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|February 4, 2000||
Aus take CUB title 2-0Prem Panicker
These days, Australia doesn't defeat opponents -- it decimates them with a chilling ruthlessness that, increasingly, is putting the opposition on the back foot before the teams are even picked for the next game.
As evidence in point, check out Wasim Akram's admission, ahead of the second final, that Australia had got the hex sign firmly on the Pakistan team -- this, from a combative captain going into a must-win game, was portent enough of the way things were to shape up at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Steve Waugh underlined that steely-eyed resolve, when he said ahead of the game that his goal was to win in such convincing fashion, every single time out, that other nations would fear his team.
On another very hot day, Sydney's weather isn't actually too far away from the stinking hot mark, so it will be uncomfortable again for the players. Pakistan left out Razzaq and Inzamam-ul-Haq, courtesy injuries, and brought in Mohammad Wasim and Waqar Younis. Australia, seemingly done with the tinkering that characterised the league phase, stuck with the side that won the first final the other day. And on a track that promised a bit for the bowlers, Australia won the toss and opted for first strike.
The defining moment of the game perhaps came in the 6th over. After 5, Australia had progressed to 22/0, both Mark Waugh and Adam Gilchrist had played a few shots, Shoaib Akthar and Wasim Akram had beaten the bat a few times, and the game till that point had every appearance of two quality boxers feeling each other out.
In the sixth, Gilchrist shaped to pull Akthar, and managed only to drag it to square leg. it was a simple take -- but Yousuf Youhanna, one of the more reliable fielders for Pakistan, grassed it. And Gilchrist, let off the hook, went on the rampage with some calculated hitting. Four boundaries off Akram in the 7th over, two more off Akthar in the 8th, and Australia had seized the advantage.
Some teams subsequently surrender the edge. Australia is not one of them. At the end of 10 overs, the openers -- with Gilchrist playing terminator -- had taken the score to 71/0. It was a momentum they were to maintain for the remainder of the innings, as Australia put up its highest ever ODI score, against a side that is being touted as one of the best bowling combinations in world cricket. Making matters worse for Pakistan was the fielding -- within the first 15 overs, there was besides the dropped chance, another instance when a ball lobbed high between two fielders and each left it to the other, and some farcical misfields, most notably when Anwar let a straightforward on drive right between his legs and to the fence for four.
Gilchrist, going along at breakneck pace, finally came to grief in the 11th when he charged Azhar Mahmood, the bowler dropped it short, the batsman changed his mind and went for a cut and managed, in the end, only to chop it to the keeper. 74/1 at that stage and Gilchrist, with 51 off just 42 balls, had taken heavy toll for that dropped catch.
There was, however, no relief for Pakistan as Ricky Ponting, in at first drop, came out swinging. There was a nervy, chancy edge to his batting, but he was backing himself (relatively easy to do when you have a lineup as powerful as the Australian one still waiting in the hut to pick up the baton if you should chance to let it drop) and produced strokes of bludgeoning strength and audaciousness that, if anything, upped the tempo set by Gilchrist even further (105/1 at the end of 15).
Again, Pakistan contributed to its own misfortune when, in the 15th over, Ponting pulled one from Mahmood diect to Youhanna, at backward square leg, and the fielder floored his second sitter for the day -- the ball, adding insult to injury, going through for four.
From then on, there was no respite as Australia focussed on keeping the run rate above six an over (at the end of the 20 over mark, Australia had made 129/1 at 6.4. From then, there was never a point in the innings when the rate was allowed to dip below run-a-ball.
The two batsmen, Mark Waugh and Ricky Ponting, played through this period in contrasting styles. Ponting seemed intent on hitting every ball out of the ground --- or at the least, giving the attempt his best shot. Waugh focussed on turning the strike around, playing percentage cricket with a good proportion of his runs coming in singles, twos and the occasional hard-run three (a bit of a rarity, the three, given the lightning fast outfield).
