Aussies have a great time

It was a wonderful year of some exciting cricket with batsmen and bowlers sharing the spoils, but nothing could match that grand performance of Ricky Ponting at The Wanderers when he took the Indian bowling apart, writes VIJAY LOKAPALLY.

Australia's domination of the one-day scene in the year of the World Cup was the main feature in 2003. The Aussies had worked tirelessly to achieve this position. The awesome talent available at Australia's disposal only showed how well the team was equipped in all departments.

Ricky Ponting with the TVS Cup, after winning the tri-series in India. Even without top bowlers, such as Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee, Australia proved too good with its reserve strength. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

In all, 148 matches formed the one-day international calendar with Australia at the top, winning 30 of its 35 matches. The consistency in winning the matches was what separated Australia from the rest. Significantly three of the defeats for Australia came in the Caribbean islands in the last three encounters of the series, which it had wrapped up by winning the first four matches. The other two defeats came against Sri Lanka at the beginning of the year and India towards the end.

The most remarkable feat, apart from winning the World Cup, was Australia's creditable win in the tri-series in India. Playing without the top three fast bowlers — Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie — the Australian team produced outstanding cricket to conquer the Indians with a competent show. Bowlers like Nathan Bracken and Brad Williams made the most of the swing they derived from the white ball to make a big impact on the Indian public. The Australian triumph was seen as yet another emphatic statement on the professionalism that marks its cricket.

Pakistan, undergoing transition in its ranks and as always rattled by the politics in the administration, did exceedingly well to win 21 of its 33 matches. The disappointment of the World Cup was wiped off in the Sharjah Cup and in the unblemished record at home, beating Bangladesh and New Zealand with identical 5-0 results.

The gains for Pakistan were many but the best came in the shape of the opening pair of Yasir Hameed and Imran Farhat. Their splendid starts left the New Zealand attack in a shambles and it provided the strong base for Pakistan to look ahead with confidence under the captaincy of Inzamam-ul-Haq.

Yousuf Youhana topped the batting list, with an aggregate of 1168 runs. Except for the World Cup fiasco, it was not a bad year for Pakistan. -- Pic. AP-

India fared reasonably well. In reaching the final of the World Cup, the team played to its potential but then the same drive was missing at home when it struggled in the tri-series, losing to New Zealand and then to Australia in the final. The Indians had begun the year on a disastrous note, losing to New Zealand but picked up momentum in the World Cup.

In the tri-series at Dhaka, India shared the honours with South Africa, losing one, winning one, before the final was washed out due to rain. Of course, the team was making rapid progress as a one-day combination worth a spot at the top, but Sourav Ganguly's army was also beginning to feel the demands of non-stop cricket. Without proper rest, key players suffered injuries. The team just about managed to come through a hard grind.

South Africa's campaign was laced with disappointment. Early exit from the World Cup left millions of home supporters in disappointment, but it did well to come back from a 0-2 deficit to clinch the five-match series in Pakistan. The inspiring work was given a winning shape by Jacques Kallis, Andre Nel and Boeta Dippenaar. It was not the best of South African achievements but the team did enough to enhance its image as one of the most competitive sides in all conditions. It played 23 matches and won 13.

England continued to struggle even though it won 13 matches. It was hardly a force in the World Cup, even though triumph in the NatWest Series at home was some consolation. The biggest gain for England was the form of Andrew Flintoff. His progress as an all-rounder of quality was the most significant happening in world cricket. It is players like Flintoff who liven up the sport and England did thrive on the strength of Flintoff.

The West Indies promised to go a long way with that sensational start to the year, beating South Africa by three runs in the World Cup. But the team drifted as the year progressed, banking on individual performances more. It lost 10 of the 21 matches it played in the year. Not really encouraging for a team, which has some really gifted players.

Muttiah Muralitharan had a great time with the ball, though it was not a profitable year for Sri Lanka. The team is going through a transition period. --_ Pic. NICK LAHAM/GETTY IMAGES-

Sri Lanka's case was not much different from the West Indies. It showed promise but did not live up to it. The team was going through a transition period with the retirement of Aravinda de Silva, end of a glorious career. The team had a new captain at the end of the season, after Sanath Jayasuriya preferred to relinquish the captaincy in order to concentrate on his batting.

Zimbabwe once again made up the numbers. The team, which was rattled by off-the-field developments involving the politics of the country, did not make significant progress. The leaving of Andy Flower and Henry Olonga in protest was not good for Zimbabwean cricket that had experienced quite a few jolts in the last couple of years. Flower and Olonga's bitter farewell was a sad chapter in Zimbabwe cricket, especially after the efforts that had gone into moulding a side from a sparse pool of talented youngsters. Zimbabwe's seven victories in 23 matches did not speak well for the team at all.

Bangladesh played a lot but won nothing. It lost 20 of the 21 matches and escaped in one due to a washout but it was not a good advertisement for a team that was given opportunities aplenty. Kenya, with a far lesser pool of players to pick from, fared much better with four victories to its credit, including the big one against Sri Lanka in the World Cup. The difference between Kenya and Bangladesh widened, with Kenya faring better.

It was a year to remember for Brett Lee with his stupendous performance in the World Cup. But the Aussie was bothered by injuries in the later part of the year. -- Pic. JONATHAN WOOD/GETTY IMAGES-

The regularly achieved totals of 300-plus indicated the dominance of batsmen. In all, 19 totals of 300-plus were recorded with the highest being recorded by Australia — 359 for two in the World Cup final. It was the most significant moment of one-day cricket in 2003. There were some shattering moments too when Sanath Jayasuriya and Adam Gilchrist fell on 99.

Yousuf Youhana of Pakistan had the highest aggregate of 1168 runs at an average of 43.26, followed closely by Australian Ricky Ponting, who scored 1154 runs at an average of 46.16. Sachin Tendulkar occupied the third spot (1141 runs) with Gilchrist (1098) and Matthew Hayden (1037) coming in that order.

The mystery off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan and Brett Lee shared the top spot among the bowlers with a tally of 46 each. The Sri Lankan had an average of 15.89 and Lee's wickets came at 20.13 apiece. Makhaya Ntini (45), James Anderson (41) and Mohammad Sami (40) had their moments too.

Three hat-tricks marked the year's cricket with Chaminda Vaas, Brett Lee and James Anderson hogging the limelight, the first two achieving the feat in the World Cup.

It was a wonderful year of some exciting cricket with batsmen and bowlers sharing the spoils but nothing could match that grand performance of Ponting at The Wanderers when he took the Indian bowling apart. That knock was the most defining statement of Australia's supremacy in one-day cricket.