In the end, mother nature achieved the feat that has eluded cricket teams for nearly 12 years: stopping Australia from winning a World Cup match.
Such a shame as well, for Saturday’s game against Sri Lanka was shaping up as a thrilling spectacle between two disciplined sides playing attacking cricket, but not giving away their advantage.
In the end, rain played spoilsport in a contest that would have been Australia’s greatest test in their previously winning-run of 25 World Cup matches.
The streak began as it ended, with two thumping wins – the first over Pakistan in the 1999 final at Lord’s, and finished with last week’s resounding success over New Zealand in Nagpur.
In between the results have largely fluctuated along the one-sided route, with the all-conquering Australians bulldozing most in their wake – with a few exceptions.
I’ve narrowed down my top five games during Australia’s winning streak. The only criteria was based on the quality of the match and the challenge posed by the opposition that could have ended the streak prematurely.
5) Sri Lanka (2007 Final – Bridgetown)
The 2007 final was eagerly anticipated, not least for the fact Australia was playing to become the first team to win a hat-trick of World Cups.
The champions comfortably defeated Sri Lanka in the Super Eights stage by seven wickets at St George’s in Grenada. However, Sri Lanka chose to rest gun bowlers in Lasith Malinga and Muttiah Muralitharan.
Australia’s top order had been immense throughout the tournament, with Matthew Hayden amassing three centuries.
With this in mind, the Sri Lankans went into the final believing Malinga and Murali could take early wickets and expose an underworked Australian middle order.
What came in the morning was lightning and rain that reduced the match to 38 overs a side. But what followed was pure thunder from Adam Gilchrist, scoring his greatest one-day hundred in his final World Cup innings.
With 100 runs from boundaries alone, Gilchrist’s 149 off 104 demoralised the Sri Lankan bowlers and gave Australia another healthy platform, which was capitalised on to finish at 281/4 off their 38 overs.
After Upul Tharanga fell early, the champion pair of Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara were meeting the rate required to create momentary concern in the Australian camp.
However, the nerves were broken when Michael Clarke sneaked a ball through Jayasuriya’s defences.
What followed was completing the formality to the bitter end, as the ridiculous officialdom of the tournament saw the Australians receive the cup in pitch darkness after winning by 53 runs with the Duckworth-Lewis method.
4) Pakistan (2003 Group Stage – Johannesburg)
Australia would meet the team they vanquished four years earlier in the final in their opening match of the 2003 tournament. However, thoughts were elsewhere.
During the home summer, there was public outcry for the restoration of Steve Waugh in the one-day side. Later on, injuries to Shane Warne and Michael Bevan put serious doubts over the team’s depth, while a racist slur from Darren Lehmann saw him banned for the first two matches, including the opener against Pakistan.
In short, Australia were thin on resources, which made the selection of Andrew Symonds a puzzling option. Snubbed throughout the home summer, Symonds was given a vote of confidence from captain Ricky Ponting and coach John Buchanan, which sealed his plane ticket to South Africa.
As the days rolled on, preparations were proceeding well until scandal broke the day before the tournament began. A fit-again Warne returned a positive drug test, and was sent home immediately by the Australian Cricket Board to face disciplinary action.
In what was meant to be his final tournament before retiring from the format, Warne left the big stage in disgrace, and with his team in shock.
So onto the game itself.
A depleted Australia (including a middle order of Martyn, Maher , Symonds and Harvey) were sent in to face the imperious attack of Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar and Waqar Younis. 3/53 soon became 4/86, signalling Symonds’ entry into the Bullring.
What followed was intelligent batting with brute power. Symonds crushed the bowlers to all parts of the Wanderers, including a hapless Waqar, who was removed from the attack after delivering two head-high beamers. Symonds finished on an unbeaten 143 off 125 balls in Australia’s total of 310/8.
The advantage was never relinquished from then on, with Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath all grabbing early wickets. However, the bulk of the damage was done by Ian Harvey (4/58) and Brad Hogg (3/54) as Australia rolled Pakistan for 228 for a commanding victory.
The highlight of Australia’s fielding effort though belonged to the man of the day Symonds, as he ran in and brilliantly leapt forward to take a catch seemingly certain for the ground to dismiss Yousuf Youhana.
Bear in mind, this was only the second win of the streak.
