The 1999 World Cup in England
Australia win anti-climactic final
Thus the best Test team in the world became the world one-day champions, uniting the two forms of cricket into one undisputed title for the first time since West Indies lost their invincibility in the last Lord’s final 16 years before. Hindsight made it seem like manifest destiny. It was obvious all along, wasn’t it? But it was nothing of the kind.
When Australia had gone to Old Trafford three Sundays earlier for their final group match, they were in severe danger of the earliest possible exit; two Sundays after that, during the last Super Six match, Australian journalists and officials had been making calls to check on airline seat availability, which would have been firmed up had Herschelle Gibbs not celebrated too soon and literally thrown away a catch offered by Steve Waugh.
In the semi-final four days later, as Damien Fleming prepared to bowl to Lance Klusener – the player of the tournament – with South Africa needing one to win, Australia were effectively goners. But that game, arguably the greatest in the history of one-day cricket, produced a final twist that no one could have foreseen or invented. Klusener and Allan Donald had a horrendous running mix-up, the match was tied, and Australia went through on net run-rate, of which, unfortunately, more later.
Australia’s improbable lurch into the final was in complete contrast to their opponents’ confident strut. The Pakistanis lost three successive games which did not matter, but returned to form in time to earn their place at Lord’s by blowing Zimbabwe and New Zealand away by huge margins. But it has been noticed before that the way to win World Cups – and not just in cricket – is to fiddle quietly through the early matches and peak at the end. This is a lesson South Africa, who blazed their way through the early stages of all three World Cups in the 1990s without ever reaching the final, urgently need to learn. It is, however, rather difficult to convert this observation into a strategy. Steve Waugh’s diamond-hardness, and the bowling gifts of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, seem in retrospect like the determining factors of the 1999 World Cup. But it could so easily have been very, very different.
The overall quality of the Australian team meant that no one – not even an Englishman – could begrudge their right to the trophy. But Pakistan and South Africa would have been worthy winners too. The class of these three teams (one might add India’s batting as well) gave the tournament enough lustre to make the whole thing seem like a triumph. Five months later, the rugby World Cup, also held in Britain, was much nearer a flop.
Yet the success came against a background of travail almost as great as Australia’s. England’s main objective in staging the World Cup was to reinvigorate the nation’s love of the game, which had been flagging after so many years of failure by the national team. For the organisers, the worst-case scenario was that England would go out quickly.
By the time they had completed no-nonsense wins over Sri Lanka, Kenya and Zimbabwe, that fear had receded to vanishing point. Some newspapers claimed that England were already through to the Super Six stage. For them to fail, Zimbabwe had to beat South Africa, which in advance seemed improbable bordering on impossible, and then England had to lose to India very badly. It all happened. Only 16 days into the tournament, with a further 21 to go, England were gone. It was an outcome wholly in keeping with many of the farcical organisational aspects of the whole competition. The hosts were reduced to just that: handing round the cucumber sandwiches at their own tea party.
The fact that the tournament maintained public interest, even in England, in spite of this disaster, represented its greatest achievement. The fact that it got into such a pickle in the first place was its biggest failure. In previous World Cups, this situation could not have arisen. The system used in Australasia in 1992, when all played all in a round robin with the top four going into the semi-finals, was widely admired and enjoyed. But this became impossible once it was decided to admit the top three non-Test countries, making 12 teams in all. In 1996, a ludicrous format was employed whereby everyone meandered around the subcontinent for three weeks simply to reduce nine serious contenders to eight. Then the competition proper, in effect, was staged as a straight knockout over a week.
For 1999, Terry Blake, the ECB marketing director, introduced a novel method. The 12 entrants were split into two groups, and the top three in each group went into the Super Six, carrying with them the points they had earned against the two teams who had also qualified from their group. They then played the qualifying teams from the other group, creating a final all-played-all league table, with the top four going into the semi-finals.
It took a while for people to cotton on. Then a perception grew that this was all rather elegant. Finally, the flaws became obvious. Notionally, ties on points were to be resolved by the result between the teams involved. Unfortunately, there were three-way ties in both qualifying groups; and New Zealand and Zimbabwe, fourth and fifth in the Super Six, had shared the one washed-out game of the entire tournament. The next determinant was net run-rate, familiar for many years from one-day cricket’s triangulars and quadrangulars, but little understood, and impossible for the casual spectator to work out.
