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The Aussies triumphed for a second time and the expats poured in

The Aussies triumphed for a second time and the expats poured in

india Updated: Jan 28, 2003 12:18 IST
Rob Steen

Stuff winners and losers. Forget sponsors and bottom lines. If the foremost justification for any international sporting event should be the opportunity it affords to unite distant peoples and cultures, to celebrate diversity, the seventh World Cup, an under-achiever in financial if not cricketing terms, can be considered the most successful to date.

The tournament returned to Britain after a 16-year break, a more inclusive Britain than that run in 1983 by the “All-Right-Jack” proponents of Thatcherism. For once, the marketers had it about right: that “Carnival of Cricket” billing was by no means hyperbolic.

Even if the release of the England team song was delayed, perversely, until the day the hosts-in-chief were knocked out, it was, for the most part, an occasion that reflected admirably on all concerned.

Abul Jalil, Pakistan’s self-annointed cheerleader, resplendent in green robes and Biblical beard; Shoaib Akhtar sprinting in to Steve Waugh amid Headingley’s notoriously racist pastures, roared on, willed on, by Lahorians and Yorkshiremen alike; Henry Olonga, an opera-singing Zimbabwean in dreadlocks taking three wickets in the final over to mug India; Indian and Pakistani fans sharing an amicable sunny afternoon at Old Trafford — these are a few of my favourite things.

Not that the millions of British Asians had it all their own way. Whoever saw fit to stage the India-South Africa group game at Hove, a charming but hopelessly petite seaside venue, evidently had scant idea of the passion the game stirs in subcontinental breasts. Or were the reasons more sinister? At a time when Jagmohan Dalmiya was threatening to shift the ICC’s headquarters from Lord’s to Kolkata, some deemed it a wilful affront.

Though still almost a year from erupting into a full-blown crisis, match-fixing reared its Medusan head, albeit not entirely in the conventional sense. Did Pakistan lose to Bangladesh to abet a betting coup, or because, having already qualified for the second phase, they wanted to give their neighbours a leg-up?

The mystery persists. One can be rather more definitive about the dire conclusion of the Australia-West Indies group match. After being booed off,

Steve Waugh openly admitted that his go-slow with Michael Bevan, the abridged game’s most acquisitive batsman — they took 13 overs to score the last 19 runs in their quest for 111 — took no heed whatsoever of Joe and Joanne Public.

Not that it was difficult to comprehend the tactics pursued by the pragmatic Waugh. Bested by New Zealand and Pakistan, unconvincing against the Scots, his side had stolen into the Super Sixes on net run-rate. At the same time, since points against fellow qualifiers would be carried forward, they wanted to ensure the West Indies progressed at the Kiwis’ expense.

Brian Lara denied collusion but then what need was there for multilateralism? Stephen Fleming’s men beat Scotland swiftly enough to sneak through yet it was still thoroughly shameless. Was it the ensuing criticism that turned Waugh, almost overnight, into arguably the most enterprising captain Test cricket has ever known?

Almost inevitably, Australia took full advantage. Unbeaten over their last eight games, they muscled Pakistan aside in a one-sided anticlimax between the most watchable teams as the era’s three dominant figures ruled supreme.

Glenn McGrath rediscovered his hostility when it mattered, as did Shane Warne, who returned from career-threatening injury to nail man of the match awards in semi-final and final; their skipper, moreover, cemented his claims as the steeliest hombre ever to play a game for a living.

Yet a completely different plot would have unravelled but for two improbable lapses by South Africans. Had the planet’s second-best fielder not spilled the most facile of catches, Australia would probably have exited before the semi-finals.

Had the event’s most nerveless player not panicked at the climax of the most thrillingly dramatic contest in the history of the game’s oft-reviled golden goose, they would certainly never have reached the final. And Hollywood wonders why sports fiction is seldom a match for the real McCoy!