3) South Africa (2007 Group Stage – Basseterre)
This was a match of no consequence, as both Australia and South Africa had both secured passage into the Super Eights after each easily dismantled Scotland and the Netherlands in the previous group games. However, the interest surrounding this match was largely based on the pre-match sledging that at times sounded more like a primary school chant of “na-na-na-na-na”.
South Africa had recently taken Australia’s top ranking in the ICC ODI charts – a mantle South Africa cherished loudly and proudly, while Australia sat back and gnawed with anger.
Reference was made to the last time the sides clashed in the World Cup, when South Africa’s penchant for “choking” reached new heights during the 1999 semi-final. So this was the contest: South Africa’s revenge against Australia’s dismay at the injustice of the rankings.
But another plot line came up the year before, when the Proteas chased down the highest total set for a one-day international at Johannesburg. Set 434, the South Africans batted with unbelievable flair and panache to reel the total in and start their own claims to be called the world’s premier side.
To the match itself, where Australia again batted first and again set a mammoth total following Matthew Hayden’s whirlwind 101 off 68 balls, which was ably supported by Ricky Ponting’s run-a-ball 91, and Michael Clarke’s 92 off 75 balls. Australia set 377/6 – a score South Africa would have fancied hauling in based on the previous year’s antics.
Twenty overs into the South African innings, the Australians could be forgiven for feeling a case of déjà vu. South Africa were breezing at nearly eight an over without losing a wicket. However, a brilliant direct hit throw from the boundary from the maligned Shane Watson saw the end of AB de Villiers for 92 off 70 balls. But it was the decision of captain Graeme Smith to retire hurt with cramp a few overs later that really saw the pendulum swing.
What followed was a procession, as initial hopes of a South African win made way for their trademark yips syndrome. From Smith’s temporary retirement in the 26th over at 184/1, South Africa were bundled out for 294 in 48 overs. As was the case in Johannesburg, Nathan Bracken was the only bowler to emerge from the carnage with real credit, finishing with a tidy 2/40 off nine overs.
Bragging rights belonged to Australia, which would prove crucial later in the tournament in the semi-final against the same opponents, when the legend of “choking” was redefined once more.
2) New Zealand (2003 Super Sixes – Port Elizabeth)
A Trans-Tasman battle to savour. Australia’s cricketers had the better of New Zealand for a long time, until a young Cantabrian came about to change things. Shane Bond had battered the Australian batsmen the previous season in the VB series, and was primed to do it again. What followed was one of one-day cricket’s great spells of bowling.
Bond was simply outstanding, prising out Hayden, Gilchrist, Ponting, Martyn, Hogg and Harvey to leave the defending champions reeling at 84/7 after 26 overs. Michael Bevan remained at the crease, but even his abilities of resurrecting lost causes would be useless unless someone hung around with him.
The lionhearted Queenslander Andy Bichel (who remains Australia’s most undervalued cricketer during their peak years) teamed with Bevan to put on a crucial 97 runs in about 20 overs. Bichel was the aggressor of the partnership, falling for a valuable 64 off 83 balls, while Bevan made 56 off 94. Two lusty hits from Brett Lee lifted the total to 208/9, with Bond being the chief wrecker with 6/23 off 10 overs.
The late innings momentum had swung towards Australia, who now had a total to defend. Promoted to open with captain Stephen Fleming, Daniel Vettori fell early to begin New Zealand’s own rendition of lemmings falling to their end. Unlike their close rivals though, the Black Caps didn’t have a strong partnership to shape the chase, and fell for a meek 112 in little over 30 overs, with Brett Lee doing the damage with 5/42 off 9.1 overs.
Two great bowling performances, and a match to show that 300+ scores were hardly necessary to create a great spectacle.
1) England (2003 Group Stage – Port Elizabeth)
It seems odd to name a game featuring an England one-day team as the best win Australia has had during its 25 match streak. What was amazing about it was how little anyone expected England to shine on the day.
After being beaten black and blue by the Australians during the 2002/03 home summer, England needed to win to advance to the Super Six stage. They began well as openers Marcus Trescothick and Nick Knight batted with the flair that went missing all the way through the VB series.
They had succeeded in not only thwarting the threat of Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee, but hit them out of the attack. In need of a wicket, Ponting turned to Andy Bichel.
