Captains with a mission

Allan Border and his men after conquering England in the final of the 1987 Reliance World Cup.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Allan Border (1987), Steve Waugh (1999) and Ricky Ponting (2003) were up against different conditions, but led Australia with distinction. They all believed that their teams were capable of winning the title. Vijay Lokapally goes down memory lane.

For a team that looked every bit a competitive side right from the inaugural World Cup, Australia ought to have won more than the three titles it did in 1987, 1999 and 2003. The team always came across as a dangerous combination but lost twice in the final, in 1975 and 1996 after having appeared the best side in the tournament on both the occasions.

Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting led Australia with distinction in different conditions but with a common belief that their teams were capable of winning the title. Ironically, when Australia first won the title in 1987, Border's team was least expected to emerge champion.

No doubt Australia had an ideal combination under Border's astute captaincy, but the team was bereft of big names. However, it had discovered Steve Waugh to bowl at the `death' even as Craig McDermott, Bruce Reid and Simon O'Donnell handled the frontline bowling. Australia had a wonderful start to the tournament, beating India by one run in Madras.

In that match, Kapil Dev, leading a confident India, was unwittingly responsible for forcing a result that went against the home team. Umpire David Archer had signalled a boundary when Australia was batting, but Kapil conceded that the ball had cleared the ropes and the decision was altered. The four became a six, which eventually proved costly for India. Australia gained in confidence immensely as it won the match by one run and never looked back.

Skipper Steve Waugh flanked by former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke and team-mate Shane Warne after winning the World Cup in 1999.-V.V. KRISHNAN

Australia's next match was also in Madras and it swept aside Zimbabwe. It then maintained its excellent run with a close win over New Zealand in a rain-ruined contest in Indore.

When Australia faced India in the return match in New Delhi, it had to win to avoid travelling to Pakistan for the semifinals. Chasing 290 for victory, Australia succumbed to the bowling skills of Mohammad Azharuddin (3.5-0-19-3), falling short of the target by 56 runs. Though Australia won its next two matches — it beat New Zealand in Chandigarh by 17 runs and Zimbabwe in Cuttack by 70 runs — it couldn't avoid travelling to Pakistan as it finished second in the group, behind India.

In a tense semifinal in Lahore, Australia put up a truly collective effort to shock Imran Khan's Pakistan by 18 runs. McDermott claimed five wickets to fashion Australia's sensational victory.

Australia, however, reserved its best for the final where it overcame archrival England by seven runs at the overflowing Eden Gardens in Calcutta. David Boon showed the way with a fine 75 and then the bowlers chipped in to stifle England.

A new format greeted the teams in 1999 but Australia knew it was best equipped to win. It was a remarkable show by Steve Waugh's men as they got past determined oppositions and made a mockery of the challenge in the final when they crushed Pakistan by eight wickets. The final was indeed an anti-climax.

Australia was not at its best in the league stage where it lost a match each to New Zealand and Pakistan. Beginning with a thumping win over Scotland, the team progressed smoothly after suffering a reverse at Cardiff when Roger Twose played the innings of his life to carve a five-wicket win for New Zealand. Trouble lay in store for Australia at Leeds when it lost to Pakistan by 10 runs, but it warmed up with a big win against West Indies at Manchester to qualify for the Super Six stage.

A jubilant Ricky Ponting with the cup after trouncing India in the 2003 final at the Wanderers.-V.V. KRISHNAN

Australia was a remarkably transformed outfit in the Super Six stage when it began with a comfortable win over India at The Oval. It then brushed aside Zimbabwe at Lord's and scored a five-wicket win over a strong South Africa.

The semifinal at Birmingham was a classic. Australia, motivated by an incisive spell from Shane Warne, forced a tie and moved up since it had beaten South Africa earlier. It was heartbreaking for South Africa, which was considered a strong favourite, but then Australia was a superior combination under Steve Waugh and the team proved it by defeating Pakistan with ridiculous ease in the final.

By retaining the title at the next World Cup, in South Africa in 2003, with a comfortable win over India in the final, Australia only proved that it was miles ahead of the rest when it came to playing in the big matches.

Ponting's team suffered a blow even before the World Cup began when it lost Warne to a dope test. The team was shattered but regrouped in time to make a strong statement of its abilities. That it was a champion side was never in doubt, but Australia had its task cut out.

Australia raised the level of its game and was a winner all the way with Ponting making his point with a sensational knock in the final at The Wanderers. He plundered an unbeaten 140 as Australia set India a target of 360. The match turned out to be one-sided as India crumbled for 234. Australia emerged a clear winner, and became the second team to win the World Cup back to back after the great West Indies under Clive Lloyd.