Which has been the most unsatisfactory of the eleven Men’s World Cups held so far?
Everybody might have a different view of course.
A lot of England supporters would opt for 1999. England as hosts had a dreadful tournament, organisations seemed shambolic, the final was a walkover for Australia. That said there were some terrific games. South Africans might go for 2003: again a disaster for the hosts and the sensitive and difficult issue of Zimbabwe – although that gave rise to heroic images that went well beyond the field of play.
Most neutral observers, however, would probably opt for the 2007 version, held in the Caribbean between 13 March and 28 April.
This was always likely to be a logistical challenge. It is difficult to believe that there is anyone involved intimately in these events who doesn’t secretly wish that every World Cup was held in England. Where’s the next match? Oh, let’s hop in the car, or the team bus or whatever. Australia’s bad enough, with all those flights. But the Caribbean, with games being played in nine separate countries or territories…
In fact from that purely administrative point of view the competition went quite well. But the longueurs were a problem. With each match being allocated a reserve day – mostly unused – the tournament just seemed to go on and on. This was challenging for players and spectators. The most notorious consequence was the unfortunate “Fredalo” incident, when England vice-captain Andrew Flintoff had to be helped ashore from his pedalo at 4 am in the morning.
People are complaining that the forthcoming Men’s World Cup will be featuring only ten teams. The 2007 version featured 16. There were the ten Test teams – with Zimbabwe and Bangladesh definitely bringing up the rear at the time – plus six seemingly randomly selected Associates – Kenya, Canada, the Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland and Bermuda (population 60,000).
These 16 teams were divided into four groups of four. Each group team played the other group members once, and the top two from each group advanced to the Super Eights. Each of the Super Eight teams played all the others once and the top four advanced to the semi-finals.
Perhaps it is only in retrospect that the potential weakness of this model emerges. If a team has a slow start – and the odd freak result is always possible in 50-over cricket – disappearance from the competition could be swift.
This is precisely what happened. By the eighth day of the tournament – only 43 more to go! – India and Pakistan, two of the biggest teams in the tournament with genuine box office appeal, had been eliminated. Pakistan were sensationally beaten by Ireland (on St Patrick’s Day) and India by Bangladesh. So cricket’s global showcase proceeded without, among others, its greatest player, Sachin Tendulkar.
The consequences were fairly predictable. India was not quite the powerhouse it is now but even so the economic consequences of India and, to a lesser extent Pakistan, no longer being involved were keenly apparent. supporters from the vast subcontinental diaspora in continental America either left or failed to arrive. Simultaneously administrators, like the players seemingly encased in a cocoon of their own and unaware of the realities facing the average supporter, charged admission prices completely out of range for the local population, so crowds were often disappointing.
The elimination of India and Pakistan had other fundamental consequences. Ireland and Bangladesh found themselves participating in the Super Eight stage, but it was perfectly obvious that they were not going to reach the semi-finals. Two of the other Super Eight contestants, England and the West Indies, had decidedly underwhelming tournaments, each managing only one win over another “senior “ side. So the demise of India and Pakistan meant it was basically a free pass for Australia, Sri Lanka, South Africa and New Zealand into the semi-finals.
Pakistan’s loss to Ireland, sensational enough in itself, had immediate tragic repercussions. That same night Pakistan’s coach, the former England batsman Bob Woolmer, was found dead in his hotel bedroom. Four days later Jamaican police launched a murder investigation. it took them three months to conclude that in fact he had died of natural causes. Woolmer’s sad death inevitably cast a pall over proceedings.
And what about the cricket? Part of the problem was the lack of really close games. On the contrary the tournament was marked by a number of very substantial a d seemingly “easy” victories, none more extraordinary than India’s defeat of Bermuda in Port of Spain by 257 runs.
A number of the most comfortable victories were secured by Australia and it is a fact that, if you were Australian the 2007 Men’s World Cup was great. Australia, who had won the two previous World Cups, played 11 matches and won them all. Individual honours went principally to them too. Four of the ten leading run-scorers were Australian, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Michael Clarke. A fifth, Mike Hussey, ranked the world’s top ODI player, only batted six times. Hayden averaged 73 and had a strike rate of 101. Four of the six leading wicket-takers were Australian, the 37-year old Glenn McGrath (26 wickets at 13 apiece), Shaun Tait, Brad Hogg and Nathan Bracken. One of their leading bowlers, Brett Lee, missed the tournament altogether through injury.
Others of course had their day. The South African opener, Herschelle Gibbs hit six sixes in an over off the Dutch leg spinner Daan van Bunge, the first time this had happened in an international match.
And one genuine new star announced himself. Sri Lanka had a sensational opening bowler with a strikingly slingy action, exceptional speed and accuracy, and a brilliantly disguised slower ball. In the Super Eight game against South Africa at Providence, Guyana (one of a number of expensive new stadia developed for this competition) Malinga became the first man to take four wickets in four balls in international cricket.
But if you were looking for a single moment to remember this tournament by, why not go back to that mammoth victory by India over Bermuda? Right at the start of that game Indian opening batsman Robin Uthappa nicked the first ball bowled by 17-year-old Malachi Jones. Leaping from slip like a salmon in full flight 20 stone slow left armer Dwayne Leverock plucked the ball out of the air.
