Australia has it easy

SANJAY RAJAN

Steve Waugh holding aloft the ICC World Cup.-V.V. KRISHNAN

EVEN as Steven Rodger Waugh held aloft the ICC World Cup at the most revered cricket ground in the world on June 20, 1999, one's mind couldn't help but race back through time and space to Calcutta 12 years earlier and Allan Border's words after Australia edged out England to emerge world champions for the first time. "In Steve, I had the man for the occasion," said Border in praise of young Waugh's accurate medium pace and vital breakthroughs in the crunch.

And here, in England, it was Steve again, older and wiser, marshalling his resources like a master to guide the side from the depths of despair to glory. In what was an amazing sequence, Waugh's boys won six matches, tied the semifinal against Cronje's men, to make the final. The turnaround coming after the 10-run defeat at the hands of Wasim Akram's Pakistan at Leeds, and it was Pakistan it met again in the final.

To those who followed the seventh edition of the championship, the humdinger of a last league match between Australia, runner-up in the previous edition, and South Africa followed by the semifinal clash between the two, then the top overs-limit sides in world cricket, are the best remembered contests of the event.

And Steve's words to young Herschelle Gibbs, who dropped the Australian captain in that crucial league match, are part of cricketing folklore now. "Son, you've dropped the Cup," said the elder of the Waugh brothers, scoring that amazing century and following it up with a crucial half century in the semifinal.

So much so that on the eve of the final, Waugh, speaking about the side's wherewithal to deal with pressure and come up trumps in big match situations, said that having endured the two back-and-back contests with the Proteas and come through the wringer, his team will "get up" in the final. Going into the final, Australia enjoyed a plus three (25-22) in the win-loss record from 50 meetings against Pakistan.

Shane Warne came up with a brilliant spell to bag the man of the match award-V.V. KRISHNAN

While standing firm by his belief that Indians and the Sri Lankans are better players of spin than Pakistanis, Waugh backed his leg-spinner Shane Warne, who caused the first turnaround in the semifinal with four wickets, to come good in the summit clash.

Pace spearhead Glenn McGrath was keen to get even, as it was his poor spell at the `death' that had allowed Pakistan's tally swell to 275 in the league match.

Pakistan was equally confident of regaining the Cup. It had the pace attack, and after a shaky start to its campaign the batting guns were booming. Saeed Anwar, with two centuries in his kitty, was leading the way. Akram felt his boys were mentally stronger and that the Aussies would be drained out after the cliffhangers.

The cricketing world waited with bated breath for the sparks that generally fly when exciting sides like these two meet. Sadly, though, they were let down, as Australia's clinical display in the first session made it a no-contest. The blond beach boy from Bondi, who crossed the 200-wicket mark in Limited Overs Internationals here, bamboozled the Pakistani batsmen. Warne, declared the man of the match, lived up to his skipper's faith, claiming the crucial wickets of the dangerous Ijaz Ahmed, the usually gritty Moin Khan, the temperamental Shahid Afridi, and Akram, who, on his day, can turn a match on its head. Akram opted to bat and appeared confident that his batsmen would take it from there. Waugh, on the other hand, was looking at disciplined opening spells from McGrath and Fleming on a wicket, that would, owing to residual moisture, aid seam and bounce in the early part of the innings.

McGrath came up with a near-perfect first spell, conceding just six runs in six overs while also forcing opener Wajahatullah Wasti edge a lifter to slip. Fleming provided width to batsmen early on, but bagged the big one of Saeed Anwar. A while later, Moody produced a surprise wicket, that of the talented Abdur Razzaq (promoted to No. 3), though a rookie in the big stage then, driving uppishly to be caught by Steve in the covers. Pakistan was struggling at 68 for three and Warne came on.

Waugh set a field in a manner that cut off the boundaries and the pressure kept building on Pakistan. Warne took the wickets of Ijaz, bowled by a huge leg-break, and Moin in his first three overs. Paul Reiffel had Haq caught behind be fore Warne struck again, claming Afridi leg-before. The side folded up for 132, the lowest by the team batting first in a World Cup final.

Australia romped home with eight wickets to spare. Adam Gilchrist set the pace with a 36-ball 54 that included eight boundaries and a six while the stylish Mark Waugh made a majestic 37.

Steve, describing this as the best win of his career, dedicated the triumph to "all the 15 and not just 11", saying it was a collective effort.

"We knew we were as good as any side here and we did ourselves justice by winning the Cup. It was a good allround game and maybe we did it with a little bit of luck too,'' said the victorious skipper.

Waugh said the side had done its homework to snare Pakistan. "We had not played well against them in the earlier outing and so looked at their batting before this game. None from their top six looked assured and we knew we had to put the pressure on them, which we did and clicked as they failed to cope with it."

Adam Gilchrist set the pace for Australia's victory with a 36-ball 54.-N. SRIDHARAN

"I'd say discipline was the key word. We played positively and kept at our goal relentlessly. While it was a collective effort, Shane (Warne) was brilliant and I thought Tom (Moody) was magnificent. He's a great team man and his experience came in very handy here."

Akram said Waugh's boys played the better of the two. "Warne was brilliant, the best leg-spinner in the world." He, however, felt that Inzamam-ul-Haq got a rough decision from umpire David Shepherd. "But then, umpires can make mistakes. All that is in the past now."

The scores:

Pakistan: S. Anwar b Fleming 15, W. Wasti c M. Waugh b McGrath 1, A. Razzaq c S. Waugh b Moody 17, Ijaz Ahmed b Warne 22, Inzamam-ul-Haq c Gilchrist b Reiffel 15, Moin Khan c Gilchrist b Warne 6, S. Afridi lbw b Warne 13, A. Mahmood c&b Moody 8, W. Akram c S. Waugh b Warne 8, Saqlain c Ponting b McGrath 0, S. Akhtar (not out) 2, Extras (lb-10, nb-2, w-13) 25; Total (in 39 overs) 132.

Fall of wickets: 1-21, 2-21, 3-68, 4-77, 5-91, 6-104, 7-113, 8-129, 9-129.

Australia bowling: McGrath 9-3-13-2, Fleming 6-0-30-1, Reiffel 10-1-29-1, Moody 5-0-17-2, Warne 9-1-33-4.

Australia: M. Waugh (not out) 37, A. Gilchrist c Inzamam b Saqlain 54, R. Ponting c Moin Khan b Akram 24, D. Lehmann (not out) 13, Extras (lb-1, nb-3, w-1) 5; Total (for two wkts., 20.1 overs) 133.

Fall of wickets: 1-75, 2-112.

Pakistan bowling: Akram 8-1-41-1, Akhtar 4-0-37-0, Razzaq 2-0-13-0, Mahmood 2-0-20-0, Saqlain 4.1-0-21-1.