England are about to stage the twelfth men’s World Cup, and many shrewd judges rate them favourites to win it. England staged the first three World Cups, in 1975,1979 and 1983, reaching the semi-final in each of them and the final in 1979. There has been one other World Cup staged in England, in 1999; things were rather different then.
The tournament was different in a number of ways. There were twelve teams: the nine Test countries, including Zimbabwe, plus Kenya, Bangladesh and Scotland. They were divided into two groups of six: each member of each group played the other members once. The top three of each group qualified for the Super Six, carrying the points achieved against the other qualifiers from the same group. At the Super Six stage each side played each of the qualifiers from the other group, and the top four moved into the semi-finals. This meant 42 fixtures played at 21 venues – in Scotland, Ireland and Holland as well as England and Wales – between 14 May and 20 June.
The rules turned out to be far from ideal when it came to separating sides that were level on points as the competition moved forward. The principal method was “net run rate”, which fitted uncomfortably into the carry forward arrangement. Thus, in their last group game, against the West Indies at Old Trafford, Australia crawled to victory, ensuring their own qualification for the Super Six while trying to improve the West Indies’ net run rate in comparison with New Zealand’s.
The complex rules were one issue. There were general administrative problems. The opening ceremony was a miserable affair. The main problem though was the premature elimination of the hosts. England, just back from another Ashes thrashing, started well enough, although they lost heavily to South Africa at The Oval. Qualification for the Super Six seemed likely when they went to Edgbaston to play India. But when Zimbabwe surprisingly beat South Africa at Chelmsford on the same day – the Edgbaston game went into the reserve day – England had to win in order to qualify. Not for the first time their batsmen failed, and they were out.
The holders, Sri Lanka, struggled in English conditions and won only twice, while Kenya were completely out of their depth. So the qualifiers from Group A were South Africa, India and Zimbabwe. India’s batsmen were in fine form. Against Sri Lanka at Taunton they made 373 for six, a really big score for those days, with centuries for Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly. South Africa, though, were the team to watch, especially the volcanic all-rounder, who belted runs from number eight with a permanent strike rate of over 100 and was always picking up useful wickets with his fast-medium bowling. He was to finish as man of the tournament.
In Group B it was Pakistan who made all the running, winning their first three games and qualifying with ease. In Saeed Anwar they had the tournament’s most exciting batsman, and in Shoaib Akhtar its most exciting fast bowler. As in Group A there were two sides who were never going to qualify: Bangladesh and Scotland. In fact Bangladesh provided the biggest shock of the competition when they beat Pakistan (who had already qualified) at Northampton. Well done Bangladesh.
West Indies had a poor time of it and yielded third place to New Zealand, whose fast bowler Geoff Allot took 20 wickets in the tournament, equal highest with Shane Warne.
Australia were the group’s enigma. The leading Test side took a while to come to the party. They lost two of their first three games (beating Scotland) and to qualify had to win the remaining two. By this time they had worked out what their best side was, including the veteran all-rounder Tom Moody and giving the new ball to Glenn McGrath. They won those games easily.
The points system made the Super Six stage more complex than it seemed at first sight. India, having lost their games with both the other qualifiers from Group A, always had too much to do; they failed to qualify despite a rousing victory over Pakistan at Old Trafford. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, did not have any points to carry forward. Still the semi-final contestants were not settled until the result of the last game, between Australia and South Africa at Headingley. South Africa had already qualified; Australia needed to win.
South Africa’s total of 271 for seven was based on a fine century from opener Herschelle Gibbs, and the customary blast from Klusener at the end. Warne, who had had a quiet tournament hitherto, took two for 33 in his ten overs. Australia struggled and the score was 48 for three when captain Steve Waugh joined Ricky Ponting, and they steadied the ship. The critical moment came when Waugh was on 56; he was dropped by Gibbs throwing the ball up in celebration. This was the occasion when Waugh called out, or possibly didn’t: “You’ve dropped the World Cup”. Whatever, it turned out to be true. Waugh, that most determined of cricketers made a century – strangely, only his second in over a hundred ODIs, but what a time to make it – and Australia won by five wickets with just two balls to spare. Vitally, as it turned out, this gave Australia the edge over South Africa in the points system.
New Zealand were no match for Pakistan in the first semi-final at Old Trafford. They made a decent total of 241 for seven. Roger Twose and captain Stephen Fleming put on 94 before Fleming was bowled by a 92mph Akhtar yorker. Pakistan’s openers, Anwar and Wajahatullah Wasti put on 194 for the first wicket. Anwar made his second century of the tournament, and Ijaz Ahmed did the rest. Pakistan won by nine wickets, although the game was not properly over, the match officials simply abandoning proceedings in the wake of a premature pitch invasion.
Even 20 years after the event, and with all the alleged improvements in short format cricket, it is still plausible to regard the second semi-final, between Australia and South Africa at Edgbaston, as the best one-day international ever played. It showed the undoubted superiority of a contest where bat and ball are evenly placed over an unmitigated slogfest (which we will see a lot of in 2019.
Australia, asked to bat by Hanse Cronje, made 213 in 49.2 overs. Michael Bevan, the ultimate finisher, top-scored with 65; Waugh made 56. Shaun Pollock’s pace bowling was described by Wisden as “magnificently incisive”; he took five for 36, Allan Donald four for 42.
Gibbs and Gary Kirsten put on 48 for the first wicket. In retrospect at least it can be seen that the crucial point of this outstanding encounter was Waugh’s introduction of his trump card, the incomparable leg spinner Warne. Back at the top of his game he bowled Gibbs with a delivery that was instantly compared to the “ball of the century” with which he dismissed Mike Gatting in 1993. Warne took four for 29 in ten overs: he conceded just twelve in his first seven.
But the modest target was still within reach, with Jacques Kallis holding firm for 56. And then as the target got smaller there was, as always, Klusener. In the penultimate over he clobbered a ball from McGrath to Paul Reiffel on the midwicket boundary but the fielder could only parry it over for six. With one over and one wicket left, South Africa needed nine runs to win.
That last over was bowled by Damien Fleming. Klusener whacked the first two balls for four. He had made 31 off 14 deliveries. Now it was one to win, four balls to go. The third ball was hit straight to Darren Lehmann: the non-striker , Donald, clearly in a state of panic , started running, and was sent back. He could have been run out but Lehmann’s shy missed. The next ball , he really was run out . This time it was Klusener who panicked, going for a desperate single after hitting the ball straight past the bowler. Donald at first stood transfixed and eventually set off. There was never a run there. Fleming rolled the ball down the pitch as the hapless Donald dropped his bat and fell in an inconsolable heap as Adam Gilchrist whipped off the bails.
It was a tie. Apparently not all the jubilant Australians were sure that this meant they went through to the final. But because of the win at Headingley, they did.
Australia took just 20.1 overs to knock off the paltry target of 133 and win by eight wickets (Adam Gilchrist 54, Mark Waugh 37 not out).
After such an extraordinary build up the final was a deeply disappointing affair. For Pakistan, no batsman made more than Ijaz’s 22.
There was no doubt about the match winner: Warne took four for 33 in nine overs. As Fleming said in a recent BBC interview: “Match award in the semi-final; match award in the final; that’s why he’s a legend.”
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