“Go Aussie Go” has been the Australian Cricket Board-approved theme song for the season. And, much as the lyricists and composers would like to take credit, all credit for a sensational performance goes to Steve Waugh’s team only.
The (home) season began with the annihilation of both Pakistan and India in the Test series. Tonight, it ended with Pakistan’s rout in the second Carlton and United Series finals.
One more win and one more trophy... Even a superhuman effort may not be enough to stop the world champions. Acutely disappointed though he was, Wasim Akram graciously acknowledged Australia played like world champions.
Victory here, at the SCG, has given Australia an undefeated run of nine matches (worth $120,000). In less than a fortnight, the team will be off to New Zealand where priority No. 1 will be to extend this.
A trifle emotional, for a change, Steve complimented his team for regularly monopolising headlines. “Add our bowling in the World Cup final to today’s batting, and you’ll have the perfect one-day game... Frankly, it will be difficult to get better.”
For all intents and purposes, that seven-ball spell from Glenn McGrath, in the first final (at MCG Wednesday), had closed out the best-of-three finals. And, though Pakistan could have bounced back, their body-language on match-eve itself had defeat embossed in bold.
Pakistan’s only consolation, if at all, is that Abdul Razzaq was adjudged Player of the Series. The injured Razzaq contributed nothing in the finals but, in determining the winner, only performances in the league games were considered.
Significantly, Razzaq edged out Sourav Ganguly 29 ‘votes’ to 25. Razzaq claimed 14 wickets and scored 201 runs. Sourav, it may be recalled, totalled 356 (bettered only by Ricky Ponting and Michael Bevan).
Not that winning the toss could have made an appreciable difference — it certainly didn’t at the MCG — but by losing, Akram lost whatever chance he had of forcing Australia on the backfoot with a terms-dictating total.
In the event, Australia authored their highest-ever in one-day Internationals (improving on 332 for three against Sri Lanka in Sharjah, 1989-90), and also posted the highest by any team in Australia.
Actually, they improved on their own record, set earlier in the tournament versus India (329 for five, in Adelaide).
The first three batsmen — Mark Waugh, Adam Gilchrist and MoM Ponting — all got fifties and, down the line, Andrew Symonds and Steve himself made substantial contributions.
It didn’t help that Pakistan dropped three catches, early on, with Yousuf Youhana putting down two. Worse their ground fielding, which hasn’t ever exactly been eye-catching, was more tardy than usual.
Clearly, there was no effort and the Australians made the most on a real beauty of a wicket. A welcome bonus came by way of 12 wides and five no-balls. In other words, Australia got to face nearly 53 overs.
Match Referee Cammie Smith did Pakistan a favour by not docking even one over, though Pakistan overshot by 12 minutes, but even that wasn’t of help.
Cricket, today, is more a battle of the mind and in this duel Pakistan had already been trailing by a distance that exceeded Sialkot’s from Sydney.
Shahid Afridi’s early flourish notwithstanding, Pakistan were down for the count in just five overs. The score then read 42 for three, with all the damage (again) triggered by McGrath and Brett Lee.
Allowing even a slight breather isn’t how McGrath and Brett play their cricket and the pressure exerted by them, as also some cavalier batting by Pakistan, combined to make it a no-contest. By the 15th over, Pakistan were five down for 80 and, as Akram accepted, “it was then only a matter of time...”
McGrath and Lee picked up two wickets each in their first spells.
Bowling a perfect line and hitting the right length, McGrath was just as devastating in his second spell — Saqlain Mushtaq will confirm that — to finish with five for 49. Brett, too, added to his haul.
The sole resistance came from Youhana (41) and Moin Khan (33), who added 61 for the sixth wicket. This pair apart, only Azhar Mehmood looked like going down with some respect intact.
Pakistan had to omit the experienced but out-of-form Inzamam-ul-Haq, who injured himself during the training session, about an hour before the toss.
Earlier, in notching up their record total, the Australians were helped by four partnerships — 74 for the first wicket between Mark and Gilchrist, 96 for the second between Mark and Ponting, exactly 50 between Ponting and Symonds and 66 for the fifth wicket between Symonds and Steve.
