Home > Cricket > World Cup 2003 > Columns > Daniel Laidlaw
February 12, 2003
The World Cup could hardly have had a more sensational start. A classic opener -- one of three upsets over the first three days -- spectacular hundreds and Shane Warne out of the tournament after failing a drug test. It is a high standard to maintain.
On the evidence so far, small grounds, fast outfields and good pitches will make this a batsmen's World Cup. The batting stars of world cricket have shone early -- Lara, Jayasuriya, Styris, Wishart. Well, Lara and Jayasuriya, anyway. The nature of the conditions has meant teams have been able to rapidly accelerate in the latter part of innings' with wickets in hand.
Already, Group B has been thrown wide open, as the West Indies' potent batting showed what can be accomplished with sensible innings management, and not panicking under pressure. There could be no finer start than the hosts being pipped in the opener in a thrilling finish, particularly as most of cricket-loving South Africa reportedly expects their team to triumph.
Shaun Pollock is considered a fine leader and generally it may be true. Yet in the first game, his captaincy-by-numbers was exposed: At 12 overs, West Indies were 23/2 and vulnerable should further wickets have fallen. Dutifully, however, Pollock made the predictable double change and an opportunity was lost as West Indies made a Lara-inspired revival.
Compare this to Ricky Ponting against Pakistan two days later. In a not dissimilar situation, albeit defending a comfortable total, Ponting elected to bowl McGrath through for his complete 10 overs, and along the way he dismissed key batsman Inzamam-ul-Haq to further increase the pressure.
It would be foolish to read too much into it, though one can't help but feel it is symptomatic of the lack of imagination or flexibility may be the difference between South Africa and, as example, Australia. Teams that don't self-destruct along South Africa's pre-ordained lines trouble the Proteas, and it was this resilience and composure, as much as Lara's wonderful return and Powell and Sarwan's explosiveness, that was so impressive about the West Indies' batting effort in the opener. It has to be an indication of self-belief that a team can see off a poor start against that calibre of opponent and retain composure to ultimately flourish. Pollock being hit for 43 off 4 overs is a rare occurrence.
For all that, West Indies' future beyond the Super Six stage may be restricted by a lack of bowling resources. Vasbert Drakes appears the most reliable, and three specialists will only take you so far. For South Africa, the "real" Lance Klusener seems never to have been gone, picking up where he left off in the '99 Cup. Like India, South Africa possess batting depth that ensures they are never out of any run chase. The hosts must now start winning, or else they won't even get the opportunity to be the first side to win a World Cup on home soil.
In case the Cup did not have enough off-field contention to occupy the headlines (England have derailed their own campaign in typical fashion, and it seems Kenya might suddenly become a safer place for New Zealand now they have lost their first game), Warne ensured that it would. Out of the Cup, in again, retired, then out again. With so much awareness of the sensitivity of the drugs issue, it doesn't follow that Warne is unlucky. Those who have called him stupid are on the mark. Players simply must be aware of what they take into their bodies, and there are even less excuses for Australian cricketers since the ACB has had an anti-doping policy since 1998. To Warne's credit, at least, he has handled this latest chapter in an unending soap opera career with maturity.
The shock departure of their leg-spinner could have proved a distraction to Australia, but in arguably Ponting's most important game as captain to date it did not. For Andrew Symonds and Ian Harvey, one a replacement and the other the last player picked, to perform as they did must be exceedingly heartening to the tournament favourites. Typically, Australia's totals are founded on partnerships, so to keep losing wickets against a tough-talking Pakistan and have a fringe player produce the innings of his career is an auspicious demonstration of depth and versatility.
For Symonds and the team hierarchy, it must have been particularly sweet. Symonds' place in the Australian squad had numerous critics, but Ponting and Buchanan were perfectly aware of what he is capable. Matthew Hayden was poorly performed as a one-day player until given a regular berth and this is likely all that Symonds requires. Darren Lehmann may come to regret his outburst in more ways than one, as both he and Bevan are scheduled to come back and Symonds can hardly be dropped.
That Symonds' 143 not out was the second-highest ever score by a number six behind Kapil Dev's 175 against Zimbabwe really puts it into context. It was that good, the blazing drives along the ground to beat the deep field a sight to behold. Waqar Younis being sent from the attack for bowling two beamers was merely in keeping with the wild start to the tournament.
England's anguish over the morality of playing in Zimbabwe was placed in perspective by the dignified protest by Andy Flower and Henry Olonga on the morning of their opener against Namibia. If the games weren't played in Zimbabwe, the symbolism of wearing black armbands to mourn the "death of democracy" in their country would not have been as pointed. Now, it's hard to believe anyone thought playing in Zimbabwe would "give legitimacy" to the Mugabe government. It's been exactly the opposite. Hussain's men could surely learn a lesson from the simple yet courageous way Flower and Olonga have got their point across.
Canada's upset of Bangladesh won't live in the memory as a great World Cup moment except for the players and their supporters, but in an era of professional video analysis and studied preparation it was a victory for old-fashioned methods. "We had no game plan and had not seen any videos of Bangladesh," Canadian skipper Joseph Harris delightfully admitted to CricInfo. "It's the best day of our lives."