The World Cup had its golden moment.
The first semi-final was between New Zealand and Sri Lanka in Kingston.
Sri Lanka won by the very comfortable margin of 81 runs.
Mahela Jayawardene won the toss for Sri Lanka and proceeded to play an utterly sublime innings of 115 not out that took his side to a solid, but hardly intimidating, total of 281 for five. (In the tournament as a whole there were ten totals of over 330.)
Opener Upul Tharanga – unlucky to miss out on selection for the 2019 squad – got the innings off to a lively start with a robust display. Jayawardene joined him with the score 111 for three. Jayawardene started cautiously, making 17 from his first 47 balls, but when Tharanga departed for 73 the captain seized control. Often overlooked when pundits consider the great batsmen of the twenty first century, Jayawardene really was the complete package. A master in the Test match arena – the maker of the highest individual score by a right-hander, he was also a highly accomplished one-day player. More than perhaps any of his contemporaries he was the master of deftness, of pure timing. By the final stages of the innings his command was such that, with the aid of Tillikeratne Dilshan and Russel Arnold, 102 runs were added in the last 10 overs.
Poor Nee Zealand, always the bridesmaid… this was their fifth unsuccessful World Cup semi-final. They never really got going. The giant opener Peter Fultom made 37, but their most dangerous batsmen, Ross Taylor and captain Stephen Fleming, were undone by the silky Charminda Vass and the strident Lasith Malinga respectively. All-rounder Scott Styris, who had had a splendid tournament, tried to keep the flag flying but once Sri Lanka were through to the lower middle order there was only going to be one winner. Maestro Muttiah Muralitharan finished with four for 31 in eight overs.
The second semi-final, between Australia and South Africa at St Lucia, should have been a classic. Australia had not lost a World Cup match since1999 (when they won the tournament). But at the start of the 2007 World Cup South Africa were the number one ranked ODI side in the world.
Australia won their Group A game in St Kitts by 83 runs. South Africa ‘s chase had not bern greatly helped by what Wisden called a “stodgy” innings of 48 from Jacques Kallis. Australia’s captain, Ricky Ponting, tried a little mental disintegration for the semi-final, saying Australia wanted to get Kallis in early.
They got their wish. South Africa won the toss and batted. Kallis came in with the score on eight for one. Soon he smashed Glenn McGrath through the covers for four, an uncharacteristic start for him. Next ball he was bowled, for five.
Panic set in. Before long they were 27 for five. That was it really. Herschelle Gibbs and Justin Kemp tried to rebuild but 149 (in 43.5 overs) was never going to be enough. McGrath (who was Man of the Tournament) took three for 18 in eight overs.
Australia got to 153 for three in 31.3 overs. There was no pressure at all. Michael Clarke top scored with 60 not out.
And so to the final Australia and Sri Lanka, at the refurbished Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados.
Weather was a factor. Perhaps fittingly, given the jinxed nature of the tournament almost from the start, this has been the only World Cup final to be interfered with by rain. This led to a farcical conclusion to the match, of which more shortly.
The scores tell most of the story. Australia made 281 for four in 38 overs, Sri Lanka 215 for eight in 36. Australia won by 53 runs. (Don’t ask….)
From a purely cricketing perspective the final will always be remembered for the extraordinary innings of 149 scored by Australia’s wicketkeeping opener Adam Gilchrist.
Of all the great players who appeared for Australia during its long period of dominance – McGrath, Shane Warne, Steve Waugh – Gilchrist could justly claim to be the most influential. He really was a game changer. Every international side wants a Gilchrist.
In Test cricket he batted at seven usually but in ODIs he had always opened. He was now near the end of his career (he had retired within a year) and he had nothing left to prove.
His 149 took 104 balls and he hit eight sixes, many off massive straight drives and gigantic mows to leg. He started calmly but reached his century off 72 balls. He put on 172 for the first wicket with Matthew Hayden: Hayden, no slouch himself, made 38 of them. When Gilchrist was out, in the 31st over, the score was 224 for two.
Sri Lanka’s target was not impossible, but it is difficult to measure the mental burden of following an innings like Hayden’s. In fact Sri Lanka made a terrific attempt and the match would have been much closer but for the rain which returned midway through the innings.
Kumar Sangakkara and Sanath Jayasuriya made the Australian attack look rather ordinary during a second wicket stand of 116. Then it started raining again and the players went off – 149 for three off 24.5 overs.
This was where the problems really started. One issue was that, although the start had been delayed by almost three hours only 24 overs were removed from the game. There were no floodlights, so light was going to be an issue.
When the players returned the target had been changed under the Duckworth Lewis formula to 239 off 36. Batting conditions were more difficult; Dilshan was run out after slipping.
The end was pure farce. The match officials appeared to think that 36 overs were necessary to complete the match. This simply wasn’t true: the tournament playing conditions provided that a minimum of 20 overs per side was needed for a completed match. When the players went off for bad light after 33 overs the Australians started celebrating. They were utterly astonished when the umpires summoned them out again to finish the match.
The awards ceremony took place in sepulchral gloom, an appropriate end to an ill-fated tournament.
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