The scorching pace, of course, was set by Gilchrist who enacted an absolute repeat of his savage innings in the World Cup final (54 off 36 deliveries).
This afternoon — after Mark almost perished leg-before first ball, offering no stroke to Akram — Gilchrist set about feasting on Pakistan.
Let off early by Youhana (off Shoaib Akhtar), Gilchrist drove and pulled as he would at nets. A classical off-drive off Shoaib was followed by gains from an overthrow — Akram, backing up, couldn’t cut off Anwar’s somewhat misguided effort and it left Shoaib furious.
In fact, so upset was Shoaib he kicked at nothing in particular but, given a chance, would have kicked both Anwar and his captain.
Gilchrist had it even better in Akram’s fourth over — four boundaries via the customary pull, square cut and drives. Again, one four was a gift, this time from Waqar Younis.
That one over, more than anything which followed or preceded, ensured the Series wouldn’t have a third final.
Not much later, Anwar did a Younis even as Gilchrist continued pulling and driving with contempt. He got out, giving the charge to Mehmood but, by then, his job was done. Gilchrist’s 51 came in 42 balls (8x4, 1x5).
Mark was very much the ‘junior’ partner and he continued playing the same at the start of his partnership with Ponting. But it’s not that Mark missed out on the cheers — he did make capital of the early repreive by Mehmood (off Younis).
Indeed, Mark was run out (by Saqlain) when he had comfortably settled into top gear. He scored 53 (73 deliveries, 2x4).
Ponting, too, was dropped (by Youhana off Mehmood), but continued much in the manner of the first final. That he is at ease, both playing forward and back, besides his awesome repertoire of shots, makes him more a handful.
In this tournament, both Pakistan and India learnt that afresh.
Eventually, Ponting perished to the pull (Afridi getting him) but, by then, crossed 400 runs in the Series. Ponting finished on 404, ahead of Michael Bevan, whose failure today stopped him at 388.
The dismissals in quick succession of Ponting and Bevan (yorked by Akram) were the only ‘bright’ spots for Pakistan. As it turned out, though, they were back to being beaten black-and-blue, this time by Steve and Symonds.
Symonds, promoted to keep the momentum going, performed his role to perfection and, besides, made it worse for the already demoralised fielders by superb shuttling across the 22 yards.
Dubbed Australia’s hottest allrounder, Symonds’ 45 came in as many balls (four boundaries). Later, Steve produced a cameo before Saqlain effected his second run out. The mix-up was largely Shane Lee-created and it didn’t help that Steve slipped while turning.
The captain’s run out couldn’t have cost many runs, as Damien Martyn thumped 23 off only 15 deliveries. Only, the end of the innings didn’t end Pakistan’s misery.
If in the afternoon, every bowler got mauled, it’s the batsmen who faced the music under lights. It wasn’t to their liking.
While Ponting was voted Man of the Match, Gilchrist had a great day — a blazing half-century and three catches. Such days don’t come too often.
Meanwhile Ponting, who badly hurt his right ankle when he slammed into one of the hoardings, will undergo an MRI scan tomorrow morning. Ponting did cut off the boundary, but the cost may just be heavy.
Strapped with an ice-pack for the entire evening, Ponting didn’t even receive the MoM award in person — Bevan did so on his behalf.
With good reasons, Ponting’s condition has alarmed the Australian camp.
After all, the tour of New Zealand begins February 14.
And, respecting that, the powers-that-be are concerned Gilchrist shouldn’t suffer an early burnout. The eventual ‘arrangement’ is unclear, but Gilchrist does have a big role in Australia’s future.
Simple and candid, Gilchrist spoke to The Telegraph last evening.
He wanted to end the Carlton and United Series on a high and, as it turned out, he did — blasting a superb 51 this afternoon.
The following are excerpts:
On whether, having already played a record 76 one-dayers without a single Test cap, he was anxiously waiting for Ian Healy to retire
(Laughs) Well, I’d never placed a time limit to making my Test debut. I’d never ever assumed that I actually would... Never took it for granted though, yes, I did tell myself I would make the most when that chance did come.