The fourth World Cup to be staged in the Northern Hemisphere had its customary share of derring-do. The best overall strike-rate was achieved, astonishingly, by John Blain of Scotland; Neil Johnson turned on his erstwhile South Africa A confreres, inspiring Zimbabwe to a stunning victory over their big cousins that would ultimately cost two sides dear, the losers as well as England. The hosts’ absent-minded disregard for the fine print — run-rate — meant that defeat to India saw them eliminated.

Sachin went home for his father’s funeral, wiped his eyes, then nipped back a day later to face Kenya — and notch his first ODI hundred as a non-opener. Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, the tournament’s heaviest scorer, stripped and filleted the Sri Lankans, piling on 318 in 45 overs, exceeding the all-wicket ODI record by fully 43 runs. Saqlain Mushtaq emulated Chetan Sharma, polishing off Zimbabwe with the second hat-trick in World Cup annals.

Then there was Lance Klusener.

One of South Africa’s unfair ration of three top all-rounders, the powerful, unorthodox Klusener dominated the group stages in unparalleled fashion. So bruising and audacious was that club of a bat, so probing those full-length swingers, the Player of the Tournament won four man of the match awards. To his eternal chagrin, unfortunately, the most enduring memory is of the victory he botched.

On June 17, Australia and South Africa met at Edgbaston to decide who would join Pakistan in the Lord’s final, Wasim Akram’s men having trounced New Zealand the previous afternoon. Three days before that, the other semi-finalists had met in a Super Six game at Headingley whose ramifications would directly affect their next encounter.

With victory imperative, Australia, chasing 272, were reeling at 48/3 when Waugh joined Ponting. A rousing stand developed, but on 56, he popped a simple catch to midwicket, to the young Cape Coloured, Herschelle Gibbs, heir to Rhodes as the game’s most prehensile fielder.

Gibbs, however, threw the ball skywards in premature exultation and the chance went down, prompting Waugh to cackle (allegedly): “You’ve just dropped the World Cup.” Waugh went on to a century, setting up a rematch of Ali-v-Frazieresque proportions.

He was on song again in Birmingham, adding 90 with Bevan after they’d been united at 68 for four, only for Pollock and Allan Donald to grab the last four wickets for six runs. A target of 213 was still tricky, all the more so when Warne, hitherto a shadowy figure, reasserted his genius.

Clean-bowling Gibbs with a delivery no less vicious or wondrous than the one to Mike Gatting that forged his reputation, the Lucifer of Legspin took three for 12 in his first eight overs as 48 for nought dwindled to 61 for four.

Then came Jacques Kallis. Plagued by a stomach ailment, he wasn’t even supposed to play, yet his 10 overs cost just 27 runs, and now he clung to the crease out of sheer instinct, adding 84 with the impudent Rhodes. Warne returned to have Kallis caught for 53 — 175 for six — but Klusener crashed and carved from the outset. South Africa still slipped to 198 for nine, yet Donald watched with relief and admiration as his partner whittled the equation down to one from four balls.

Waugh’s decision to entrust the final over to Damien Fleming baffled many but not those in the know: he’d been given the same responsibility in the 1996 semi-final, when the West Indies had wanted six off five balls with two wickets left. His nerve held then, as it did now.

The same, though, could hardly be said of Klusener. Australia knew a tie would suffice but that, surely, was the thinnest of straw. Klusener, who’d already clobbered 31 off 14 balls, drilled the third ball straight back: had Darren Lehmann’s throw hit, Donald, backing up with excess zeal, would have been run out.

The warning went unheeded. Klusener essayed the same shot next ball, then charged off for a needlessly risky single; Donald dropped his bat before setting off, fatally late. Mark Waugh, at mid-on, relayed the ball via Fleming to wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist, who duly — as Wisden put it —- “broke the wicket, and South African hearts”.

Donald was out, the game tied, and Australia, with nary a nod to realism, were through.

At 6am the next morning I was awoken by a phone call: my father had died. Memories seldom come more bittersweet.