Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Zimbabwe Rules

World Cup Analysis: 2003
The abiding memory of the 2003 World Cup, sadly, is of a tournament short of quality but far too long on quantity: 54 games spread over 43 days were, undeniably, too many. None of this affected Australia, however, who responded to Shane Warne’s failed drugs test by marching imperiously on. They won each of their 11 games. Such riches could only have been dreamed of by hosts South Africa; widely expected to prove the biggest threat to Australia’s crown, they performed tentatively and were incapable of even progressing to the Super Six stage.

A classic opening game
Possessing a strong squad high on experience, many South Africans believed their side could match the rugby union team of 1995, who managed to win the World Cup on home soil. It all started so well for the hosts; skipper Shaun Pollock reduced the West Indies to 7-2 in the opening game; after 15 overs, they had crawled to 30-2 and a perfect start looked assured.

But Brian Lara, playing his first international match for five months, had other ideas. He tore into the home bowling in characteristically ruthless style, amassing a delightful 116 from 134 balls to make South Africa rue Jacques Kallis’s drop at second slip off the great batsman’s first ball. Ricardo Powell and Ramnaresh Sarwan mixed finesse with sheer strength to amass 110 runs from the last 10 overs.

Lance Klusener evoked memories of 1999, utilising his trademark gargantuan bat. But it wasn’t quite enough. He was caught just inside the boundary in the final over; South Africa were edged out by three runs and paid the ultimate price for the slow over rate which restricted their reply to 49 overs.

Who needs Shane Warne?
Against Pakistan a day later, circumstances conspired to make Australia’s task of getting off to a winning start as difficult as possible. Star batsmen Darren Lehmann and Michael Bevan were absent for differing reasons; and, on the morning of the game, Shane Warne was sensationally sent home after it emerged he tested positive for two banned diurectics during the recent VB Series in Australia; he was subsequently banned for a year. Australia were reduced to 146-5; but Andrew Symonds, a borderline selection for the squad, proceeded to hit a phenomenally powerful 143*. Australia somehow managed to top 300, and ultimately won by 82 runs.

Politics and sport don’t mix
After heated debates that had spun many months, it was finally announced, on February 11th, just two days before the fixture was scheduled to take place, that England would not fulfill their fixture in Zimbabwe. A few days earlier, the players announced that they did not want to play there “on moral, political and contractual” grounds. A letter from a group calling themselves the Sons and Daughters of Zimbabwe put the issue into the spotlight; it was announced they threatened to return the side home “in wooden coffins”; but the ICC dismissed the letter as a hoax.

A day earlier, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga had heroically protested against the tyrannical regime of Robert Mugabe – and the ICC’s desire that sport and politics shouldn’t mix – by each wearing black armbands as they took the field against Namibia. Simultaneously, a statement was released in which the reasoning behind the armbands was made public; they “mourned the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe.”

Human rights protestors hailed the two incidents for bringing the egregious situation into the public domain. Yet, in cricketing terms, the sad result of England’s forfeiture was that their vibrant side, so impressive against both Pakistan and Australia, failed to reach the Super Six; meanwhile, Zimbabwe, benefiting from the ‘win’ against England and rain against Pakistan, unjustly progressed to the next stage. Highlighting their inadequacies, they were soundly thumped by Kenya.

In the build-up to the tournament, the ICC had denied there was any threat of violence in Zimbabwe during the games. But it has since been reported that 80 peaceful protestors at games in Bulawayo were kept in inhumane conditions for up to six days.

With depressing predictability, the ICC rejected the cases for England’s game against Zimbabwe to be played elsewhere, as well as the New Zealand board’s case for moving their game with Kenya away from Nairobi on security grounds. But the New Zealand board put England to shame with their refusal to allow their players to be dragged into the controversy.

So much for home glory
A week after the West Indian debacle, Hershelle Gibbs’ wonderful 143 powered the hosts past 300; and New Zealand, who had lost to Sri Lanka, looked to be heading out. But such thinking did not allow for Stephen Fleming’s majestic cutting and pulling. In a match decided on the Duckworth Lewis method, Fleming’s superlative 134* secured a nine-wicket win for the Kiwis. His dismissive handling of Allan Donald, whose 5.5 overs went for 52, will live long in the memory.