On whether he is being honest about frustration not setting in
Yeah... I enjoyed what I was doing and never felt like complaining. I didn’t look at the team scenario and thought, well, Healy was keeping me out... Perhaps, I was lucky to have got the one-day call a bit early (versus South Africa in Faridabad, 1996-97).
On whether, despite having had a taste of international cricket, he still was under pressure on Test debut (Brisbane, against Pakistan)
Pressure is what you put on yourself... It’s when you begin thinking of the expectations of others... Crowds, fans, friends... The Media, too... I’m not the sort to get weighed down. Never. Not for a moment did I tell myself or anybody else that I would go out and be as good as Healy. At the Gabba, I just wanted to be myself, wanted to do my best.
On what “wanted to be myself” means
Being relaxed, though not carefree... Staying intense, when required... Not subduing natural feelings yet, at the same time, keeping emotions in check.
On the widespread belief that wicketkeeping is a thankless job
I accept that a lot of things a wicketkeeper does, do go unnoticed... The value of a certain piece of work, behind the stumps, could just be dismissed off-hand... (Adds smiling) But if it means dropping a catch or missing a stumping, to be noticed, I’d rather not get noticed! In the circumstances, I’ll be quite happy passing along as an anonymous player.
On what encouraged him to wear the big gloves
(Laughs again) Probably saw a pair of wicketkeeping gloves very early and, gradually, fell in love with everything that goes with being a wicketkeeper.
On whether he idolised any ’keeper
Rod Marsh. I worshipped him and you can imagine my delight when I enrolled at the Academy where he was (and is) head coach. Later, I minutely followed Healy’s career... I wanted to follow in his footsteps.
On the intense concentration that wicketkeeping entails
Fitness, as I see it, is the key. Concentration begins to waver when you’re not hundred per cent there fitness-wise... You’ve got to keep feeling fresh, otherwise you are in trouble.
On the attention he pays to his own fitness
I don’t do anything which the others haven’t done before... Of course, I don’t do a lot of running as I need to preserve my knees for as long as possible... I do quite a bit of swimming, a bit of cycling... And, yes, I don’t mind putting on the boxing gloves and just punching the ‘bag.’
On ’keeping to the Shane Warnes and Glenn McGraths
It’s a challenge ’keeping to Warnie... Potentially, almost every delivery could either see a catch or a stumping opportunity come your way... As for Glenn, it’s an absolute pleasure when he’s bowling...
He’s so consistent with his line, one doesn’t have to keep diving on the leg-side or keep chasing balls.
On whether there’s an ‘understanding’ between him and the Warnes/McGraths
No, there aren’t any signals or eye-contact... The more you ’keep to a particular bowler, the more you learn. With experience, you get to know whether something is being set up.
On his headline-grabbing batting
It’s nice when the runs keep coming along... I’m confident the aggression which marks my batting in one-dayers can continue in the Tests as well... Batting does come naturally, not so wicketkeeping. And, so, 80 per cent of my effort goes towards getting better behind the stumps.
On whether he looked up to any one batsman
Dean Jones. Didn’t think anybody else was a stand-out.
On whether he can ever improve on his Hobart performance (career-best 149 and a record 238-run partnership with Justin Langer), one which powered Australia to one of the most amazing Test wins ever
(Smiles again) Don’t know, don’t know... Initially, nothing more than survival was on my mind... It’s the next (final) morning that we began breaking the target (369) down in ten-run segments... Soon enough, we were there and it was time to remember all those who encouraged and supported me... I still get overwhelmed.
Finally, on what has made this Australian team into world-beaters
Talent apart, it’s enjoying each other’s success. Even if things don’t work out for me, I’ll be happy if my mates get it right. This sentiment is shared across the dressing-room..
Sir Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev and Courtney Walsh are the only ones to have gone past the 400-mark.
“This surely is my last tour of Australia... As for the future, I’ll think things over once I’ve taken 400 wickets in Tests,” Akram said. He has already become the first to break the 400-barrier in one-day Internationals.
Akram, incidentally, came in for high praise from his opposite number Steve Waugh. “We have always had the highest regard for Wasim. Of course, he has lost that explosive pace but, when he does leave, Pakistan will have a huge breach to fill...”