This vile technicality decided the whole tournament, since the tied semi-final was resolved by the teams’ positions in the Super Six, and net run-rate had put Australia ahead of South Africa. It would certainly make sense for future tournaments to use a more transparent tie-breaker: perhaps bonus points could be awarded according to the margin of victory. It might not sound ideal, but would be just as fair and much easier to follow.
The whole Super Six system had other problems, too. Zimbabwe began the second stage of the tournament top of the heap because they had beaten the teams that went through with them, but lost to two that got knocked out. It was hard to see the justice of this. The complexities turned one of the most enticing-looking games of the competition – Australia v West Indies – into a farce as both teams tried to manipulate the regulations to their advantage.
Net run-rate was responsible for the failure of both England and West Indies to reach the last six. Bad luck? To an extent. But if West Indies had won more quickly against Bangladesh they would have qualified. And it is hard to see why England, with their army of officials, and who did after all make the rules as hosts, were so slow to realise the dangers.
When their batting crumpled so forlornly against India at Edgbaston, allegedly their lucky ground, it seemed like the blackest day of all for English cricket. It was hard to see how the tournament could survive for three weeks as a major spectacle without the passion and patriotism that the presence of a home team provides. It did survive. The big idea was that the World Cup might instil a love of cricket into the hearts of English youngsters, a generation unengaged by the idea of supporting a team which has contrived, for instance, to lose the Ashes six times running. That has probably had to be postponed until the next World Cup in England: 2019 on present projections. But a lot of little ideas flourished instead.
England failures always seem like accidents waiting to happen. And, organisationally, the 1999 World Cup looked fated from the start. The ECB had turned against the idea of a sole sponsor and, as they announced long beforehand, wanted eight front-line corporate partners who would not have their name on the trophy but would commandeer all the prime advertising space. Unfortunately, they found only four, two of whom (NatWest and Vodafone) were already deeply committed as existing English cricket sponsors; another one (Pepsi) was interested only in striking a blow in the subcontinental cola wars; the fourth (Emirates Airlines) paid almost half in kind rather than cash, which represented not-always-convenient air tickets for the teams. When Outspan came on board as a subsidiary sponsor, a launch was arranged with the obligatory ephemeral celebrity, in this case a TV personality, Ms Anneka Rice, who let slip the fact that she thought cricket was as boring as fishing.
It was decided to start the tournament on May 14, desperately early in the English season. Not surprisingly, it began in drizzle, and with a quite pathetic opening ceremony. The Australian hired as tournament director, Michael Browning, specifically rejected the idea of one of those grandiloquent ceremonies that start Olympic Games, making old ladies gasp with admiration and hardened hacks groan. Instead, he went for the worst possible compromise, letting off a few cheap-looking fireworks and forcing several poor schoolgirls to stand around in the cold. The one simple, dignified, appropriate piece of ceremonial which should have been used, the 12 teams lining up in their blazers in front of the pavilion, was not. This was sad as well as stupid: there was no public moment when all the players involved were even seen to be part of the same event.
From then on, it was difficult to have any confidence at all in Mr Browning or his arrangements. Since these included a media bureaucracy notable for its dictatorial incompetence, many journalists were not going to give him the benefit of the doubt. (Local reporters with decades of experience were barred from press boxes by ignoramuses; it was rumoured, however, that a butcher from Chiswick was among those granted full accreditation.) The shortcomings were worsened by the slogan chosen. The World Cup, Browning and his staff insisted, was a Carnival of Cricket. It was a phrase that would come back to haunt them repeatedly. The trouble is that one man’s carnival is another man’s nightmare. It is difficult to find much accommodation between those who want to sit down and concentrate on the game, and those who want to shout, chant, cheer and sing. For English cricket, this is an intractable problem.
