The Aussies proved they are the best

SO there's no cause for celebration. The Krug goes back into the wine cellar, the bunting is thrown on to the compost heap and there's no need to buy in caviar specially for the big occasion.


SO there's no cause for celebration. The Krug goes back into the wine cellar, the bunting is thrown on to the compost heap and there's no need to buy in caviar specially for the big occasion. Because, to be perfectly frank, there was no big occasion. It needed six weeks of our busy lives to show what we knew already. Australia are the best in the world whether the games last five days or 100 overs.

Bob Woolmer is waiting for confirmation from the West Indies Cricket Board regarding his appointment as its coach . — Pic. N. SRIDHARAN-

In South Africa the preliminary games, the Super Six, the semi-finals and the final proved to be Australia's all the way and that makes an extra difficulty for an Englishman, whatever sport is being played.

Remember, they have beaten us at cricket for so many years we have lost count, they never falter at Rugby League and this winter they knocked us cold at football even though it was out of their season and England were playing, if that is the right word for a dismal performance, at home.

I have a nasty feeling that if our Rugby Union team — often called the best in the world at this moment — run into their team in the Rugby World Cup in Australia we may have another reason to grind our teeth whenever Down Under comes up.

So you will get my drift, I guess. I did not ask much of any side in the World Cup except that they defeat Ricky Ponting's grinning mates. England came close, New Zealand seemed likely to cause an upset and even Kenya gave them a scare. But win! Too much to ask. I had to come to the conclusion, against all my instincts, that they are a great side.

Away from home, without the best leg spinner of the 20th century and one of their leading seam bowlers, on pitches that hardly suited them and often after making a poor start or blowing up in the middle overs they still won every match. You cannot expect much more.

If the hurricane openers failed, there was a solid middle order led by Ponting to score the runs and Michael Bevan to guide the tail which includes such heavyweight sluggers as Andy Bichel and Brett Lee. If the fast bowlers could not break through there was Bichel, or Brad Hogg or Darren Lehmann.

It did not matter that Shane Warne was kept at home by some problem with a chemical; no worries, Hogg will provide almost as much mystery and get through his overs quickly too. Behind the stumps Adam Gilchrist is hardly fit to hand Ian Healy his gloves but he is competent enough and he can also bat as if someone had set him afire. And of course there is Lee. He of the 100 miles an hour delivery, he of the perfectly judged yorker, or outswinger, or off-cutter; not to mention the strange pumping celebration.

I am the friend of enough fast bowlers to worry about saying which of them is top of the tree but I am beginning to come to the conclusion that Brett Lee may one day take on that distinction.

I suppose it is a bit old-fashioned of me to demand humility, good manners and the offer of a helping sportsmanlike hand to one's opponents as well as success. Do Manchester United go round explaining that they rate taking part above victory? Does Tim Henman say that he admires the man on the other side of the net; does Johnny Wilkinson, the goal-kicking star of the Rugby Union side, pick up the man he has just flattened and wipe him down?

Of course not. But there is something about the cockiness, the sneering face and the triumphalism of the Australians that makes me trust that one day they will be on the wrong end of a piece of bad luck.

It will have to be ill fortune that beats them because I don't see any other way in which they will lose at the moment.

I would prefer not to be reminded of their greatness at the end of every sentence by yet another former Test player masquerading as a television commentator. I have to tell you that at the end of a six-week tournament of more than 50 matches — most of which seemed to go the distance — I was fed up to the back teeth of their replays, their summaries and highlights and endless discussions.

My own fault, of course. I could have turned down the sound and made my own judgements. I bought a new set for a tournament without realising that its four loudspeakers meant I would be able to hear every note of Advance Australia Fair, as well as every wretched cliche, every mispronounced foreign name and every piece of player-speak.

Did I enjoy it? Did I, in their language, remain "positive''? In parts. The 2003 World Cup was far from being a great tournament because it was so predictable but it still contrived to throw up a moment or two worth remembering.

Not only was the umpiring excellent but it provided the additional benefit of a moment or two of humour. Billy Bowden, the most eccentric umpire since Dickie Bird retired to take up full-time writing, media studies and personal appearances, was probably at the back of it all. He and David Shepherd, who was the firmest and the fairest, and Steve Bucknor, the most engaging, brought a light to their duties which has not always been present.

If Bowden wants to start ballet classes for the over-40s I might even join! I have known Bucknor for ten years or more but I warmed to the man afresh when he went out of his way to congratulate Asif Karim on his bowling against the Australians.

It was more difficult to understand Adam Gilchrist who chose the semi-finals of the World Cup to walk. I cast my mind back almost to the Second World War and could not remember an instance of an Australian admitting he was out, much less turning his back on the umpire as he mouthed "not out" and strode off to the pavilion.

Was it a mistake? Did he think Rudi Koertzen had nodded? I hope that he was obeying an instinct to make up for some of the dreadful instances of non-walking that have become increasingly common in the last 20 years and it will be interesting to see if he retains the habit or if it spreads to his teammates.

Finally, a marriage has been made in heaven, even though the groom feels he may be a trifle old for the beautiful young bridesmaid. I had read that Bob Woolmer had been appointed coach of West Indies and I rang him to ask how excited he was about the prospects ahead. Instead he told me that he had had two hours discussing the job with the West Indies selectors and was waiting to hear if his ideas had been accepted.

He had told them that he believes he may be able to turn the most tantalising failures of the World Cup into winners. When they beat South Africa many of us thought we had seen the winners.

Instead West Indies promised much and delivered not even a Super Six place. "They have the talent and it just needs harnessing," Woolmer says. "I offered all my old ideas as well as the new ideas I have developed in the four years since I left the South African camp.

"I don't know about working the 14-day week and the 14-hour day that I put in with the South Africans. Perhaps you can only take on that sort of challenge once in your life. Then I think about Dav Whatmore having a second go; but he is only 49 and a few years younger than me." Bob is 55, hardly in his dotage. "I might have to move house to the West Indies, but that is not the worst place to live. And starting against Australia might be interesting.'' He is at that stage we have all been through; tempted by a job which appears to be within one's grasp and dreaming of how things might go at their best.

West Indies ought to pounce on him and tempt him to make their team great once again. Most people would love such a challenge. I guess from the excitement in his voice, so will Bob Woolmer.