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June 20, 1999

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Rampant Oz lift World Cup

Prem Panicker

The rain stopped. The covers went off. The two skippers came out for the toss. Up went the coin, Akram called and got it right.

'Yesssssssss!', said a colleague who was here in the room at the time, and who was backing Pakistan to win.

So what have you decided, Akram? 'We'll bat first,' said the Pakistan skipper, pointedly adding that it was a collective, team decision.

'Nooooooooooooooooooo!', went my friend when he heard that. And his disgust and disappointment was bang on. Akram didn't just look a gift horse in the mouth, he gifted it right back.

It is easy to dismiss this kind of thing as being an afterthought, as being wise after the event. But in this case, I think it was obvious right at the outset, to pretty much everyone watching.

It had rained there yesterday, and even this morning. What does that spell? Moisture below the pitch, life early on. There was a cloud cover overhead. Which spells movement in the air. And when you look at the relative strengths of the teams, Pakistan's strength lies in its bowling, Australia's in its batting.

Why then would you want to give Australia the chance to go out knowing the target? More so given that the forecast was for it to be sunnier as the day wore on, making conditions better for batting in the second half of the innings? Wouldn't it have made much more sense to bowl first, to try and blast out a few early wickets in conducive conditons?

As it turned out, on a track where the side batting first needed 260 on the board to feel happy going into the second half of the game, Pakistan barely managed half of that -- in the process, putting up the lowest ever score made in a World Cup final.

Neither side made any changes. Saeed Anwar and Wajahat Wasti came out at the top of a batting lineup described by many as cast-iron. There is only one problem with that description, though -- cast-iron is in actual fact incredibly brittle.

Saeed Anwar had two back to back 100s going into this game -- but, as we pointed out in our pre-match curtain raiser, those were against Zimbabwe and New Zealand on ideal batting conditions. And there was something in the nervily aggressive way he played in thos games, that gave you the feeling that he was not in his best touch. During commentary, in fact, I had likened his batting to whistling in the dark as you go past a graveyard -- lots of big flourishes of the bat, trying to convince himself and everyone else that he was in form.

There was more of that stuff here, as well, as he cut loose with some flashy drives outside line of off against Damien Fleming, who was patently off colour in his first spell, negating a brilliant opening spell from Glenn McGrath (6-3-6-1).

Wajahat Wasti is a defensive sort of opener, and McGrath made his life miserable with a superb line around the right hander's off stump, repeatedly beating the bat. That kind of thing produces enormous pressure, and Wasti, still inexperienced at this level, succumbed -- McGrath pitched one outside off straightening off the seam and lifting, Wasti poked at it and the ball flew off the edge for Mark Waugh, at second slip, to throw himself a long way to his right to take a brilliant catch.

Saeed Anwar, one suspects, went in for some needless grandstanding. At the end of the over, he called for an extra grip on his bat, then took his own time having the grip put in place while the Australians hung around. David Shepherd had to finally go up and tell him to get a move on. What makes the whole thing rather iffy is that any batsman worth his salt is very fussy about his bat, gets the grip and the tape on it and everything else just right before he goes out to the middle. The interlude would impact on concentration -- and the first ball he received after this episode, a nothing ball outside off seaming gently in, saw him wave his bat at it, with feet and body nowhere in line, for the ball to go through the gate, flick the pad and carrom onto the stumps.

Two wickets down inside 6 overs, and the pressure was on. Abdur Razzaq and Ijaz Ahmed came to the middle within a ball of each other. Throughout this competition, Razzaq has been used, quite often, in the number three slot and to my mind, it never ever made sense. It is fine to say he sees off the new ball bowlers -- but for how long? Seeing them off till the end of the 15 over stage is one thing, but if you are still "seeing off the new ball" at the halfway stage and beyond, then what is happening is the latter batsmen come under the gone, since they have to make up for lost time.

Another problem with the Razzaq style of batting is that if his partner takes a run off the first or second ball of the over and he then stands strokeless for the rest of the over, then pressure builds on both batsmen. Ijaz at three with instructions to counter attack makes sense, Razzaq asked to bat out time made no point whatsover. And today, Pakistan felt that pinch. Steve Waugh, who is as shrewd a captain as any you want to see, promptly decided to use his lesser bowlers, Reiffel and Moody, since neither batsman was really attacking. And this in turn meant that the one area Australia were vulnerable in was not really being utilised to the maximum.