The old English custom of running on the field at the end of a match – or sometimes earlier – returned with gusto. Australia were spooked by this early on and demanded greater protection. No one in authority seemed clear where guidelines should be drawn. There was much mockery of the Trent Bridge authorities at the New Zealand – India match for their undue strictness. Yet India’s previous match, at Old Trafford, had taken place amid fears of full-scale warfare: they were playing Pakistan at a time when the always-simmering conflict between the countries over Kashmir had boiled over into bloodshed. This match, heavily policed, passed off calmly. It was the next Old Trafford match – the semi-final between Pakistan and New Zealand – where a pitch invasion nearly led to disaster. Pakistani supporters were the most enthusiastic wearers of replica shirts; it was not helpful to the forces of order that their lime-green looked rather like stewards’ uniforms.
Given the briefness of the home team’s involvement, it was the supporters of the other countries, and the Indians and Pakistanis in particular, who gave the World Cup its vibrancy. The bearded Pakistani cheerleader, Abdul Jalil, was by the end of the competition more recognisable than Steve Waugh. It began to be noticed that Asians in England were the one community who had absolutely not fallen out of love with cricket. And it began to be widely accepted that the Tebbit Test – the idea, promulgated by the former Tory cabinet minister, that immigrants to Britain should switch their allegiance – was inappropriate; their loyalties were an expression of their individuality, and a perfectly legitimate one.
The 21 grounds staging the 42 fixtures were slow to recognise the importance of the Asian audience; few, for instance, made any change to their catering arrangements. When Asian teams were not involved, different cultural priorities took over. The Australia v Scotland match smashed the record for bar takings at Worcester; it was easy to get a sandwich but the queue for beer stretched about halfway to Birmingham.
There was criticism of the decision to spread the games so widely, on grounds more accustomed to catering for a few dozen spectators. All the county headquarters staged at least one match, which meant debut one-day internationals for Hove and Northampton (both of which had opted not to take part in 1983), Canterbury and Cardiff (Tunbridge Wells and Swansea having been used last time) plus the new ground at Chester-le-Street. Three non-county grounds – Edinburgh, Dublin and Amstelveen in Holland – also joined the party. Clearly, many of these matches could have attracted bigger crowds on bigger grounds: Pakistan v Bangladesh at Northampton could have been sold at least three times over.
But English cricket has only six available stadia which can hold much more than 10,000 people. It would have been very tedious had they staged seven matches each, and would have done little for the wider cause of cricket. It is arguable that cricket would have made less money, since fewer people would have gone to their local fixtures. Nearly all the grounds coped extremely well with their big days: only Hove really seemed underequipped, and that merely proved what the club’s executive had been saying in favour of finding somewhere new. Floodlit cricket could have been tried but was unnecessary, since there were so few empty seats (except when the corporate hospitality types were finishing lunch) at any of the fixtures. In this regard, all the problems were those of success.
The greatest success, though, was the cricket. From the start, it took on a completely different flavour from the 1996 tournament. There was a huge meteorological risk attached to starting as early as May 14. It was an unnecessary risk too, because at 37 days the whole thing went on too long. In Britain, where there are no long distances to travel, it would have been perfectly possible, with just a little compression, to have cut it down to 30.
It was one of Britain’s greyer springs as well, and the warm-up games against the counties were very wet. But, miraculously, only one of the 42 matches in the actual tournament was left unfinished, only one other spilled over to the second day, and the dreaded Duckworth/Lewis system – much talked about, little understood – was never invoked. On top of net run-rate, that would have been too much to take. It was generally believed that the team batting second had an advantage because at 10.45 there was still early morning damp. In 27 of the games, the captain winning the toss inserted. In fact, the team batting first won 19 times and lost 21 times – there was one tie and one no-result – which proves nothing. Captains changed tack in June, when the sun came out: 24 of the insertions had occurred in the 30 group games.
The lacquered white ball was thought to be harder than the red one by batsmen who were hit by it. It often seemed to swing more, especially late in the innings. This was one reason for the astonishing number of wides, 979, called by umpires who were stern – too stern, and often inconsistent – about anything wide of off stump as well as leg. (One spread-betting firm estimated 240 to 260 wides in advance: "We have been caught out horribly," said a spokesman.) But it was hard to work out what was most responsible for the tone of the competition: the ball, the pitches or the atmospheric conditions.