Shyambazar will take on Mohun Bagan for a place in the final.
This committee embarked on a policy to look at the future of Indian cricket and to encourage youngsters. They have got a bit of stick from some for that, but the majority who have Indian cricket’s real interest at heart have welcomed the initiative.
The captain and the coach will now give their report on the tour. They will note specific areas that need to be looked into and strengthened, but how far their views will be accepted will decide a lot. It is no secret that the omission of two senior players from the team has been more due to the harmony factor than anything else, and whether the selectors accept that is what Indian cricket lovers will be waiting to see.
In this context it may be interesting to see what has happened in another sport with less personnel than a cricket team.
Switzerland has a new Davis Cup captain in Jakob Hlasek and he has dropped the country’s best player Marc Rosset from the squad that is to play champions Australia over the weekend.
Hlasek has been quoted as saying: “I want to create a spirit for the future and this is the right time. Marc Rosset is a difficult player to get along with. Either you are on his side or not, and I’ve decided not to take him because of the harmony I need to have in the side.
“He isn’t the player he was and he isn’t the number one player in Switzerland any more but this is mostly a decision taken for human reasons. He would not be good for the team. I know he had some good results in the Davis cup so I expect I will be criticised in Switzerland for this decision. But I cannot let the fact that he played well in the past become a distraction. Now I have to forget him and set my mind on what is best for the other players in the team.”
In Australia, Hlasek has come in for praise for his decision to put team before anything else. His policy to pick the best team rather than the best individuals has been lauded as Rosset is universally considered both difficult and a loner and not suited for a team game.
Switzerland may well lose to Australia very badly, but at least they will have sent a message to other players about what is expected of them.
Nayan Mongia’s experience when he was sent in to cover for M. S. K. Prasad was not exactly pleasant and it was a sad sight to see someone who had played with distinction for the country, alone and seemingly friendless.
The awful hurry in which he was sent back too was hard to understand for he could have been sent as soon as play began in the third Test, because then it would have been certain that he was not needed. What if having sent him back M. S. K. Prasad had got injured? Would Mongia have been flown back again?
This is where Indian cricket makes a fool of itself. It allows petty egos to rule the roost. Unfortunately for Mongia nobody is making a case for him as they are for Azhar, and here again Indian cricket is getting it wrong.
Mongia, without a doubt, was the best wicketkeeper in the world when he was dropped, while Azhar was not even the best batsman in the Indian team. Yet the name Mongia hardly ever gets mentioned when there is talk about the selections. And don’t forget the age factor too.
The Indian captain rightfully said in one of his interviews that India needs to do something about domestic cricket. But even here it is more important for players like him to play in the domestic tourneys. That would be one sure way in which the performances can be assessed properly rather than now when with all the international players being absent no realistic qualitative appraisal can be made.
Let us see how many of the players who have come from the tour will play in the Challenger tournament and how many will back out with some excuse or the other. Many will claim that they are tired from non-stop cricket and will want to take a break. But at the same time if there was a masala tour on they would forget their tiredness and hop onto a flight and play wherever.
There is simply no money in the Challenger tournament, and it is hardly a surprise that some big names will back out. The Indian board also needs to take the blame, because their programming has been thoughtless. Unless the board sets up a special cricket committee whose decisions are binding, the muddle will continue.
This committee should be like the cricket committee of the ICC, whose decisions are binding on the ICC to implement. But unlike the ICC, where there is representation for all the Test playing countries and three others representing the associate members, this one should be small and not unwieldy.
But of course we know that those in power will not want to dilute their authority and nothing will be done and the same old things will carry on as before. To expect brilliance from Indian sportsmen, when there is mediocrity in administration, is too much. In all this the sportslover gets not only shortchanged but also frustrated and takes it out on the players.
If you look all over the world there is progress in infrastructure for sports in terms of stadia and facilities for training, but India languishes in the stone age and that needs to be rectified more than anything else. Indian sport needs people who will take it forward. There lies the tragedy of Indian sport.
PROFESSIONAL MANAGEMENT GROUP