And so it will be Australia who will face Sri Lanka in the World Cup final in Lahore on Sunday, after an atrocious five point victory over the West Indies at Mohali which was nothing less than a burglary. Once again, their extraordinary safecracker, Shane Warne, was at the heart of the action with four key wickets, but it was a flirtatious team win – race by race, ball by ball – from some of the deepest most uncompromising ever encountered on a cricket pitch.
From 15 for 4 in the first ten overs of the competition to 207 for 8 at the end of the Australian heats; from 165 for 2 in the 42nd on the response from the Antilles, to 202 all with three balls to spare. The once insurmountable West Indies have suffered rare indignities in recent seasons, many of them at the hands of these same opponents, but few collapses are close to rivaling that.
In front of an enthusiastic Mohali crowd, witnesses of the de facto opening night of the place, it was a competition which crackled with low intensity energy from the start, as if nothing we saw was ever as good as ‘he appeared there. Not the early rout of the Australian higher order, not the careful reconstruction undertaken by Stuart Law and Michael Bevan, and certainly not the pseudo-serene progress that the West Indian higher order has made toward an awkwardly distant target – a challenge that only Brian Lara, with a transcendentally fluent 45, never seemed to take his pace. Until, that is to say, Steve Waugh checked it out with a delivery that was, rightly so, out of this world.
And from the moment of the departure of Lara, who made 93 for 2 after 23 overs, the first fugitive glimpses of hope were visible for Australia, even while Richie Richardson, the architect of their fall in Jaipur, slept in a third gate. of 72 with the faithful Shivnarine Chanderpaul. The descents continued to come at a constant trickle, but it was the shots that didn’t come out that were the most telling – the rustling and rustling at the rare sight of breadth, and the exasperated body language that followed every missed opportunity.
But despite themselves, the West Indies continued to get closer to their target, and as long as Chanderpaul in particular – the least nervous of the holders – persisted, the victory was surely a formality. But then, at age 80, and moderately bothered by what seemed to be a stiff back, Chanderpaul swam one too many times across the line of a length ball Glenn McGrath, and placed a soft grip in the hands of Damien Fleming halfway.
The reaction in the crowd was a discreet bewilderment, as if their early evening nap had been disturbed by a distant roar of thunder. For now, that would not have changed the challenge of the West Indies at all. They still needed a sedative 43 of 52 balls with seven wickets in hand, but the arrival at No. 5 of Roger Harper with long lever – just as he had done in very different circumstances in the quarterfinals against South Africa – was the most glaring indication that the minds of hunters were blurring.
McGrath and Fleming felt the mood, closing the field around Harper’s aggressive intentions and turning his hacks flat into points with sharp hands in the ring. Indeed, it only took five deliveries to force him to make a mistake, as he rushed over his stumps towards McGrath and was pinned lbw on the back foot for 2 – it was high but probably roughly cut The balls.
And now, on four occasions, the requirement was visibly risky for the West Indies – 35 against 39 balls – and once again, they bet on the restraint of their remaining front-line drummers, Jimmy Adams and Keith Arthurton, in favor inexpensive demarcated borders. Again, the ploy failed. Ottis Gibson’s arrival caused Warne to return, and a ball was all he needed to send him on his way, caught by 1 as he pushed in a desperate mowing outside, the violence of the shot and the exuberance of Ian Healy’s call doing enough to persuade referee S Venkataraghavan to lift his finger.
Richardson had at least eliminated a cathartic border between the two, although his method was not exactly reassuring – a wild pickup truck in Midwicket off McGrath that was a million miles from the percentage of fire the situation required. And by the end of Warne’s breakthrough, and with Adams late in the fold, the demand had gone to practically a race, 29 against 30, with panic rising in the throats of the remaining West Indian drummers.
McGrath, the architect of the response, was now sidelined for the excellent 2 for 30 numbers, but his efforts had left the contest exactly as Warne would have liked. A sharper set-up forced Adams to do nothing, as he planted his front foot for the slog scan, and was pinned flat to leave the West Indies 183 for 6-25 of the required 21.
Enter Arthurton – his wide-brimmed white sun hat giving off a degree of confidence that his tournament record – 1, 0, 0 and 1 – barely warranted. Leave Arthurton, all but nailed by the first pinball, and then caught by Fleming for another duck – a grotesque pirouette pull resulting in a weakened snick to Healy.
Richardson, now out of breath for a limit, attacked and missed a wide of Fleming – another point – before hacking two others into the third man. But after an exceptional sprint and a dive Ricky Ponting on the cover limit had cut a certain limit of first ball for Ian Bishop, Richardson finally connected on a pull through the back square to make seven precious points in two balls, and bring back the 14 to 12 requirement.