What was certain was that the pattern established in the 1996 World Cup was turned upside down. The bowlers, reduced to mere helots by conditions in India and Pakistan, suddenly re-established themselves as equals of the batsmen, or even their masters. Little was heard or seen of pinch-hitters, and lashing the ball over the infield. Indeed, the end of the 15th over, when captains were allowed to place a more defensive field, often passed unnoticed. They had slips because their bowlers wanted them and could make use of them, and had no plans to move them anywhere.
Heroes became zeroes. Sanath Jayasuriya, the dominant figure of 1996, scored 82 in five matches. None of the Sri Lankans seemed capable of dealing with the changed situation and, after the South African quicks blew their batsmen away at Northampton, they never threatened to make the final six. The reigning champions were the least competitive of the nine Test-playing nations and Arjuna Ranatunga, their captain, paid with his job.
The other Test team who failed to qualify from Group A met the same response: England’s captain Alec Stewart was also sacked. His team’s failure was altogether less explicable, since conditions were so much in their favour; indeed, that was the general idea. The bowlers, led by Darren Gough and Alan Mullally, exploited them well enough but, in the crucial matches against South Africa and India, the batsmen were abysmal. With hindsight, it was widely said that the dispute over payments which overshadowed the run-up to the tournament damaged the team’s spirit. But actually the reasons were much more to do with lack of ability. England never resolved the all-rounder question which has bedevilled them since Ian Botham’s retirement. Andrew Flintoff and Adam Hollioake failed to enhance their credentials as batsmen or bowlers. It became clear that any team short of a fifth quality bowler was going to struggle, and England had no credible No. 6 or 7 batsman available who fitted the bill.
England’s exit was so sudden that it took a while for people to realise that it also marked the final departure of their coach David Lloyd, who had announced earlier that he would be leaving after the World Cup. And, much to Lloyd’s distress, the grieving process in the dressing-room was interrupted by counties enquiring whether the result meant the immediate return of their star players.
West Indies were the other outright failures. Lara’s mighty efforts against Australia a few weeks earlier seemed very distant. They were a team of weary bowlers and under-achieving batsmen; their best player was the wicket-keeper, Ridley Jacobs, whose chief assets were competence and determination. It is impossible to imagine that he would have stood out in any West Indian side of the recent past.
The three makeweight teams emphasised that the gap between the worst of the nine Test sides and the best of the rest was enormous. The one great shock of the World Cup occurred in the final day of preliminary competition when Bangladesh, already eliminated, beat Pakistan, already qualified, in an extraordinary match at Northampton. Legal English bookmakers had rated Pakistan 33 to 1 on to win. Illegal Indian ones had apparently refused to take any bets on Pakistan’s preliminary matches because of the team’s association with general hocus-pocus. Inevitably, this result led to rumours that it was fixed, because there was nothing at all in the run-up to suggest it was even feasible. However, no evidence was adduced to oppose the view that Pakistan, under-motivated, had simply had a bad day. Bangladesh certainly had a confusing one. The previous evening their coach, Gordon Greenidge, had been given the sack, after flirting with it several times before. He was at the game but slipped away at lunchtime, leaving the team in the care of officials.
Bangladesh also beat Scotland, and so finished a very respectable fifth in the Group B table. But this tournament did not advance the cause of the associate members. Kenya never looked like repeating their great win over West Indies in 1996, and were outplayed every time. Scotland were heavily dependent on the Yorkshire all-rounder Gavin Hamilton, who was selected a couple of months later for England’s winter tour. Once again, this suggested that the real chasm was between professional and non-professional cricket.
After these six teams had gone, a new incipient table was formed for the Super Six, incorporating the relevant results from the first phase. Zimbabwe almost had enough momentum to be carried into the semi-finals. They were saved by rain against New Zealand, who finally managed to secure some justice by beating India and squeezing Zimbabwe out on – you’ll never guess – net run-rate. Their opening batsman, Neil Johnson, was one of the successes of the tournament, and matched the Australians stroke-for-stroke in the Super Six game at Lord’s when Zimbabwe went down to defeat with great honour. They also deserve some kind of best-turned-out award: their flame-coloured uniform was the most handsome of the 12.