At one point, in the 17th over, there was this graphic which underlines the argument -- 99 balls bowled, 79 dot balls and just 13 singles!

Suddenly, from his slumber, Razzaq woke up and went for a big hoik at Moody -- only for Glenn McGrath, out deep at mid off, to floor an absolute sitter.

The let off didn't prove costly. In the 20th over, Razzaq lashed out at a nothing ball outside off and Steve Waugh, at cover, dived sideways to pull off a blinder, getting his fingers under the ball as it was dying on him. Pakistan at that point were 68/3 and Razzaq had spent all of 51 deliveries for his 17 runs.

Before the match, Wasim Akram had dismissed the threat of Shane Warne, saying Pakistan batsmen handle him very easily. Steve Waugh in his riposte said the Indians play Warne with ease, the Sri Lankans are not far behind, and as for Pakistan, they are okay at best. Warne was still not heard from. Till the 24th over, when he bowled one outside leg, giving it lots of air, ripping his fingers across the seam. Ijaz half pushed forward, then went back, and while he was waltzing with himself, the ball spun a long way in and crashed into the woodwork. 22/46, and Ijaz like Razzaq had in course of his innings ensured that Australia's rather ordinary support seamers could operate sans pressure.

The lack of runs on the board -- 84/4 in 25 -- meant that Akram had to do something to kick start the innings, and his idea was to send Moin Khan out. A good enough choice, since Moin does tend to stay cool under pressure and get runs on the board. Trouble was, his style of doing that is strike, scramble, slice, nick, nudge -- and run like hell. And that last part is not do-able, with Inzamam as your running partner. Twice, Inzy failed to get his partner dismissed only because of Moin's lightning reflexes and some Olympic-level diving. But as the singles failed to come, Moin became increasingly desperate. Warne capitalised, floating one up around off, Moin was caught in two minds, between the drive and the nudge, and the turn found the outer edge to give Gilchrist an easy take and Warne his 200th ODI wicket.

Paul Reiffel, under no pressure whatsoever since wickets were falling regularly, bowled through his spell. And in his final over, produced one of those rare good balls -- pitching middle and off, squaring Inzamam up and seaming away. The appeal was for the caught behind, David Shepherd gave the decision though there might have been an element of doubt on whether that actually found the edge, and after a 15 run innings off 33 balls, Inzy left with Pakistan sinking at 104/6.

Shahid Afridi's dismissal owed to crass stupidity. There really was little batting to follow, there were overs in plenty to come and his job was to work Warne around for singles, and go for broke against the likes of Moody, who had five overs still to go, and Fleming, who was having a bit of an off day with the ball. But no, Afridi had to hit out at everything -- including a flipper pitched on a full length on middle stump, that hurried past the bat as he knelt for a huge sweep, and crashed into the back pad to catch him plumb in front.

Steve Waugh saw his chance, and went flat out on the attack, bringing back Glenn McGrath and giving him a field of three slips and a gully. At the other end, Moody was squeezing a few tension-free overs through -- and Azhar Mahmood gave him a bonus when, to a slower ball on off, the batsman just went forward and pushed gently back to the bowler, the softest dismissal in the game.

Akram then took his turn in the suicide line. Earlier in Warne's spell, he had gone for the cross bat heave, taking one from outside off and slamming it over wide long on, the ball just past the fielder and just over the rope. It was a given that he would go the route again, and Warne speared in a flipper quick and straight around off, Akram bit, and hit it straight to mid-wicket. The question begs asking -- with just Saqlain and Akthar left, and with 12 overs to go after that one, was that shot necessary?

Glenn McGrath ensured that the Pak innings didn't even go into the home stretch. Off the last ball of the 39th over, he produced a snorter, pitching middle and off, squaring Saqlain up and lifting sharply to take the splice of the bat. Ponting, the third slip in the cordon, dived an incredible distance, fetching up with the ball in his hand around that point in the area where a fifth slip would have been -- a catch to remember, that, and typical of the way Australia lifted its performance in the field today.