It was in the 28th over (after Austraia, at the halfway mark, had progressed to an awesome 160/1 (at 6.4) that Mark Waugh finally went forthat one single too many, playing one to mid on for Saqlain to race in, field and throw down the stumps with a direct hit to end a 96 runs, off just 16.5 overs, Waugh himself registering another 50 against his name off 73 balls.
Ponting merely stepped up a gear. The 31st over (Pak 180/2 in 30, with Andrew Symonds, sent ahead of Bevan to accelerate the rate even further, taking a while to settle in), bowled by Akthar, produced 10 runs. The next, bowled by Waqar (who, on the day, had a miserable outing with the ball and in the field, yielded 12. And Ponting looked set for a breathtaking century when he swept wildly at Afridi, in the 35th over, for the ball to go off the glove for Moin Khan to grab well. 50 runs, at 6.8, had been added for the third wicket, however, and the pedal was firmly to the floorboards by this stage.
Michael Bevan had a rare bad day in the office, Wasim Akram coming back for a spell to produce an inswinging yorker that beat the batsman all ends up to take out the middle stump. However, with Australia batting strong and deep, the wicket didn't register as even the slightest blip on the scoring rate, Symonds promptly picking up the onus of strokeplay and employing eye, reflexes and brute power to remarkable effect in yet another punishing cameo that netted 45 at a run a ball before Saqlain Mushtaq, in the 45th over, produced the one holding its line to beat him on the charge and have him stumped. Again, the wicket had only falled after considerable damage had been done -- the 5th wicket partnership yielding 66 at 7.4 runs per over. Australia's progression during this period, 222/3 in 35, 251/4 in 40, 292/5 in 45.
Symonds' departure was the signal for Steve Waugh to pick up the pace. It was a constant feature of this innings, that batsman after batsman came in, settled down, and promptly took on himself the onus of scorching strokeplay. Steve Waugh's contribution was 37 off just 30 balls, his charge ending when, like his twin, he took on Saqlain Mushtaq and failed to beat the throw after being sent back.
From then on, it was heave ho at both ends as Australia went for the maximum. Shane Lee picked out Youhanna with a pull, leaning back to flat-bat Saqlain out to midwicket, only for Youhanna to grab the chance after having floored two earlier. But that brought out Damien Martyn, and the fours -- and an enormous six as the batsman went on one knee, in the 49th, to swing Saqlain forward square leg -- kept coming.
Australia made 337/7 in the allotted 50 overs -- which, given the way they bowl and field, should more realistically read 387. To win, Pakistan needed to break a world record against an attack that is remorseless in its efficiency.
Shahid Afridi looked like he was going to give it his best shot, as he set himself on his hind legs and began swinging from ball one. Trouble with Afridi, though, is he doesn't have a gearbox -- he just keeps swinging until something gives. Which is okay against a bowling side like say, India, which has the knack of losing its marbles entirely when the pressure comes on. The Aussies, though, don't wilt noticeably when under the hammer, and it was only a matter of time before the breakneck pace of run-scoring came to an end. In this case, the end came off the last ball of the 2nd over, as Brett Lee kept one back a bit, Afridi swung for glory, and managed only to spoon it high for mid on to run around and hold behind the bowler's back. 20 runs had come off 12 balls, 18 of them to Afridi off just 9 balls, but Pakistan needed him to stay out there and do a Gilchrist, and that is precisely what the batting side didn't get.
Ijaz Ahmed's form has been a bit of an off-again, on-again thing during this series. Today was one of those off days. Faced with an impossible ask, Ijaz allowed the pressure to get to him, aimed a wild heave outside his off stump to McGrath, looking to get it through point and managing only to give Gilchrist a regulation catch, Ijaz falling for a first ball duck and in the process, digging Pakistan's hole a bit deeper.
Saeed Anwar seemed to be timing well, but with two wickets down, the task was already well out of hand and that produced the pressure, the batsman snicking one through to Gilchrist as he shaped to drive through covers on the up and being beaten for pace, line, and lift to reduce Pakistan to 42/3.
