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Aussies still top, Waugh to stop

The pecking order may have changed slightly but the nation which dominated cricket remained the same in 2003 ? Australia.

india Updated: Dec 27, 2003 19:07 IST

The pecking order may have changed slightly but the nation which dominated cricket remained the same in 2003— Australia.

There was nothing sensational about Australia's test form card in 2003, which started with a loss to England at Sydney and followed with predictable series wins over the West Indies, Bangladesh and a plucky Zimbabwe.

A decision with much greater implications came in December when the man who steered Australia through its test successes of recent years, veteran captain Steve Waugh, announced his intention to retire after India's tour of Australia.

By the time he hangs up his bat, Waugh, 38, will have led Australia 57 times. Ricky Ponting will replace Waugh, adding the test captaincy to his one-day responsibilities.

"All good things must come to an end," Waugh said when announcing his decision.

But it was in the one-day arena at cricket's World Cup in South Africa where Australia produced an emphatic display of the widening gap between themselves and the rest of the world. It won the tournament undefeated despite losing star bowler Shane Warne to a year's drug ban on the eve of the first game, Shane Watson, and Jason Gillespie.

Australia had close calls against New Zealand, Sri Lanka and England, but in a sense that only enhanced its legend. Australia springboarded onto a world record 21 consecutive one-day victories.

The suspension of Warne was the year's most sensational scandal. "You are kidding me, I don't believe you," Pakistan's Hasim Akram said when a journalist told him at Johannesburg's Sandton Sun Hotel on the morning of the first match that the spin ace would be flying home.

Warne was banned for a year and will return Feb. 10. Australia's stunning batting effort in the final against India— 359 for two— was seen by some as the peak, not simply of a side on the day or in the tournament, but of a generation. The perfect game. It was a year which threw up several moral dilemmas for teams and individuals.

England boycotted its World Cup fixture against Zimbabwe in Harare citing moral and political issues. Zimbabwe players Andy Flower and Henry Olonga protested against the country's politicians and wore black armbands before retiring at the end of the tournament. Olonga went on to seek refuge in England and was given temporary residency.

England skipper Nasser Hussain, weighed down by the controversy, quit soon after the tournament and launched a scathing broadside on the game's administrators.

"It was a poorly run tournament and the ICC (International Cricket Council) must have known early on that Zimbabwe was going to be an issue for us," Hussain told the British Broadcasting Corporation.

"I think they let us down, and they let cricket down. It took something away from the tournament for me when it should have been an event I enjoyed."

Michael Vaughan, who succeeded as England's one-day captain, was later handed the reigns of the test side when Hussain quit during the first test against South Africa at Edgbaston.