The bowlers were tight and kept up the pressure, the fielders -- barring the McGrath blemish, were giving nothing away, and Pakistan in the first half of the innings have been comprehensively outplayed. A brittle batting lineup had been completely exposed, and the unwisdom of carrying passengers like Ijaz underlined.

Ironically, the highest score was 25, with Ijaz's patchy 22 being runner-up and no other batsman getting into the 20s. There were no partnerships, no batsman put his hand up and focussed on batting through the innings, there were too many airy-fairy shots and all told, the plot had gone horribly wrong.

There was perhaps one tenuous hope, and that was for Akthar and Akram to fire. Regular cricket buffs will recall the game in Hobart in the 1996-'97 season, when Pakistan, skittled out for 149, stormed back on the wings of Akram and Mohammad Zahid to dismiss Australia for 120.

For that to happen again, Akthar had to be at his very best. As it turned out, he was at his very worst. Someone needs to tell that young man that getting the crowd roaring as he runs in is fine enough, but the mere fact that you talk of wanting to bowl at 100mph ain't going to make opposing batsmen roll over and play dead. The 100mph ball, he said, was his goal for the final -- he would have been better off setting a simpler goal, namely, 'I will pitch the ball in the batsman's half of the pitch, not my own half'.

What we got, in three nightmare overs, was a succession of short pitched deliveries. The classy Mark Waugh merely went on the back foot and with an extra couple of yards space to play them in, played with casual ease. Gilchrist, meanwhile, found things exactly to his liking -- short in length, nice bounce, and he casued in. Screaming pulls, crashing drives when width was allied to short length outside off, and on one occasion, when a ball was pitched really short, Gilchrist merely got under it and hit it up, over slips and down to third man for six.

Akthar's first 3 overs went for 23, and the game had gone with it. Akram's bowling, meanwhile, has been fluctuating as wildly as his insulin levels, and he too found himself unable to break through, or even bowl the fuller length that would have had the batsmen playing at him.

Akram tried all his bowlers, and barring Saqlain, none managed to get anywhere close to the required line and length. Gilchrist, with the pressure right off, stood there and swung, repeatedly, to all but finish the game off with a blistering 54 off 36 balls. Interestingly, when Razzaq went round the wicket and pitched a full length, Gilchrist was beaten thrice on the run. Ball four was short, and bang, another boundary through midwicket to get Australia to 75/0 in 10.

Saqlain came on and the very first ball, wide of off, saw Gilchrist on one knee, whacking the ball straight to mid off. But by then, Australia had got to 75 and with the short pitched stuff continuing (Akthar, brought back in for another try, went the bouncer route against Ponting, exactly as we had indicated he would in our curtain raiser yesterday, and Ponting thumped him contemptuously over midwicket, actually having the temerity to pull him off the front foot), the Aussies simply coasted through, treating their innings like a romp in the park.

It took the batting side just one ball more than 20 overs to get past the target, finish the most one sided final in World Cup history, rub it in to Akram that his pre-match comments about how Australia, exhausted by its two titanic games against South Africa, would prove to be dead meat was completely out of whack, and in the process, prove that the World Cup could be won by pure batsmen and pure bowlers, when all pre-tournament hype revolved around "all rounders" as the ones who would do you the deed.

A tremendous win for Australia, and yet another indication of the resilience of a side that, almost out of the tournament at one stage, figured they needed seven straight wins to go through -- and simply went out there and got them.

For Pakistan, meanwhile, some bitter pills to swallow. And one lesson, I would suggest, to learn. Youthful enthusiasm is all very well -- but it did seem that some of the younger ones were getting a touch too carried away with their machismo, with the applause, and figuring that victory was merely a formality, they only had to turn up and the other team would go home.

Doesn't work like that at the highest level, and that is a useful lesson for the younger members of this side -- who one would expect will form the backbone of the Pakistan side of say one year down the line, when some of the current crop of seniors fade into the backdrop -- to take back from Lord's.

Transcript of commentary -- Pakistan versus Australia


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