Mohammad Wasim got his first game of the series. As it turned out, it was over before it began, as Brett Lee pushed one through at top pace, on a very full length, to beat the batsman for sheer speed through the air and trap him bang in front.
Azhar Mahmood started off with a slashed four, and produced a few good hits mingled with a few iffy ones. Question was, how long could he keep it up -- and the answer was, not long, as Lee, after a couple of quick ones, held one back a touch and Mahmood, looking to lift over long off, hit too early and got more elevation (and less distance) than the optimum, to pick out Shane Lee on the fence, reducing Pakistan to 80/5.
Followed a 51-run partnership, with Moin playing the percentage cricket that is his forte, while Youhanna, looking to make up for his nightmare in the field, produced a few classy pulls and drives to keep the board ticking over. But with every passing over, the ask rate was climbing higher and higher, the Australian fielding was like a noose, not giving the batsmen the opportunity of rolling the strike over in between the big hits, and Youhanna finally succumbed, swinging one from Shane Lee high in the air for Warne, after a little collision with Brett Lee, to recover and hold. 131/6, and at the halfway stage, the contrast was startling -- Australia at that stage having got to 160 for the loss of just one wicket (but then, Australia did not drop a catch, nor was there a single misfield -- for Pakistan, by this stage, there were two dropped catches, and at least 10 misfields, some of them going through to the fence).
Akram and Moin are combative players -- but an asking rate of 8.13 as they began their association, with just three more wickets to fall -- called for miracle workers, not batsmen. The game at this point was effectively over, with Australia merely needing to complete the formalities to record their 9th straight win to add to 7 on the trot in Tests (Australia in fact has lost only 2 of their last 25 ODIs, which is going to take some beating). And Steve Waugh being your quintessential goal-setter, he probably has already set his sights on the three more wins he needs to beat the existing world record of 11 straight ODI wins.
Australia had a rare blemish in the field when Moin lofted one down the ground. Bevan at long on appeared to have had it covered, and looked poised to take a comfortable chest-high catch when, unbelievably, he lost sight of the ball and managed to spill it onto the rope. But that particular bit of joy was short lived as Glenn McGrath, returning for another spell, produced a nifty off cutter that cramped Moin, shaping to cut, forcing the edge back onto his stumps. (Pakistan 153/7 at the end of 30, contrasting with Australia 180/2 at the same stage of its innings).
McGrath had been brought back to finish things off, and he kept the good work going when he produced a vicious lifter at Saqlain, the batsman merely managing to fend it away for Gilchrist to take the ballooning chance and give McGrath his fourth for the game, and reduce Pakistan to 153/8.
It's been a phenomenal year for Australia, which looks well on course for the 'Invincibles' title. And it has been achieved with some high voltage cricket of a kind rarely seen in recent times -- top quality play with bat and ball added to an incredible consistency, that puts Australia far ahead of the rest of the cricketing field.
It's also been an amazing turnaround for Steve Waugh. When he was appointed captain, the results were, to put it mildly, disappointing. And the comparisons immediate, and unfavourable, to his much-liked predecessor. There was talk of insurgency within the ranks, the expert opinion held that the sooner Shane Warne took over the mantle the better it would be for Australian cricket.
Waugh weathered it all, including a nightmare start to the World Cup. Backed his players to the hilt. Eschewed trying to be the next Mark Taylor, opted instead to stamp his own personal leadership-style on the team. Set himself -- and his team -- goals: win seven straight to win the World Cup, win six straight Tests for a shut-out summer, win the ODI series by going undefeated after a loss in the first game... and led from the front, inspiring by example to create what should rank among the finest Australian sides of all time.
An astonishing performance -- and one worthy of the highest praise.
And to think, as a banner-writer put it, that 'The Waugh has just begun!'
Mail Prem Panicker
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