A grand show despite the hiccups

RICKY PONTING played an invaluable knock, took charge of the proceedings and led Australia to a brilliant win in the ICC World Cup in Johannesburg.


RICKY PONTING played an invaluable knock, took charge of the proceedings and led Australia to a brilliant win in the ICC World Cup in Johannesburg. This was only the second instance in a World Cup final that a captain had brought the opposition to its knees. The Australian skipper, who remained unbeaten on 140, was a treat to watch.

Ricky Ponting punishes Javagal Srinath during the final. Ponting, in the company of Damien Martyn, helped Australia amass 359 runs, which, in the end, were too many to chase for the Indians. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

Once Australia had made 359, its stranglehold on the title it won four years ago at Lord's was never in doubt. With 11 straight wins, the Aussies maintained a 100 per cent record in the World Cup. At the press conference, the Australian coach John Buchanan claimed that his team was capable of taking its game to greater heights. Buchanan was not boasting but was just providing an insight into the brand of cricket Australia had demonstrated in the last four years. At his instance, the national team has been benefited by new and innovative methods of training in batting and fielding. He named the appointment of baseball coach Mike Young, who introduced throwing techniques that were evident in the competition.

Ponting said that India played sensational cricket after the defeat to his side at the Centurion and won eight matches in a row, but added that their body language looked `pretty ordinary' in the final. "We beat them comprehensively, which shows how we tend to lift our game in important matches."

India and Sourav Ganguly should have no regrets. The Indian captain and the team's think-tank believed that Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra, who took 49 wickets in 10 matches, would deliver the goods again. But things didn't go well right from the first and long over sent down by Zaheer. Australia took full advantage of the situation and never allowed things to slip out of its grasp.

The first World Cup in the African continent — South Africa staging 44 matches including the two semi-finals and the final — was a resounding success from the organisational point of view. There were major hiccups, involving England and New Zealand, which the ICC had to deal with. England did not travel to Harare to play the league match against Zimbabwe for political reasons and New Zealand did not travel to Nairobi citing security concerns. Both the teams forfeited four points. England's hopes of an entry into the Super Sixes depended on the outcome of the match between Pakistan and Zimbabwe. But rain ruined its chances as Zimbabwe shared points with Pakistan and entered the second stage. The pre-event predictions of a probable Australia-South Africa showdown in the final also took a beating as the home team suffered defeats against the West Indies and New Zealand. What was even worse was that Pollock's team failed to get its arithmetic right and was shunted out of the Super Sixes on the Duckworth/Lewis system.

There were some sparkling performances as the competition got off to a rousing start after a spectacular opening ceremony. Canada's John Davison scored the fastest century of the World Cup against the West Indies and Sachin Tendulkar set a few batting records. Pakistan's Shoaib Akhtar and Australia's Brett Lee clocked in excess of 150 kmph, with the former even touching 100 mph once against England at Newlands. New Zealand's Shane Bond, too, left a fine impression in his first World Cup.

Sri Lanka's left-arm seamer Chaminda Vaas and Lee showed their skills and came up with hat-tricks against Bangladesh and Kenya respectively. Vaas, in fact, took three wickets off the first three balls and added one more in the very first over of the match.

Shane Warne's departure on the third day of the competition struck a major blow to Australia, but the defending champion stuck to its task. As usual the World Cup had its share of critics who blamed the format and the points system and demanded modifications in the next World Cup in the West Indies. There were faultfinding captains, who disagreed with the day-night matches played at Durban and Cape Town. The pitch at St. George's Park, Port Elizabeth, came in for criticism from the Australian captain and the ICC's Elite Panel and Supplementary Panel of umpires came under scrutiny. Some got away unscathed and a handful of them did not get good marks from the captains and the match referees. The ICC was severely tested but it put up a stout defence.

The following is the team-wise analysis:

Australia: It played like a true champion team right through the seven-week competition. Ponting lost a match-winner in leg-spinner Shane Warne before his team's first match against Pakistan and later fast bowler Jason Gillespie. Warne withdrew from the squad after he tested positive for a banned substance he consumed to shed excess weight. Gillespie damaged a tendon and was sent home.

Andrew Symonds — regarded as a fringe player — rescued his team from trouble, making a remarkable 143 against Pakistan. The Australian batting looked vulnerable and it largely depended on Michael Bevan and Andy Bichel to bail it out, especially against England and New Zealand.

There were some sensational bowling performances from Glenn McGrath and Andy Bichel, but it was Brett Lee who posed a major threat. McGrath and Bichel routed Namibia and England with seven-wicket hauls respectively. Lee came up with some superb opening bursts against New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Kenya. He dismissed Kenyans Kennedy Obuya, Brijal Patel and David Obuya to register the second hat-trick of the competition.

As he himself admitted, Ponting lost his confidence against England on a slow surface at St. George's Park, Port Elizabeth. He had begun with a bright innings against Pakistan and notched up a century against the Lankans in the Super Sixes stage before stamping his authority in the final.

India: After a not so impressive victory against Holland, and a crushing defeat against Australia, Ganguly's team made a terrific impact, thanks largely to an outstanding performance by its bowlers Srinath, Nehra and Zaheer. They took between them 49 wickets, but not one in the final.

