Cricket has always been an integral part of Australia’s culture.
In the English summer of 1999 I was working in London, in Hammersmith, in a funny big cylinder-shaped building called The Ark. A smoker then, I’d nip down every so often and light up a gasper, and have a yarn with whoever was about.
One day I got talking with a fellah who worked nearby, a bloke called Mohammad from Pakistan. Great bloke, Mohammad. Absolutely loved his cricket. And given the World Cup was on at the time, of course we talked cricket from spark-up to fag end. He would see all of Pakistan’s games. I went to most of Australia’s.
When our countries faced off in Leeds we met up at Headingley during that cracking pool game. Pakistan put on 275 courtesy of 60 by Abdul Razzaq, 81 by Inzamam-ul-Haq and a pair of scattergun smash-a-thons by Mohammad Yousuf (29 off 16) and wicketkeeper Moin Khan (31 off 12) which swung the match.
For some reason, Steve Waugh gave Damien Martyn and Darren Lehmann a bowl late in the innings and the pair conceded 42 runs from their four overs.
Australia set out after them and lost Adam Gilchrist third ball, bowled by a steamer from Wasim Akram. There followed a valiant but ever-doomed run-chase with runs to Mark Waugh (41), Ricky Ponting (47), Steve Waugh (49) and Michael Bevan (60). But with Shoaib Akhtar flinging thunderbolts in the dark, Australia fell ten runs short.
But it was a cracker of a game. And because very few if any of the Pakistan fans were drinkers, the beer queues in the sold-out ground were magically empty.
Four weeks of fantastic cricket passed. Steve Waugh told Herschelle Gibbs he’d cost his team the World Cup. Shane Warne bowled mesmerising spells of leg spin. And Lance Klusener belted everybody everywhere, including Damien Fleming’s carcass all over Headingley in the semi-final until with one run left to win he miscued a Fleming yorker and dashed off for a single and Mark Waugh threw to Fleming who rolled the ball along the ground to Gilchrist who ran Allan Donald out.
And Australia tied with South Africa in the semi-final. And there was much rejoicing.
Meanwhile, New Zealand set Pakistan 242 in the other semi-final and Pakistan got them in the 48th over with one wicket down and Saeed Anwar 113 not out. And heading into the final at Lord’s, Pakistan were in super nick, and Australia had won six straight (if you count the tie as a win, which you might as well do).
And so Mohammad and I, outside The Ark on the Monday, sucking on our gaspers, decided that, whatever it takes, we’d have to get to the final at Lord’s. We didn’t have tickets. But scalping was a pretty done thing. And we’d just do our best. And out to Maida Vale on the tube we went.
We found Lord’s at fever pitch. There were tens of thousands of people outside the ground, the vast majority of whom didn’t have tickets but wanted them. There were men with ladders trying to storm the walls. Another crew of blokes went by on a flatbed truck, trying to climb over.
Bobbies were busy breaking up groups of scalpers hocking their wares. But they had little success. Where one group was dissipated, another formed. They were white-hot tickets.
Mohammad and I wandered from group to group, doing our best. Well, he did. He knew the lay of the land. Knew the lingo. And he was a big fellah, shades of Inzamam about him. And he’d loom over groups of men asking, checking things out, asking about tickets. But we had no luck. And then we did. Mohammad found a man.
“This man would like 400 pounds,” said Mohammad introducing his new friend, a chubby little fellow with a Miandad moustache.
“That’s a fair bit of money,” I replied, or something like it.
“That is four hundred pound each,” Mohammad said.
“Oh,” I said.
Four hundred quid was a fair bit of money in 1999. It’s a fair bit of money now. In 1999, it was over a thousand Australian. You could get nearly three Aussie dollars to the pound. This was 20 years ago. I had mates working in pubs earning 100 quid a week. I was doing okay in IT. But 400 quid was still a fair whack. You could fly to Barcelona ten times.
So we held off. It was the World Cup final. But 400 quid was a pretty bloody big whack.
Then: a noise from within the ground. Not a huge roar. But muted. Sporadic. And low groans rolled around the outside of Lord’s. News came: Mark Waugh had just taken an absolute screamer at second slip to dismiss Wajahatullah Wasti off the bowling of Glenn McGrath. Pakistan were 1-21.
“Four hundred quid the pair!” shouted Mohammad to the man. “Two hundred each! Two hundred each!”
The man smiled, wobbled his head. Sorry, my man. No can do.
Almost immediately there followed another muted roar, and low groaning: Damien Fleming had bowled the brilliant Saeed Anwar. It was 2-21! In the World Cup Final! Aussies on top!
“Five hundred quid the pair!” Mohammad shouted to our man. “Two-fifty each! Two-fifty each!”
The man smiled again. Wobbled his head again. Sorry, sir. No thank you.
But there seemed the slightest inkling that old mate might haggle.
A short time later, another low rumble and further gnashing of teeth from the thousands of Pakistan fans outside Lord’s – Steve Waugh had taken a tidy diving forward catch at cover off the bowling of long Tom Moody and Abdul Razzaq was on his way. Pakistan were 3-68 after 19.4 overs. They were in trouble. And so were we.
“Three hundred quid each!” I shouted to the little man.
“Sold!” he replied.
And Mohammad laughed. “It’s a lot of money.”
It was. But it got us into the World Cup final at Lord’s – though we missed the first three wickets.
We did, however, see Shane Warne take 4-33 in nine overs. We did see Ricky Ponting run a mile from third slip to take a cracker and end Pakistan’s innings. We did see Gilchrist top-edge a six from an Akhtar heater, the white ball landing just in front of us. And we did see Darren Lehmann cut those winning runs.
Afterwards, Mohammad and I shook hands and went our separate ways.
And I had the Monday off.
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