New Zealand, then, were not down and out after all. Batting deep and possessing a string of powerful allrounders, they suddenly appeared viable candidates for tournament glory, especially if strike bowler Shane Bond could remain fit and firing. West Indies were edged out of a Super Six place after narrow losses to the Kiwis and Sri Lanka In the latter game, Ramnaresh Sarwan dramatically re-entered proceedings after going to hospital following a bang on the head; he ended 47* but, crucially, his side lost by six runs and were out, despite beginning the campaign with such promise. However, they could count themselves the unluckiest of the non-qualifiers; they would have progressed had they beaten Bangladesh in a match that ended as a no result, highlighting the unfairness of the lack of a reserve day, or if the Kiwis had beaten Kenya.

Pool B was thrown alive by Kenya’s highly unexpected victory over Sri Lanka; they kept their nerve against Canada and the atrocious Bangladesh and, because of their four points over New Zealand, entered the Super Six stage with 10 out of a possible 12 points.

New Zealand met Canada in the final round of games, on the same day South Africa met Sri Lanka; it was a straight fight between the two Southern hemisphere sides for a Sup Six berth. The Kiwis only problem was the fearless hitting of John Davison; but they completed a routine victory with 27 overs to spare.

The hosts were having problems yet again. Aravinda de Silva, who made 73, aided Marvan Atappatu’s unusually aggressive 124. South Africa needed 269 to stay in the competition. Gibbs continued his fine form to make 73, but the hosts were soon pegged back to 149-5, in grave danger of exiting the tournament in ignominious fashion.

However, the pugnacious Mark Boucher brought South Africa back into contention. With rain looming, it began to look inevitable the game would be decided on the Duckworth Lewis method. With two balls remaining of the 45th over, they were six runs behind the par score, and were well aware of the matter. Boucher did the seemingly impossible and hit Muttiah Muralitharan for six; thinking he had done all he needed, he made no effort to secure a single off the next ball. But, of course, he had only done enough to tie, and South Africa, incredibly, were out of their own tournament. Lance Klusener, at the other end, could doubtless empathise with Boucher upon hearing the news.

Bevan, Bichel, and a pair of miracles
England’s first two games against genuine opposition highlighted the flaws of day-night cricket in South Africa. Against Pakistan, Paul Collingwood’s dexterous 66* took England close to 250, and James Anderson’s 4-29 – including Inzaman and Yousuf Youhana in consecutive balls – secured a rout. But India got a similar score against England. Ashish Nehra’s sensational 6-23 ensured an emphatic victory.

Against Australia in their final game of the group stages, England grittily edged past 200 on a tricky surface. Andy Caddick’s four wickets with the new ball, aided by watertight bowling from Craig White, Andrew Flintoff and Ashley Giles, reduced Australia to 135-8; England, surely, would beat the old enemy for the first time in the 2000s.

Andy Bichel, who had already taken an extraordinary 7-20, joined Michael Bevan with 70 needed at around a run a ball. Yet the duo quietly went about accumulating; 14 were needed from the last two overs to secure a famous win. At this point, Nasser Hussain turned not to Caddick (9-2-35-4) but to the inexperienced Anderson (8-0-54-0.) Two big Bichel hits later, and it was clear his “hunch” had backfired. The next day, England learned the price of the failure was World Cup elimination. They had now lost 14 consecutive ODIs to Australia.

Nine days later, at the very same ground, the pair were united again, with Australia in an even bigger crisis – 84-7 against New Zealand. Shane Bond’s fast, dipping yorkers proved far, far too good for Australia’s batsman. But, halfway through the innings, he had bowled out with figures of 6-23. The more aggressive Bichel complemented Bevan’s calculating, unobtrusive style in a fearless rescue operation. They both made half centuries; and, on a wearing pitch, Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee shared eight wickets as Australia ultimately cruised home by 96 runs.

Kenyan fantasies
The one surprise team of the tournament was Kenya, whose exuberant brand of cricket lasted 40 out of 43 days. Led by canny skipper Steve Tikolo, the side, with the exception of explosive Kennedy Otieno, batted with common sense, aiming merely for a score in the region of 220. They fielded with great enthusiasm, and, unlike many other minnows, refrained from bowling too many wides and no-balls. Collins Obuya, a young legspinner, took 5-24 against Sri Lanka to seal the victory that defined their tournament; a 39-year-old, Aasif Karim, mystified the Aussies on his was to recording 8.2-6-3-7. Relatively facile victories over Zimbabwe and Bangladesh took to three their number of shocks (though it was harsh on Kenya to call them such). Although they would probably not have progressed beyond the group stage without New Zealand forfeiting their game there, Kenya’s effervescent style was to the benefit of the tournament.

