Thousands welcome home Australia's World Cup heroes

The World Cup takes centre-stage as the Australian cricket team attends a welcome home reception in Perth. — Pic. AFP-

THOUSANDS of fans paid homage to Australia's triumphant World Cup cricketers as they arrived in Perth from South Africa after winning the one-day crown for the third time.

THOUSANDS of fans paid homage to Australia's triumphant World Cup cricketers as they arrived in Perth from South Africa after winning the one-day crown for the third time.

Under a sunny autumn sky, the 15 players were feted in Forrest Place, in the heart of the Western Australian capital, by a colourful crowd estimated by police at about 5,000.

Thunderous cheering echoed across the city as Australian captain Ricky Ponting stepped forward on to a stage to raise the trophy aloft.

Tired, but elated, the players waved back to the crowd in the only public appearance to be made by the team in Australia before they go into training for a four-Test tour of the West Indies.

Western Australian Premier Geoff Gallop told the team they were the pride of Australia after glittering green and gold streamers rained down on the squad.

There were joyous reunions with wives and families for the three Western Australian members of the side — vice-captain Adam Gilchrist, Damien Martyn and Brad Hogg.

All three were in the XI which overwhelmed India by 125 runs in the final in Johannesburg.

The Australians were unbeaten in 11 matches in South Africa and Zimbabwe during the tournament.

Earlier, when the side arrived at Perth international airport, Ponting made an indirect reference to Australia's involvement in the war on Iraq.

"We were aware of what was happening in the world around us — there is no doubt about that," he said.

"The thing that we tried to do the other day in the final was to win the game and bring a smile to a lot of Australian faces who are obviously doing it a lot tougher than we and a lot of others are at the moment.

"We didn't actually sit down and talk about it as a group, but I am sure that, at the end of the day, we have made a lot of people happy and changed the way they have been thinking about things over the past couple of weeks."

Ponting said he believed Australia could win the World Cup for a record-breaking third time in a row in 2007.

"There is no reason why we cannot win again in four years," Ponting said.

The triumph followed an overwhelming victory over Pakistan in the final in England four years earlier.

Australia's other World Cup victory was against England in the 1987 final in Calcutta.

"I would like to have this group of guys around for the next one, if that was possible," said Ponting, who hit a memorable 140 not out against India in the showdown.

"What we have seen in this tournament is that we have really had our depth tested.

"All-rounder Shane Watson went out with injury just before the tournament, fast bowler Jason Gillespie was injured during the tournament and then we lost Shane Warne." Warne, the world's greatest leg-spin bowler, flew back to Australia after testing positive to drugs and was later disqualified from playing for a year.

"The guys who have stepped in have really played some great cricket, so there is no reason why we cannot keep producing these players and having them step in and play great cricket when it is required of them," Ponting said.

Ponting said it had not been hard to captain a side as good as the Australian squad.

"I said that from the word go when I took over (from Test captain Steve Waugh a year earlier). With the talent we have in this side, that certainly makes my job a fair bit easier.

"We have played some great cricket during this campaign, in which we were undefeated.

"We were tested at certain times, but when we got into trouble one of the bunch put a hand up and made sure we got over the line.

"It wasn't smooth sailing all the time, but the final was a very good ending for us."

Ponting said when the competition started he believed the side were good enough to survive the tournament undefeated.

Australian coach John Buchanan said that, while he had no doubt Australia's side was the greatest at the moment, it was too difficult to answer whether it was the best of all time.

Buchanan offered no comfort to countries hoping they may be able to topple Australia in the next World Cup in the West Indies in four years time.

"I think we can still improve in every area," he said.

"There is time for us to do that now. Now we start on the next four years. Really, we can look across every aspect of our game.

"Every aspect can improve. If we couldn't improve, we would just stagnate."

Media showers praise

The Australian media struggled to match words with deeds, savouring the ultimate triumph of its victorious cricket team which arrived home amidst great fanfare and celebration.

As a red carpet welcomed the "invincible" Australian cricket team, the media was splashed with stories of their "valour and victory".

A headline in the Sydney Morning Herald read, "The day Australia attained perfection" going on to describe how it "stood tough in adversity" referring to the injuries and withdrawals.

Another article talked of how "powerful teams put opponents off their games by simply walking upon the field.

"Had India been playing anyone else they would surely have batted first and bowled straight. It was not the occasion that defeated them but an opponent they did not believe they could beat," said the daily.

There was special praise for skipper Ricky Pointing who struck a brilliant 140 to steamroll the hapless Indians.

"Howzat for the Punter who started as underdog and is now captain?" said one headline as the report traced the career of the bad boy Ponting and his transformation to a superhero.

"Ponting has reinvented himself since that infamous late-night drinking session in Kings Cross four years ago and emerging, one eye blackened, to admit he had a serious drinking problem. He had to face a three-match ban and a $5000 suspended fine. He had also been disciplined for an altercation with a woman in a bar in India.

"His redemption is not quite complete; that will happen when, as planned, he succeeds Steve Waugh as captain of the Test team," it said.

"Ponting, who has come a long way since he started playing cricket at the age of steven, feels they were much ahead of the second best side, India, in the tournament. He plays golf, breeds greyhounds and loves a gamble."

