings was set up from the start by one of their openers as Anju Jain led their reply. With Jain set, it looked like a famous Indian win was a formality as they reached 150 for 4: 6 wickets in hand, 27 runs to get. Then, the tension of the game took over.

Jain fell to Clare Nicholson for 61 then India took a second run following a deflection from the bat, an intentional run on an unintentional interference which is generally frowned upon. While the second run led to a run out, tempers flared between two desperate sides. More wickets fell as Inda crawled towards their target, both equations falling in unison leaving the scores tied with one wicket and one over left. Katrina Keenan stepped and bowled the last Indian batsman with her first ball and the game was tied. According to some reports, TV replays showed it was a no ball.

The fantastic feeling after winning that match really summed up for me why I play this game.
– Clare Nicholson describes the feeling of the unlikely tie


 

I can’t see that they have improved like we have. Debbie Hockley and Emily Drumm are the two key wickets and after that they have got nothing
–  England’s 25-year-old wicketkeeper, Jane Cassar, quoted in Mad Dogs and English Women by Pete Davies

The tie was good enough to seal New Zealand top spot in their pool, seeing them to a quarter-final match-up with Ireland. Once again New Zealand won the toss and chose to bat, reaching 244 for 3 in their allotted overs. Their innings gave their top order a chance to flex their muscles as all five players who picked up a bat passed double figures with their scores, descending perfectly down the order, reading: 70, 60, 33, 32*, 14*. Ireland were never in the hunt, highlighted by Adele Spence top-scoring with 18* from number 11, losing by 139 runs.

Australia and India won through to the other semi-final, leaving New Zealand and England to play out a rematch of the previous World Cup’s final on Boxing Day. England were supremely confident. 

After winning another toss and again opting bat, New Zealand showed they were happy to grind away and Hockley was more than prepared to shoulder the expectations of her team at the top. She affirmed this in her own words after the tournament where she noted the difficulty of batting first in the conditions. In spite of that, her 456 tournament runs is still a World Cup record.

I found it quite difficult because we batted first on the pitches all the time and there was quite a lot of movement in the air and off the pitch so I think I had to grind more in this tournament than ever before. . .
– Hockley on her form during the 1997 World Cup

Drumm fell early, making just 4, and it would’ve been much worse for New Zealand had England held a chance off Hockley in just the fourth over. As it was, she found an ally in Shelley Fruin and the pair stubbornly put on a partnership of 85. It was not a high-octane innings by any account, after 30 overs the score was 80 for 1. Pete Davies, a journalist and author who travelled with the English team throughout the tournament, found more highlights in the local wildlife

[Kathryn] Leng’s second over was nearly perfect – one wide, but nothing else. The applause that came now, however, wasn’t for her; it was an ironical ripple for a limping dog meandering onto the outfield. It stopped at deep point, and sat down.
– from Mad Dogs and English Women

Fruin fell with the score at 93 and then Hockley was out 8 runs later for 44. In an attempt to up the run rate, Hockley attempted to hit one into downtown Chennai but she succeeded instead in lobbing the ball straight to Leng, who also had to avoid the bat which followed the ball through the air. Much of the impetous in the innings came from Katrina Keenan (35) and Kathryn Ramel (19) who helped New Zealand hit 39 off the last 5 overs, finishing on 175 for 6.

The English side felt it was their best fielding performance of the tournament and they took a lot of confidence from being able to keep New Zealand under 180. There was to be a twist, however, that would rock their confidence.

The word from the umpires at the end of the New Zealand innings was that England were being penalised an over in their batting innings due to a slow over rate. When word of this reached their coach, Megan Lear, she took the umpires to task, arguing with some validity that there were a number of factors which had led to the extended innings, not the least of which were the number of stray dogs that had to be chased from the field. She left the meeting believing they had their full complement for the chase.

She was New Zealand’s best bowler, unfussy, straight, hard to get away.
– Pete Davies on Sarah McLauchlan in Mad Dogs and English Women

England’s innings meandered along in a similar fashion to the New Zealanders’, although they were well and truly in control with the equation reading 78 off 90 balls with 7 wickets remaining. However, it was around this point that two things conspired against the English. The first was the performance of Sarah McLauchlan who bowled 9 overs for just 16 runs and claimed the key wicket of the set Barbara Daniels with the score at 100. In the field she also effected a stunning direct-hit run-out as England fell to 116 for 5.

The second thing that halted English momentum was the question of that penalty over. When the English overheard a conversation between New Zealand captain Maia Lewis and the umpires, where the words “49 overs” were used, their earlier assertion was called in to question. In particular it got under the skin of their captain, Karen Smithies, who, after remonstrating with the umpires, made a wild heave at a ball from Hockley which saw Lewis take an easy catch. 7 down for 124 made New Zealand’s total look imposing now.

New Zealand’s fielding would account for four of the English wickets and Claire Nicholson claimed one of those to finish the innings after taking a stunning caught and bowled – running, diving, and juggling. The pre-match confidence of the English smashed in a 20-run loss. The frustration of the English, and the feeling on the organisation of the tournament as a whole, was probably best exemplified by Davies, who wrote

. . .to say this was a messy and controversial exit from a messy and controversial tournament is to express how I feel on the matter with the greatest of restraint.
– from Mad Dogs and English Women

 

While New Zealand’s semi-final was watched by about 2000 people, the final against Australia was played in front of a crowd of 50 to 60,000. If you asked the Indian organisers, there were 80,000 there. The crowd was almost entirely female as local politicians chartered 1600 buses to bring them in from throughout the Calcutta region. Although tickets were free, some saw an opportunity make a quick dollar: a traffic warden was arrested selling the free tickets at the gate for Rs 150.

Australia were supremely confident, and rightly so as only a Debbie Hockley masterclass stopped this from being a complete walkover. Hockley hit 79 in New Zealand’s innings of 164 and was showered with praise for playing the innings of the tournament. Although Australia eased to a 5-wicket win, Hockley was named ‘Eve’ of the Match. Such was the dominance of Hockley that she was named as New Zealand’s Cricketer of the Year.

1997 Women's Cricket World Cup
The scene from beyond the boundary during the final. NZ Cricket Museum, Clare Nicholson Collection

. . .when Australia got the winning run, the sound was deafening: out in the middle it really was like standing beside a jet engine.
– Debbie Hockley

The final marked the 9th meeting between New Zealand and Australia in 1997 and our trans-Tasman neighbours continued to claim the upper hand with their 7th win in those clashes. The venue, however, made it a completely different beast and made it an amazing experience for the New Zealanders in spite of the loss.

That’s not to say they weren’t disappointed with losing their second successive World Cup final. The result would steel their resolve ahead of a home tournament in 2000.

However, the loss was quickly put in to context the day after the final as members of the New Zealand side chose to level something behind, as Clare Nicholson described

. . .there were quite a few players who went along to the Mother Theresa home and they will have donated their prizemoney that they had won [. . .] I think that was a very nice way to finish the tour from those who went there.

Feature Image: New Zealand wicketkeeper, Rebecca Rolls, in action during a 1997 promotional shoot. The teal uniform debuted at the tournament – the first women’s Cricket World Cup to feature coloured clothing.