Canada’s John Davison, whose clean hitting earned the World Cup’s fastest ever century (against the West Indies) and a 30-ball 50 against New Zealand, also lit up the tournament. But the groups of seven proved tediously long-winded. Minnows did not benefit from the routine thrashings. The lack of a reserve day was also criminal.

A fitting finale
In purely cricketing terms, Australia’s depth of resources, sternness under pressure and sheer brilliance defined the tournament. They came up against an improving India in the final. They had been mauled by the Aussies in the group stages, but won every game since then, including Pakistan.

However, Sourav Ganguly chose to insert Australia in the final, perhaps a sign of Indian nerves and, thereafter, there was only one winner. The powerful batting of Adam Gilchrist and Matt Hayden took Australia clear of 100 after 15 overs; thereafter, Ricky Ponting played one of the greatest one-day innings of all time; he hit an awe-inspiring eight sixes while seemingly cruising to 140*. Damien Martyn was totally overshadowed, but made a classy 88* as the pair amassed 234 to destroy Indian spirits.

Sachin Tendulkar had played a regal innings of 98 in India’s win over Pakistan. But Glenn McGrath dismissed the Man of the Tournament in the first over. Virender Sehwag’s defiant 82 briefly kept Indian hopes going but, really, it was all over.

The side of Gilchrist, Ponting, Martyn, Symonds, Beven, Bichel, McGrath and the effervescent Brett Lee, whose devastating pace yielded 22 wickets, won all 11 games, and were considerably better – more skilful and more athletic - than any other side.

The tournament dragged on too long and, though undeniably eventful, much of the drama occurred off the field. The heroic stand taken by Olonga and Flower will live long in the memory; sadly, so too will the wholly unsatisfactory controversy over England’s game in Zimbabwe. The ICC rightly took much criticism for penalising both England and New Zealand (whose refused to play in Kenya); in doing so, they altered the balance of the Cup and helped two weak sides reach the tournament’s latter stages.

This was a tournament that crossed the line between making money and forgetting about its fans. In financial terms – $US194million was made, easily a record – the eighth World Cup was an overriding success. But supporters themselves ended the 2003 World Cup feeling ambivalent about it all.

The participants
Group A:

Australia - Awesome; deserved winners.
England - Zimbabwe cost them, but should have beaten Australia.
Pakistan - Never caught fire.
India - Too good for everyone bar Australia.
Zimbabwe - Poor and lucky.
Namibia - Gave England a little scare.
Netherlands - Thrashed Nambia; worried India.

Group B:
South Africa - One of their greatest cricketing embarrassments.
Sri Lanka - Excellent start, but then declined.
West Indies - Unlucky noy to progress.
New Zealand - Rallied then folded, crucially, against India.
Kenya - Vivacious throughout.
Bangladesh - Shambolic - beaten by Kenya and Canada.
Canada - John Davison's hitting will live long in the memory.

Selected tournament averages


A Symonds (A) 326 runs @ 163.00
HH Gibbs (SA) 384 @ 96.00
DR Martyn (A) 323 @ 64.60
R Dravid (I) 318 @ 63.60
SR Tendulkar (I) 673 @ 61.18
SC Ganguly (I) 465 @ 58.12

BowlingAJ Bichel (A) 16 wkts @ 12.31
VC Drakes (WI) 16 @ 13.00
WPUJC Vaas (SL) 13 @ 14.39
GD McGrath (A) 21 @ 14.76
B Lee (A) 22 @ 17.90
SE Bond (NZ) 17 @ 17.94

1 comment:

Richard Lake said...

Great article and that brought back some memories. In particular the farce that was generated by having two matches forfeited and the ridiculous situation which was, and sadly still is, Zimbabwe. If you've not read it, Tim, Nassar Hussein's autobiography pulls no punches when discussing this situation.

The other thing, which I sort of remembered was South Africa finding another strange way of getting themselves out of the tournament. With Donald forgetting to run in the previous semi-final, they have been found wanting under extreme pressure in the last two tournaments