Nehra's six for 23 against England at Kingsmead was a shot in the arm and from thereon the Indians never looked back until the final where Adam Gilchrist began the onslaught and later Ponting and Damien Martyn put it beyond them.

Tendulkar's batting consistency — one hundred and five half-centuries — provided the sparkle and Ganguly struck form to become only the second batsman after Australian Mark Waugh to score three or more centuries in a single World Cup. Towering sixes marked Ganguly's batting.

Sri Lanka: The 1996 winner beat New Zealand, but lost to Kenya at Nairobi and was lucky to make the Super Sixes stage. The island nation's batting hinged heavily on its captain Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu (two centuries). Chaminda Vaas bowled extremely well and captured wickets, while off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan provided able support.

Mahela Jayawardene's poor form was a major setback but Aravinda de Silva made runs in the middle order. Sri Lanka often found itself under pressure, but managed to reach the semi-finals where it was outclassed by Australia.

Kenya: Leg-spinner Collins Obuya made the World Cup a memorable one for the East African nation. His five-wicket haul helped Kenya beat Sri Lanka and enter the Super Sixes. The four points it earned against the Lankans and the victory against Zimbabwe saw it enter the semi-finals. Skipper Steve Tikolo struck form late in the tournament. Overall it was an impressive showing by Kenya, considered one of the minnows.

New Zealand: It started with a handicap, having decided to forfeit four points to Kenya. The team then lost to Sri Lanka and the prospect of making it into the Super Sixes seemed doubtful. But Stephen Fleming, one of the best captains seen in the competition, stunned the South Africans with a magnificent century in a shortened match. Earlier the Kiwis had defeated the West Indies by 20 runs.

Fast bowler Shane Bond was another success story for the Black Caps. His six wickets against Australia at St. George's Park will remain etched in memory. A bowler with a classic action, Bond did not get adequate support. Chris Cairns caught the attention while throwing down the stumps to run out Lara and batted well in patches, but was not consistent enough to take his team to the semi-finals.

Zimbabwe: It was in the news for all the wrong reasons, apart from Craig Wishart's big century against Namibia in the opening match. Andy Flower and Henry Olonga wore armbands and sweatbands as a mark of protest against human rights violations by the Robert Mugabe government. Zimbabwe lost to India and Australia, beat Namibia and Holland and benefited by the four points forfeited by England.

Two points from the last league match against Pakistan made sure that it would fly to South Africa for the first Super Sixes match against New Zealand at Bloemfontien. Streak and Sean Ervine amassed 62 runs in the last three overs, but Nathan Astle made an unbeaten century to dash Zimbabwe's hopes of making a positive start in the second stage.

South Africa: The look on the faces of the South African players during the rain interruption in the match against Sri Lanka at Kingsmead told a story by itself. The `tied' result by the application of the Duckworth/Lewis system threw the team out of the competition. Herschelle Gibbs' batting was a delight to watch, but otherwise it was the tale of the famous dropped catch by Mark Boucher of Stephen Fleming that was doing the round for many days. South Africa found a scapegoat in Shaun Pollock and axed him as captain. Allan Donald quit from all international cricket and in the early stages, Jonty Rhodes hurt his finger to be replaced by Graeme Smith who was later named captain for the tri-series in Sharjah and Bangladesh.

West Indies: Brian Lara started with a bang, but faded away as quickly. The West Indies batting faltered and never really got a good start from openers Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds. Carl Hooper was a big disappointment. Ramnaresh Sarwan, after being hit on the head by Dilhara Fernando, returned to bat and nearly won the match against Sri Lanka. The only West Indian who returned home with his head held high was fast bowler Vasbert Drakes, who also became famous for the stunning catch he took off Canada's John Davison.

England: Andrew Flintoff's all-round performance and Jimmy Anderson's bowling (against Pakistan) were the highlights of Nasser Hussain's team. Paul Collingwood too did his bit, but overall it was an eminently forgettable World Cup for England.

Pakistan: Wasim Akram reaching 500 ODI wickets and Saeed Anwar's century against India were the high points for the 1992 winner, apart from Akhtar touching the 100 mph mark against England. Inzamam-ul-Haq flopped and Abdul Razzaq failed to make an impression. The worst was the reported scuffle between Inzamam and Younis Khan at Bulawayo.

Canada: John Davison, reminded by the ICC President Malcolm Gray as `formerly from Melbourne' made the headlines, smashing the West Indies bowlers for a 67-ball century, the fastest in a World Cup. His teammate, Iswar Maraj scored the slowest half-century. The North American nation beat Bangladesh in the league match, but was shot out for 36 by Sri Lanka.

Namibia: Medium-pacer Rudi van Vuuren got the prize wicket of Tendulkar and picked up five wickets against England. Jan-Berry Burger made 85 in the same match and it was a satisfactory display by the ICC qualifier.

The Netherlands: The team bowled out India in the first match at Paarl. It ended the competition scoring a win against Namibia in which Jan Kloppenburg made 121 and took four for 42 and collected the 12,000 rand watch, while Van Noortwijk made an unbeaten 134.

Bangladesh: It lost all the six matches and put up a sorry show. The batsmen looked totally out of sorts and the bowling was mediocre. After it beat Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup, Bangladesh has not won a single one-day international match. The ICC had a number of questions to answer about its decision to award Test status to the nation.