The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Australians stake claim to be best ever

London: Australia began 2002 as the best side in the world and, according to one notable observer at least, ended it as the best in history.

Their dominance, likely to be underlined with another World Cup triumph in the next few months, was such that Steve Waugh ended the year pleading for someone — anyone — to give his side a worthwhile game.

Having crushed South Africa, pulverised Pakistan and then obliterated England, he was left to reflect: “We’d like to come up against a side that would really get stuck in and play tough Test match cricket...India (who beat Australia 2-1 more than a year-and-a-half ago) was the last tough one we played in.”

Waugh, ever the diplomat, has spent much of the past few seasons talking up opponents but even he has now run out of false modesty.

You do not have to read between the lines any more.

His side, he now concedes, will go down in history as “an exceptional side” and the rest of the world might as well take up stamp collecting.

Clive Lloyd’s great West Indian side of the 1970s and 80s might still beg to differ but Keith Miller, himself a member of Don Bradman’s “Invincibles” in the late 1940s, joined the converts this year.

“They have to be the best side that I’ve seen, without doubt,” he said. “The batting is outstanding, the bowling is pretty good too and the fielding is brilliant, just brilliant.”

Which does not leave much room for improvement.

Unlikeliest comeback

South Africa, Pakistan and India were left to grab the biggest scraps to fall off the Australian high table in 2002.

The South Africans, beaten 0-3 away and losing 0-2 in the reverse home Test series — their innings and 360-run defeat in Johannesburg was the second biggest loss of all time — staged the unlikeliest of comebacks as the Australians took their eye off the ball for once in the last game of a dead series.

Their improbable defeat in Durban in March — after dismissing South Africa for 167 in the first innings — was their one Test reverse of the year. They won their other nine games in second gear.

Pakistan, deprived of home advantage by continuing security concerns, also suffered a mammoth humiliation, in Sharjah in October.

True, like England later, they were missing some big names, among them Yousuf Youhana, Wasim Akram and Inzamam-ul-Haq. But to be bowled out for 59 and 53 — both record lows for the team and the fourth lowest match aggregate ever by any Test side — would even have upset Liechtenstein.

Shoaib Akhtar provided some balm by helping to seal a one-day series in Australia, taking a breathtaking five for 25 in the decider.

It will surely take similar brilliance to stop the Australians in the World Cup in South Africa come February.

India also managed to knock the Australians out of the headlines for most of August and September, not so much with their cricket this time as with a threatened player strike over sponsorship rights, an issue which could yet affect the world tournament in South Africa.

Sourav Ganguly’s side then justified their claims to be bankable walking advertisements by sharing the ICC Champions Trophy with Sri Lanka.

Genuine article

Individual players from The Rest of the World also stole some of the 2002 limelight.

Matthew Hayden may have earned questionable comparisons with Bradman after hitting seven centuries in 10 Tests but the genuine article, Sachin Tendulkar, passed Bradman’s haul of 29 centuries earlier in the year, at Headingley against England.

The innings of the year, however, came from Inzamam. A man of generous proportions, he fought off cramp in Lahore to score 329 in the first Test against New Zealand, the 10th highest individual Test score of all time. A player not overly keen on jogging, he hit 206 in boundaries.

India’s impeccable Rahul Dravid also earned a place in dispatches with four Test centuries in consecutive innings, becoming only the fourth man in history to achieve the feat (Everton Weekes went on to score five in a row).

Aravinda de Silva was also worthy of mention, going out with the biggest of bangs. Batting in his 159th and last Test innings, the Sri Lankan scored 206 against Bangladesh in Colombo.

Former South African captain Hansie Cronje died in a plane crash in June, two years after being banned from professional cricket for his role in a match-fixing scandal which shocked the sport.

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