India (who were dressed bizarrely, wearing a motif that looked like the fins of some great fish) were always struggling to progress further because the results they carried through were both defeats. Though they won the private battle against Pakistan, they never had much chance of reaching the semi-finals. In a session of blazing hitting at Taunton, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly had proved that mornings were not necessarily the sole preserve of the bowlers. Dravid, until recently considered too slow for one-day cricket, was the leading scorer of the tournament, with 461. But India were disrupted early on when their star, Sachin Tendulkar, had to miss a game because of the death of his father. And they also suffered because their back-up bowling was weak.
So Zimbabwe and India went out, leaving the semi-finals to what people were beginning to regard as The Big Three – plus New Zealand, who had quietly been doing just enough to keep in the contest, accompanied by a rumble from supporters back home against critics who said the team was boring. In fact, New Zealand won only one game of consequence, against Australia at Cardiff. Their other wins were against the makeweights and India, who had already been eliminated. They played shrewd cricket, and had bowling well suited to the conditions: Geoff Allott, with 20, shared with Shane Warne the title of leading wicket-taker.
Once they came up against a class team in prime form, however, they were exposed. Pakistan had lost three successive matches, but had judged their defeats so well that they still qualified at the top of the Super Six. And in the first semi-final they were devastating. This match turned traditional one-day theory on its head: it was decided by the unbridled pace of Shoaib Akhtar. Although he gave runs away, he regularly sent the Speedster over 90 mph and the opposing dressing-room into turmoil. Their batsmen, led by Saeed Anwar, had no trouble. Then there really were three.
Something had to give at Edgbaston. But it was hard to imagine who or what. South Africa’s coach, Bob Woolmer, had been forced to abandon his plans to give his captain, Hansie Cronje, instructions via an earpiece. But essentially his team stuck to their methods: athletic fielding, fierce if spin-free bowling, and all-round batting efficiency. Indeed, the most feared batsman of all had been marching in at No. 8 or 9. Klusener, one of the most successful bowlers in the Cup, had turned tail-end hitting into something close to an exact science.
THE FINAL INDIGNITY
I am not disappointed at all. We qualified for the final. We have got plenty of cricket ahead of us.
Wasim Akram, Pakistan captain
The final defeat, though ignominious, should be accepted with grace and rationalism.
The Nation, Lahore
I am in a state of utter shock. Our performance was disgraceful.
Mushtaq Mohammad, Pakistan coach
I felt like I was cut in half.
Former Pakistan player Mansoor Akhtar
This was a win for fervour over flamboyance, for discipline over delirium. But not, significantly, at the expense of flair.
Mike Coward, The Australian
Perhaps the Australians were a bit lucky, now and then. But they were tougher than anyone else, and better led.
Peter Roebuck, Sydney Morning Herald
Australia, in contrast, adjusted. Originally, they denied McGrath the new ball, much to his irritation, and tried to fiddle through without a real fifth bowler. By the end of the first phase, they had reconsidered, bringing in Tom Moody to improve the balance. McGrath moved into top form. And, slowly, much more slowly, so did Warne. In the semi-final, he found a pitch that gave him bounce and turn, and he responded by performing with much of his old exuberance. In a sense, nothing did give; the match was tied. But Australia went into the final with momentum and, on the day, found a Pakistan team that suddenly could not summon up their best form when they needed it.
There were the usual reactions: Australian politicians competing with each other to jump on the bandwagon and a huge welcome parade in Melbourne (not entirely to the delight of all the Australian players, some of whom had plans that involved staying in England). In Pakistan, the inquests began. The threat of action over the bribes scandal moved into the foreground again. In England, a gloomy season was to get gloomier.
For everyone, the images will remain: Henry Olonga’s hair; Shoaib’s eyes; Abul Jalil’s beard; Stewart’s explanations; Donald’s expression after the run-out; Inzamam-ul-Haq’s eccentric running… and, in the end, that great welling of collective Australian delight, which we have seen so often before.