Reports in the media also said that credit for this success must be given to the selectors for choosing a young man with a chequered past and a lot to offer as the captain.

"Captaining the Australian cricket team is a job Prime Minister John Howard regards as more important than his own," it said.

Australian Chairman of cricket selectors Trevor Hohns also came in for praise for overhauling the one-day side.

"He can look forward to some peace and quiet at least for the next few nights. Hohns, despite much criticism, was insistent that it was time for a change in the Australian one-day side. He was the one to decide that Steve Waugh and later Mark Waugh's time was up in the one-day game."

"Character and determination have been the key to the Australian success and Michael Bevan feels there is a possibility that this Australian side may eclipse the Clive Lloyd-led West Indian squads of the 1970s and `80s as the greatest yet seen.

"While defeated finalists India have the top two in the player-of-the-tournament poll — Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly — there are nine Australians in the top-10 charts in six main categories," it said.

Meanwhile, Shane Warne, who returned disgraced without bowling a single ball after a positive drug test, will share part of the World Cup spoils. He will receive a pro-rata share of prizemoney and his tour fee, believed to be worth between $10,000 and $15,000.

* * * India moves up in ODI rankings

THE Men in Blue might well have got overawed on D-Day at the Wanderers against the mighty Australians, but their breathtaking run in the tourney has propelled their one-day ranking ahead of a strong cluster of teams — the West Indies, New Zealand and England.

Sourav Ganguly's team made it to the final of the Cricket World Cup in South Africa, thereby boosting its point tally by four (ODI rating points), pulling ahead of others in the group of four. Notably, the group started its Cup campaign with more or less the same number of points.

With this, the Indian team has moved within striking distance of clinching the third place in the Championship table by dislodging sub-continental rivals Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Both rivals had undergone a fall in rating owing to their below-par performance in the Cup.

The rankings validated by the International Cricket Council (ICC) places Australia at the top with 136 points, 13 points ahead of South Africa, its closest rival. The World Champions' 11-match unbeaten streak on way to retaining the ICC Cricket World Cup was the reason behind this yawning gap between the top two sides.

At the end of 2002, Australia's rating was only five points higher than its closest rival South Africa but an unprecedented run of 17 consecutive victories has opened up a record gap.

Its rating of 136 — 4 points more than it was the start of the tournament is the highest ranking recorded since the ICC ODI Championship was launched in October 2002.

This extraordinary feat will ensure that Aussies will not only take home the ICC Cricket World Cup, but also retain the ICC ODI Championship Shield that Ricky Ponting first collected from ICC President Malcolm Gray at the Sydney Cricket Ground in December 2002.

Kenya has been the biggest beneficiary from the tournament, increasing its rating by 10. Victories over Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe have seen Kenya open up a gap of 24 rating points from Bangladesh at the bottom of the table.

ICC ODI Championship Table (correct at the end of the ICC CWC 2003) Ranking-Team-Pld-Rating (Rating on 8th Febrary 2003). 1. Australia 46 136 (132) 2. South Africa 53 123 (126) 3. Pakistan 45 110 (114) 4. Sri Lanka 57 108 (110) 5. India 54 103 (99) 6. West Indies 35 99 (99) 7. New Zealand 45 98 (97) 8. England 34 98 (98) 9. Zimbabwe 40 63 (66) 10. Kenya 22 30 (20) 11. Bangladesh 19 6 (10)

The ICC uses a formula to determine ranking positions. The formula takes into account the results of the team from all ODI matches played over the previous two to three years. It also takes into consideration the strength of the opposition, with greater reward for beating higher ranked opponents.

Greater importance is placed on more recent results, with older matches dropped after every 12 months. However, all matches have equal status, with respect to the venue or the margin of victory.

* * * South Africa's tourism gets a boost

THE success of the one-and-a-half month long World Cup has clearly marked South Africa as a bright spot on the tourism map.

Pouring of thousands of cricket fans into the country during the mega event has projected the country as a major sports and tourist destination, said Cheryl Carolus, CEO of SA Tourism.

Speaking at the end of the tournament, Carolus said she was especially pleased with the high volume of tourists from India, where SA Tourism has now launched a drive to attract more visitors.

More than 85,000 tourists were reported to have watched the matches and more than 1.2 billion saw the action live on television with most of the eye-balls coming from South Asia. The maximum influx of cricket tourists was from India.

Carolus claimed the visitors were extremely impressed by the warm welcome and hospitality shown by the South Africans and said the euphoria would continue for quite sometime on the World stage.

South Africa has been already benefited hugely, both economically and through the fantastic global awareness created for SA, from hosting the Cricket World Cup, she said.

Meanwhile, South African Sports Minister Ngconde Balfour, World Cup CEO Ali Bacher, and Chairman of the 2010 World Cup Football Bid Committee, Danny Jordaan, said the success of the Cricket World Cup would make South Africa a favourite to host the prestigious FIFA event.

"South Africa's profile as a major destination for major events is being recognised, and that is a message that we have to take to the FIFA executive members so that they understand the FIFA World Cup will not come as a first experience for this country," said Jordaan.