By Kushal Chakraborty
Australia got over a poor start to pulverise opponents with sheer ruthlessness and lifted the World Cup trophy after 12 years as the tournament returned to its original home England in 1999.
The competition saw the introduction of the exciting Super Six format but a couple of security breaches left a sour taste.
Though India performed dismally, Sachin Tendulkar’s classy hundred after returning from his father’s funeral, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly’s superb batting and South African Lance Klusener’s all-round show made it a memorable tournament.
The authorities changed the format to include the Super Sixes, after the initial group battles in the 12-team competition. The nine Test playing countries were joined by three associate members – Kenya and debutants Bangladesh and Scotland.
The top three sides from each of the two groups battled in the Super Sixes, with each qualifier from Group A playing each qualifier from Group B. Another interesting rule was that the teams carried forward points they earned against the other qualifiers from their group. The top four in the Super Sixes moved on to the semifinals.
England, which had hosted the first three World Cups between 1975 and 1983, got to host the big event after 16 long years. Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the Netherlands organised one match each.
Australia, led by the steely Steve Waugh, suffered double defeats in Group B against Pakistan and New Zealand after getting past Scotland in their lung opener. However, they came into their elements thereafter, and became invincible in the rest of the tournament — winning six and tying one game.
In a nail-biting semifinal, Australia and South Africa both notched up 213, but the baggy greens made the cut for the final on the strength of finishing higher on the Super Six table.
Pakistan played exciting cricket, with speedster Shoaib Akhtar bowling at a searing pace, and spinner Saqlain Mustaq being among the wickets. Opener Saeed Anwar cracked two hundreds. The 1992 winners topped group B, despite being upset by minnows Bangladesh. Pakistan then finished first in the Super Six stage.
India had a poor outing, losing to Zimbabwe in a group game and failed to advance past the Super Six, where their only victory came against arch-rivals Pakistan. However, Dravid – playing in his maiden World Cup – topped the scorers’ list (461).
Even poorer was the performance of defending champions Sri Lanka, who crashed out from the group stage itself.
Pakistan stormed into the final with a nine-wicket win against New Zealand, but the summit battle turned into a complete mismatch and was over inside four and a half hours.
Leg spinner Shane Warne was at his beguiling best (4/33) as Pakistan were skittled out for 132. Australia wrapped up the match and the title in merely 20.1 overs, losing only two wickets.
It was Australia’s second triumph, having earlier won the trophy in 1987. The only umpiring blemish in the final was the dismissal of Pakistan’s Inzamam-ul-Haq, who was given caught behind by umpire David Shepherd, but replays showed the ball came off the pad.
The result triggered angry reactions in Pakistan. At Karachi airport, people were waiting with posters containing derogatory remarks against Pakistani players. They burnt effigy of skipper Wasim Akram.
In contrast, the celebrations stretched through the night in Australia as people rejoiced the win.
For South Africa, who narrowly missed a place in the final, a consolation came in the form of the Klusener who was chosen as the Man-of-the-Tournament for scoring 281 runs and taking 17 wickets.
But an abiding image of the tourney was the hundred Tendulkar scored at Bristol following his father’s sudden demise.
Ramesh Tendulkar, a novelist and a professor, who had deeply inculcated in his son the virtues of modesty and humility, died when India were in the midst of the Cup campaign.
Tendulkar flew home to attend to his father’s last rites ceremony, and returned to the tournament, to crack a majestic 140 off 101 balls against a hapless Kenyan side.
He dedicated his innings to his father. On completing the hundred, Tendulkar looked upwards, and sought his father’s blessings and repeated the gesture after reaching every milestone of his glittering career since then.
India’s poor show evoked angry reactions from the fans. Dravid and skipper Mohammed Azharuddin were attacked by an intoxicated fan inside the playing arena at the New County Ground, Hove, after India went down to South Africa.
“I tried to ignore him as he seemed intoxicated, but he came up and pushed me. We need more security. Surely the security and policing of rowdy spectators must step up,” Azharuddin later said.
Away from his on-field heroics, Warne found himself in the eye of a storm for making some disparaging comments about Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga in a newspaper column.
The spinner was fined half of his match fee and given a suspended ban.(IANS)