Australia makes the most of its chances

The jubilant Australian team with the World Cup.-PIC: THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Overall, the tournament produced quality cricket but the best team, South Africa, did not win the Cup. The most resilient, Australia, kept its nerve and it was a tribute to Steve Waugh’s leadership that the team rallied around him, writes Vijay Lokapally.

The World Cup returned to its origin in England with Scotland, Ireland, Wales and The Netherlands also hosting some matches. The event had its share of controversies and some glorious moments before Australia, everyone’s favourite, emerged the champion at Lord’s.

Once again South Africa was left frustrated. It had the best combination to win the Cup, but choked when it had a semifinal in its grip, allowing Australia an escape route to win its second World Cup.

Steve Waugh was an able leader of a competent side, but Hansie Cronje had the right ammunition to win the Cup but not the luck.

It had been a tortuous journey for South Africa, which made its debut in 1992 under Kepler Wessels. A silly rain-rule had shown South Africa the door in the 1992 semifinal against England when it was presented the task of scoring 22 runs off one ball. It was again left dejected in the 1999 edition when it succumbed to Australia following a tied contest. Steve Waugh’s men progressed on a superior run-rate achieved in the Super Six.

The tournament had a format to create stiff competition. The 12 participants were divided into two groups and the best three from each section progressed to the Super Six. It was an interesting format where each Super Six team carried forward the points it had earned against the other teams from the group. The teams that made it from Group ‘A’ competed against their opponents from Group ‘B’ and the best four finishers contested the semifinals.

Interestingly, Australia did not have a point against its name when it came to the Super Six stage, having lost to New Zealand and Pakistan in the group stage. If Australia had lost a match in the Super Six it would have been the end of the road for Steve Waugh’s team. But it accomplished a competitive task of 272 to win against South Africa at Leeds after Herschelle Gibbs grassed Steve Waugh when the batsman was on 56. The Australian skipper went on to win the match with an unbeaten 120 and the target was achieved with just two balls to spare. It was a close shave for Australia, but nothing compared to the tied semifinal in the teams’ very next encounter.

South Africa was nine runs away from eliminating Australia in the last over with Lance Klusener and the last man Allan Donald at the crease. The task became a simple one run to win off four balls after Klusener clubbed Damien Fleming for successive fours. Australia was on the verge of being knocked out and none would have grudged South Africa the splendid victory. But it was not to be. Klusener took off for the winning run, but Allan Donald responded late and was run out.

It was an unforgettable moment in the history of the World Cup with Australia snatching victory from a hopeless situation! Inspired by this win, Australia reduced the final against Pakistan to a one-sided encounter and won the title at Lord’s by eight wickets with 179 balls to spare.

India promised but faltered, losing two of its three matches in the opening stage and managing to beat just Pakistan in the Super Six where it went down to Australia and New Zealand. India’s worst moment came at Leicester when it was beaten by Zimbabwe in a match it played without Sachin Tendulkar.

Zimbabwe excelled again with a victory against South Africa at Chelmsford and showed it had made significant progress, but Pakistan did raise doubts when losing to Bangladesh in an inconsequential Group match at Northampton.

Overall, the tournament produced quality cricket but the best team, South Africa, did not win the Cup. The most resilient, Australia, kept its nerve and it was a tribute to Steve Waugh’s leadership that the team rallied around him, especially Shane Warne, who came up with his best in what happened to be his last World Cup.