It was like a Tennis player winning a Grand Slam without dropping a set, Like a football club winning a season without losing a game – Australia did it twice in World Cup Cricket. They won the 2003 and 2007 WCs without losing a game. This was an era of Australian domination which no one questioned. The only question was who will finish second?
2003 – India came into this World cup in miserable form, having lost at home to the West Indies and destroyed in New Zealand in seaming conditions. They started off poorly too. In their first match against a cricket major, they were bowled out for 125 by Australia. Losing the match was the least of the problems, back home homes were stoned, effigies burnt and Sachin had to appeal for some restraint. That started a revival by India who won their next eight matches with memorable performances. Like a errant school kid fearing another caning, India played above themselves and beat England, Pakistan, New Zealand and Sri Lanka all very comprehensively. There were memorable moments from Sachin, with six fifties and a hundred including a 98 of 75 balls against a strong Pakistan attack and a superb 50 against England. Nehra blitzed England with a spell of 6 for 21, Dravid played a few key knocks and also kept wickets in the interest of the team. Yuvraj contributed in the Pakistan match and Saurav Ganguly was severe on the minnows with 3 centuries. The lasting image is of the Indian huddle , the world saw a new Indian team not afraid to express itself and stand together as one.
There were a few upsets that let Kenya into the super Sixes and they made into the Semi finals by upsetting Sri Lanka before being beaten by India. South Africa choked unbelievably at home in the group stage. Of all reasons, they lost by misunderstanding the Duckworth & Lewis target. They thought they had scored enough to pip Lanka when actually they required another run. Tragic to see a big team move out of the tournament at home.
Australia were given scares by Pakistan, England and New Zealand but they were bailed out by Symonds, Bickel and Brett Lee. The controversy was before the tournament however, with Shane Warne testing positive for drugs. But so strong were the Aussies, that they hardly missed him or Dearren Lehman who was banned for racial abuse. Andy Bickel was the hero with an amazing performance of 7-20 against England and followed up with a match finishing knock from an impossible situation. McGrath was at his best too and with Gillespe formed a potent opening combination.
In the Semi Finals, Australia defeated Sri Lanka in a match which was closer than the scroes suggest. Symonds made a brilliant 91 out of the 212 runs that Australia scored. India beat the upstarts Kenya easily to ensure that the two best teams entered the finals.
There were great expectations in India for the finals. I was confident that we would win and avenge our earlier loss to the Australians but some hair-brained decision and bowling put paid to the dreams. Ganguly put Australia into bat. What a big mistake! The initiative was gone. Zaheer then started on the wrong note, trying to be over aggressive and abusive. Gilchrist used the waywardness to blast a quickfire knock. Matt Hayden was not so fluent but those were the only 2 wickets India managed. Srinath, Zaheer, Nehra, Harbhajan all looked pretty ineffective. It was Damien Martyn’s innings which was the turning point. Without effort he stroked his way to a stylish 88 which gave confidence to Ponting to handle the spinners after an iffy start. Ponting though was a different player after he got his range, he plundered 140 runs and India were left to chase 359.
Again the Indian cricket team, so full of belief earlier gave it away very early in the game. Sachin going for an ambitious pull off McGrath made only 4 and Saurav also was trying to belt every ball. Sehwag played a good knowck but needed some support from the other end. His run out marked the end of any resistance and India got bowled out for 239. It was totally one sided and Australia deservedly were the Champions again. Sachin had a great series but faltered when it mattered most. Ditto with the fast bowlers. Not playing Kumble was also a mistake.
2007 – Though the most recent, I have very few memories of this world cup in a cricketing sense. India and Pakistan bowed out in the group stages after embarrassing defeats to minnows, Bangladesh and Ireland respectively. The tragic and mysterious death of Bob Woolmer took a lot of attention away from the cricket. Australia were strong throughout the tournament but Sri Lanka and New Zealand had a very good Super 8 stage. There were quite a few good innings from Hayden against South Africa and New Zealand, Ponting against England, Pietersen hit two tons for England and Mahela Jayawardene had a few good knocks too. McGrath was again in peak form and so were Murali and Vaas. The semis however were one sided encounters with Australia drubbing South Africa and Sri Lanka swamping New Zealand.
The two best sides in the two tournament with great talent in them were set to fight the final. Rain played a dampener and the match was reduced to 38 overs. Gilchrist hit a magnificent 149 to take the match away from the Sri Lankans and I thoroughly enjoyed his batting but afterward it emerged that he had used a squash ball in his glove to aid him. Whether it was legal or not, it tarnished Gilli’s image as a fair cricketer. Anyway Sri Lanka competed well in the match and it was only after the 25th over in their chase that they were out of it. The match ended at 36 overs by D&L but not before some farcical moments due to the umpires. Australians thought that they had won the match in the 33rd over as the umpires suspended play due to bad light and started celebrating. But the Umpires wrongly said that since the play was suspended due to bad light and not due to rain, 3 overs will have to be played on the next day to conclude the match. However , better sense prevailed and Jayawardene agreed to play out the 3 overs in near darkness with spinners bowling and the match got completed the same day. The Umpires apologised later for their error. So Australia had once again vanquished sub-continental opposition for a 3rd successive time to maintain their Halo.
So that concludes my rants on previous World Cups. I am looking forward to the forthcoming one, in our backyard and will be sharing my thoughts regularly. I will have a look at how the teams stack up in the next post.