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Australia prove invincible again in topsy-turvy tourment

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  11 Feb 2015 12:00 AM GMT

By Kushal Chakraborty

Australia won their second title on the trot as the World Cup caravan made its maiden trip to the African continent in 2003, but the 44-day tourment saw problems galore from a bloated itinerary drawing flak from all quarters to a dope offence that saw a major star getting banned before the competition was underway.

A pariah of mainstream cricket even 11 years back due to their apartheid policy, South Africa hosted the lion's share of the games, with Zimbabwe and Kenya also getting to host some matches during the 14-team competition.

But there were bottlenecks even before the first ball was bowled.

England cited political reasons and refused to play in Zimbabwe, while New Zealand kept away from Kenya claiming there was a "terrorist threat" to their players.

The authorities announced that Zimbabwe and Kenya would get walkovers respectively if England and New Zealand stuck to their stand. But it was of no avail. In the end it cost England dearly, as the two points ebled Zimbabwe to make it to the Super-Sixes ahead of them.

The tourment schedule came under heavy criticism as the number of matches went up to 54 - the highest in Cup history - after the participating teams were increased from 12 to 14 - 10 Test-playing tions, One-Day Intertiol (ODI) regulars Kenya, and the three top teams in the ICC Trophy Cada, mibia and the Netherlands.

Critics said the inclusion of so many weak sides led to more number of mismatches, though some sides, including India benefited greatly.

"It was simply too big and too long," Wisden noted, after the tourment ran over more than six weeks. The authorities also drew flak for alleged uneven selection of Day/Night matches.

Shaming the cricket fraternity, legendary Australian spinner Shane Warne was barred from playing after he tested positive for doping and was sent home a day before the start of the tourment. He tested positive for banned drug Diuretic in a test held by the World-Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

South African fielding giant Jonty Rhodes' injury in a Pool B match against Kenya ended his career after he landed awkwardly while attempting to take a catch and broke his hand.

However, despite the ill fortune of Rhodes, fielding patterns witnessed some innovative styles as teams adopted relay throwing to save runs and effect run outs.

However, like in 1999, the top three sides from each of the two groups made it to the Super Sixes, carrying forward the points already scored against fellow qualifiers, plus a quarter of the points scored against the teams that failed to qualify.

The tourment saw a number of upsets, with South Africa, Pakistan, the West Indies and England biting the dust at the group stage.

India, led by the talismanic Sourav Ganguly, won five of their six group matches to make the cut for the Super Sixes, where they triumphed in all the three outings.

Playing Zimbabwe in Harare, India experimented with a new opening combition of Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar. The move clicked and boosted the Indians morale.

Against another weak opponent mibia, Ganguly ended his formless streak by scoring a delightful unbeaten century. Till then he had maged only 90 runs in his previous ten ODI innings.

Bolstered by the wins, the Indians registered an emphatic victory over arch-rivals Pakistan in another group encounter. Tendulkar proved to be the hero as he was awarded the Man-of-the-Match for a scintillating knock of 98.

In the first semi-fil, Australia beat Sri Lanka by 48 runs via the Duckworth Lewis method in a rain-curtailed match. The second semi-fil saw India taking on Kenya, easily beating them by a 91-run margin.

The Kenyans, who surprised fans worldwide by making the last four, maged to score 179 chasing a target of 270 set by India, who were driven by a superb Ganguly century.

Australia became the deserving champions by winning all their matches. The way they beat India in the fil showed who the 'boss' of intertiol cricket was.

The Australians batted aggressively and rode on a superb unbeaten century from skipper Ricky Ponting and another good knock from Damien Martin to reach 359 for two. India finished 125 runs short.

Ganguly defended his decision to field first even after winning the toss.

"I have no regrets for fielding first. There was a bite in the pitch in the morning, but our bowlers just didn't put the ball in the proper place."

For Indian fans it was a shocking defeat. They were hopeful of India's first Cup title since 1983. But India ultimately succumbed to a far superior team.

(Kushal Chakraborty is a freelancer. He can be contacted at kushalsbi@rediffmail.com)

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