Warne, however, had six of these bullets at his disposal, and a distraught bishop in sight. Two bullets were all he needed – a legbreak / pinball combo placing him plumb in front – 14 out of 10. A diet of singles was all that Curtly Ambrose and Richardson could reap from the rest of his past, while Warne got withdrew to the outside field with figures of 4 to 36 in nine, and a foot in the final of the World Cup.
Richardson, however, was not yet finished. A Flemish half-tracker was flogged with relief in the corner of the cows for four – and with enough equality to get the West Indies through their group stage victory – the match was suddenly a question of five points over five balls. But then, once again, the careless approach of the Antilles to their pursuit raised their heads.
As long as Richardson was on strike, the match was up for grabs. Instead, he sub-cut his next ball to Healy and rushed for an impulsive single. Curtly Ambrose responded quickly but not quickly enough – Healy’s shy underarm stung the stumps with the bat a few inches, and suddenly the hopes of the West Indies were found in the doubtful arms of Courtney Walsh No. 11 .
Richardson, 49 years old, not gone out and failed at the wrong end, implored his teammate to find him a single; Instead, Fleming found the perfect bail adjuster, cutting a length ball back through a swing door, to stir up an uproar in the outside field as the Australian team players left the flag to join their teammates.
As Mark Taylor later recognized, the West Indies won the first 95% of the competition, and Australia the final 5%. Their opponents had let the victory slip out of their grip in the two innings, and the enormity of their missed opportunity was almost too much to deal with.
Because the opening discussions of the competition could hardly have been further from the extraordinary closing scenes. After choosing to strike first on an apparently true deck, Australia’s best order was channeled into a return performance by Ambrose and Bishop, newly promoted to the new ball after a previously fallow tournament.
Ambrose in particular was in the mood for a few hits, nothing more revealing than his second-ball inducker to the previously unflappable Mark Waugh. Three hundred and fifty-five out of five rounds at the World Cup counted for nothing as Ambrose slammed his thread to his knees before off. A second ball duck, and the Australian tournament player was done.
Bishop then lured Taylor into a reckless hack on his own strains for 1, and although Ponting seemed busy in his 15-ball break, he too had not left the mark when Ambrose found another low-rebound inducker to nail him while he jumped through his fold. And when Bishop pocketed Steve Waugh for 3, again via an inside edge on his own lines, hopes for the Australian tournament were in tatters inside the top ten overs.
Yet the killer instinct that the West Indies could have used in such circumstances has proven elusive. Walsh was a predictable threat at first change, conceding seven points in six overs as Law and Bevan set for survival, but Gibson – apparently hampered by groin tension – only pitched two overs of rope one on each side, when Richardson turned around instead. to the double-rotation attack on Harper and Adams in an attempt to contain.
It worked, up to a point. No drummer was able to find fluidity as their position started to stretch, but neither did they need it, as the realization turned out to be hitting through the 50 overs would be key on an awkward surface a stone’s throw away. With Law’s commitment to the forefoot which brought him rare opportunities to attack the straight limits and Bevan’s eye for an unparalleled curved gap, the booth had grown to 138 when they were finally separated by a run-out – Law, 72, was slow to respond when Bevan called him for once, and Ambrose’s return from the ravine caught up with him.
Bevan fell soon after for 69 – he had removed a branded loft record for six to signal the load in the last ten overs, but then canceled his repeat attempt in the 45th. Healy’s low draw, however, proved to be ideal in the closing overs, as her 31 out of 28 balls ensured that reconstruction would not be lost.
But could a goal of 208 be enough? The Australian tigers certainly suggested that this could be the case, as did the instant impact of this Warne man, who scalped Courtney Browne with his very first delivery after entering the attack for an early raid in the sixth.
And yet, if there was one man with the technique to transcend the competition, it was the imperious Lara, who seemed to be playing on a surface of her own as she headed for a run-a-ball 45 in a second wicket stand of 68. Although he played and missed a few times, he nevertheless trusted his legendary cover drive to serve him well, never more categorically than when he slammed Steve Waugh at the rope for what would turn out to be his final stroke score.
For Waugh, the answer was a bullet from the Gods, a maliciously gripping cutter that formed around the wicket, and bit the field to straighten beyond the outside edge and cut the bail. And as Lara walked away, puzzled, the seeds of doubt that her layoff had sown were already beginning to take root. But it would take them until the excruciating closure for them to burst into their full grotesque flowering.