Brought into the side to replace the injured Jason Gillespie, Bichel was seen as a potential weak link in the bowling lineup to exploit. What followed was 10 overs of controlled aggression that England floundered under.
From 66/0, England did well to not end up getting bowled out, reaching a moderate score of 204/8 off their 50 overs.
Through all that though, only one man carried Australia’s threat. A wicket to McGrath was the only moment Bichel didn’t have a say in the innings, and he finished off with outstanding figures of 7/20 off his 10 overs.
But Bichel’s work wasn’t done yet.
His namesake Andy, this time of the Caddick variety, performed a similar job on the Australian batsmen by removing the first four wickets.
When Craig White ran out Brett Lee, the score was 135/8 in the 38th over, as Australia were running out of wickets and of balls as the required rate reached six, while England were pouncing on a victory few imagined.
Bichel joined Michael Bevan for the first time in the tournament, and began the repair job. Bichel’s 34 not out off 36 was instrumental in not only halting the England momentum, but supporting Bevan to slowly increase the rate. Australia triumphed with two balls to spare, with Bevan scoring an unbeaten 74 off 126 balls.
What is forgotten is another wicket would have exposed Glenn McGrath to an English attack very much on their game, with Caddick finishing with excellent figures of 4/35 off nine overs.
1999 Final v Pakistan
2003 Semi-Final v Sri Lanka
2003 Final v India
2007 Super Eights v England
2007 Semi-Final v South Africa
Below is a list of Australia’s 25 wins in a row. In total, the streak lasted from June 20 1999 to March 5 2011 – or 4276 days:
1. June 20 1999: Final v Pakistan (Lord’s) – 8 wickets with 179 balls
2. February 11 2003: Group A v Pakistan (Johannesburg) – 82 runs
3. February 15 2003: Group A v India (Centurion) – 9 wickets with 166 balls
4. February 20 2003: Group A v Netherlands (Potchefstroom) – 48 runs (D/L method)
5. February 24 2003: Group A v Zimbabwe (Bulawayo) – 7 wickets with 15 balls
6. February 27 2003: Group A v Namibia (Potchefstroom) – 256 runs
7. March 2 2003: Group A v England (Port Elizabeth) – 2 wickets with 2 balls
8. March 7 2003: Super Sixes v Sri Lanka (Centurion) – 96 runs
9. March 11 2003: Super Sixes v New Zealand (Port Elizabeth) – 96 runs
10. March 15 2003: Super Sixes v Kenya (Durban) – 5 wickets with 112 balls
11. March 18 2003: Semi-Final v Sri Lanka (Port Elizabeth) – 48 runs (D/L method)
12. March 23 2003: Final v India (Johannesburg) – 125 runs
13. March 14 2007: Group A v Scotland (Basseterre) – 203 runs
14. March 18 2007: Group A v Netherlands (Basseterre) – 229 runs
15. March 24 2007: Group A v South Africa (Basseterre) – 83 runs
16. March 27 2007: Super Eights v West Indies (North Sound) – 103 runs
17. March 31 2007: Super Eights v Bangladesh (North Sound) – 10 wickets with 49 balls
18. April 8 2007: Super Eights v England (North Sound) – 7 wickets with 16 balls
19. April 13 2007: Super Eights v Ireland (Bridgetown) – 9 wickets with 226 balls
20. April 16 2007: Super Eights v Sri Lanka (St George’s) – 7 wickets with 44 balls
21. April 20 2007: Super Eights v New Zealand (St George’s) – 215 runs
22. April 25 2007: Semi-Final v South Africa (Gros Islet) – 7 wickets with 111 balls
23. April 28 2007: Final v Sri Lanka (Bridgetown) – 53 runs (D/L method)
24. February 21 2011: Group A v Zimbabwe (Ahmedabad) – 91 runs
25. February 25 2011: Group A v New Zealand (Nagpur) – 7 wickets with 96 balls
My World Cup XI:
Adam Gilchrist (w) (1999, 2003, 2007)
Matthew Hayden (2003, 2007)
Ricky Ponting (c) (1999, 2003, 2007, 2011)
Damien Martyn (2003)
Andrew Symonds (2003, 2007)
Michael Clarke (2007, 2011)
Michael Bevan (1999, 2003)
Andy Bichel (2003)
Brad Hogg (2003, 2007)
Brett Lee (2003, 2011)
Glenn McGrath (1999, 2003, 2007)