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The cricket world cup begins today in India and the sub-continent. Winners of the last three competitions and with a remarkable WC winningstreak of 27 (or is it 28?) Australia go into the competition the number ranked team in the world, but aren't favourites. They may be respected still and even feared by some, but much of the shine has rubbed off after a good beating in the Ashes.
There are millions of people around the globe happy to see Australia fall from its perch. It's perfectly understandable and if I weren't an Aussie I'd probably want to be one of them. Over the last 10-12 years the Australian cricket team has won just about every major competition on offer. It's a fair call thinking it might be the turn of someone else. In relative terms I can even understand how the decline of the Australian cricketing hegemony is good for cricket; as an Australian, however, I find it hard to agree.
Though we were well beaten by the Poms in the test series I reckn we're still a strong chance to win this comp again. In characteristic style the team bounced back from that defeat to flog England 6-1 in the one day series following it. It doesn't make up for losing the Ashes, but it was still pretty impressive. There's a lot of pride in this team.
In fact I reckon it's that pride that will steer Australia a fair way through the tournament. Over the course of this contest they've been lot of teams touted as contenders, and most have either fallen away or been bludgeoned out of the way by Australia. The stats don't lie: Australia is incredibly good at the key moments in the key tournaments. They don't blink, they just better – and they know it.
Of course Australia no longer has that plethora of great stars. I've been watching a program on the history of the World Cup. It has been great fun looking back at some of the great games and great players. Clive Lloyd for example, and Imran Khan. Then there was Wasim Akram, one of the best bowlers I've seen, and the day Pakistan beat England to the title in Melbourne in 1992. I was there.
There have been many other players, but what captured my imagination again were some of the great contests. The classics were 1999 in England when Australia down and out fought back to beat South Africa – the favourites – on the back of a Steve Waugh century to make the semi-final.
The semi-final was one of the great limited over games of all time. After posting a modest score Australia looked done for until Warne struck. The game ebbed and flowed from there until it climaxed in the most unbelievable way. How well I remember that! I lay in bed watching it on TV at about 3am with work on the next day. I couldn't turn the TV off. The last over began with South Africa needing 9 runs to win and Lance Klusener at the crease. Fleming came in to bowl the first ball and was smacked to the boundary – Klusener was a scary hitter. He bowled the second ball and Klusener did it again. With 4 balls to go the scores were tired – South Africa were a shoo-in. To the third ball Klusener miscued a drive to mid-on, and narrowly avoided a run-out. The next ball he hit hard to mid-off and ran. Donald, at the bowlers end, paused, watching the ball before running. Too late. Fleming rolled the ball down the middle of the pitch and Donald was run out. The game was over, the scores were tied – and on the strength of the previous win Australia made the final.
It's amazing to think that Australia have not lost a game in World Cup comp[etition since then. They murdered Pakistan in the fanal, as they did to India in 2003, and Sri Lanka in 2007. For every final Australia played they elevated their game to a clinical level that no-one else could match.
In 2003 in South Africa there were a few close scrapes – against England particularly, I remember – until Ponting's majestic innings in the final secured the title. In 2007 no-one came close to Australia. Never will their be a more dominant display in a tournament than that. In the final in Gilly's swansong he scored 149 to kill the contest.
Over the journey there have been all time great players – Ponting, Gilchrist, Hayden, Warne, McGrath, the Waugh brothers, Lee, Symonds, Bevan and so on. In this two tournament only two remain: Ponting and Lee.
What do I expect? Firstly that Australia will extend it's winning streak to beyond 30, never to be surpassed. I'd be disappointed to if Australia doesn't make the semi-finals at a minimum. Injuries, and perhaps interesting selections have not helped Australia, but the team remains formidable. In our way I think are India – potentially frail playing at home in front of their crowds; Sri Lanka – very talented, but possibly not quite ready; and South Africa, the antithesis of Australia in many ways. They are always contenders, but in the opposite of Australia have always choked on the big stage. It's heavy baggage, but I think they may overcome that finally. This is their time if they take it. Hopefully it is Australia again who will stop them.
- How we agonisingly threw away the greatest World Cup match of all time (independent.co.uk)
- Cricket World Cup: Past Champions (cbc.ca)
- ODI cricket to be 'revived' by World Cup, says Waugh (sportingo.com)
- SA won't miss big hitters – Fletcher (espncricinfo.com)
- Sorcery of spinners makes India and Sri Lanka my World Cup favourites | Duncan Fletcher (guardian.co.uk)