Ponting’s invincibles

The discerning were of the view that the Ricky Ponting-led Australia, even without Shane Warne, was the best ever in a World Cup competition. By G. Viswanath.

There was plenty to ponder over the Rainbow nation’s World Cup, weighed down as it was by startling events and controversies. Nonetheless, there was much compensation on the field in the form of splendid knocks and stunning bowling feats.

India took part in the competition after quarrelling over ambush marketing issues.

Then Shane Warne was ejected from the World Cup following a one-year ban imposed by Cricket Australia in the wake of a revelation by the Australian ant-doping authorities that the leg-spinner had consumed diuretics to bring down his weight.

There were also political issues in Zimbabwe and security concerns in Kenya because of which England refused to travel to Harare and New Zealand declined to play in Nairobi. The Zimbabwe players, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga, wore armbands in their first game to mourn what they called ‘Death of Democracy’ in Zimbabwe.

South Africa, England, Pakistan and West Indies were eliminated after the first stage, while Kenya progressed as far as the semi-finals. In all, 14 teams played in the tournament — until then the biggest ever World Cup competition involving a record number of 54 matches — with the top three from the two groups advancing to the Super Six stage. Australia won all its 11 matches with skipper Ricky Ponting showing a great sense of occasion and appetite for runs. He uncorked a match-winning, unconquered 140 in the final after India skipper Sourav Ganguly won the toss and chose to bowl first.

Ponting’s spectacular onslaught on the Indian bowling took Australia to an impregnable 359 for two wickets; Adam Gilchrist made 57, Matthew Hayden 37 and Damien Martyn remained unbeaten on 88. Martyn was also associated in an unbeaten 234-run stand for the third wicket with Ponting.

Australia began its campaign with an 82-run victory against Pakistan at the Wanderers, with Andrew Symonds — coming in to bat at No. 6 — counter-attacking the Pakistan bowlers to make a match-winning 143. Thereafter, Australia beat India by nine wickets, Holland by 75 runs, Zimbabwe by seven wickets, Namibia by 256 runs, England by two wickets, Sri Lanka by 96 runs, Kenya by five wickets, Sri Lanka in the semi-finals by 48 and India in the final by 125 runs.

England was poised to inflict a defeat on Australia at Port Elizabeth in a low-scoring match. Though Andy Bichel came up with remarkable figures of 7 for 20, England made 204 and had Australia tottering at 135 for 8, before left-hander and one-day specialist Michael Bevan (74 not out) and Bichel (34 not out) got together to take their team past the finish line with two balls remaining.

Then, in another match at the same venue, Australia defended a score of 208 after New Zealand fast bowler Shane Bond produced a dream spell of 6 for 23 in 10 overs.

Australia’s 14 batsmen scored an aggregate 2464 runs, while its eight bowlers captured 96 wickets.

The team lost Jason Gillespie after four matches, but the discerning were of the view that the Ponting-led Australia, even without Shane Warne, was the best ever in a World Cup competition.

It was a big disappointment for India after a fired-up Sachin Tendulkar led a superlative batting performance to bring down Pakistan at the Centurion Park. The likes of Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif had made victory possible against Pakistan, but Ponting proved too good for India, which won nine matches and lost two (both to Australia). Tendulkar’s 673 runs won him the Player of the Tournament award. Skipper Sourav Ganguly cracked three centuries to finish behind Tendulkar in the overall aggregate.

While Australia and India won many admirers with their performance, New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming came up with a courageous show against the host, making an unbeaten 134 (21 fours) at The Wanderers against Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, Jacques Kallis and Lance Klusener. New Zealand, set a revised target of 229, won the match by nine wickets.

The competition far exceeded the previous bottom line of $51 million made in 1999; South Africa had a net earning of close to $200 million.

The prize money break-up was: winner: Australia — $2 million; runner-up: India — $800,000; losing semi-finalists: Kenya and Sri Lanka: $400,000 each.