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Hero, villain contribute to Aussie evolution
John Mehaffey |
March 21, 2003 17:36 IST
In the unsettled summer of 1977-78, the Australian cricket authorities had identified one obvious villain and an equally undisputed hero.
Media entrepreneur Kerry Packer had sent a seismic shudder through the establishment by signing the world's best players, including almost the entire Australia side, for his own rebel series.
In response, the Australian Cricket Board persuaded 41-year-old Bobby Simpson to come out of retirement and lead a raw, untried national side against India.
A generation later, with the Packer years now a distant memory, both men can claim an honourable part in Australia's evolution into the world's best one-day side.
The defending champions play in their third successive World Cup final at The Wanderers on Sunday.
World Series Cricket lasted just two seasons before Packer made his peace with the ACB in return for the television rights to traditional Test cricket he had been seeking all along. But in that time it changed the face of the one-day game forever.
To the ACB's immense relief, the Australia-India series proved a thriller, with Simpson playing his full part by scoring two centuries against the skilful Indian spinners. The third Test in Melbourne attracted more than 80,000 people to the first four days.
In contrast the so-called World Series super-Tests, featuring the best Australian, West Indies, Pakistan and South African cricketers of the day, were watched by only a scattering of spectators.
World Series one-day cricket was another matter. The game effectively took its modern shape with day-night matches, white balls, coloured clothing, fielding restrictions and innovative television coverage.
The crowds responded, pouring in to the Sydney Cricket Ground after sunset to watch the exotic new form of the national summer sport and singing along to the World Series jingle "C'mon Aussie, C'mon."
"World Series Cricket was the crystallising of limited overs in a lot of ways," remarked former Australia captain Greg Chappell. "It became an important part of the programme and we were forced to take it more seriously."
As part of the truce between Packer and the ACB, an annual tri-series was introduced in Australia with the West Indies, world champions in 1975 and again four years, making regular visits.
Australia, with Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh in their side, were a major force. Their simultaneous retirement at the end of the 1983-4 series with Pakistan and the defection of several other leading players to unofficial tours to white-ruled South Africa plunged Australian cricket into one of its greatest crises.
Allan Border led a team who lost successive Ashes series to England and, in an even greater humiliation, were defeated in both home and away series by New Zealand.
The ACB turned once more to Simpson, this time as coach.
Simpson, who firmly believes cricket is essentially a simple game, concentrated first on the 1987 World Cup.
"It is my belief that one-day cricket is probably the simplest form of cricket there is," he said. "If you score a run a ball you're going to win 99.9 per cent of cricket matches."
Meticulous preparation, excellent team spirit and a new generation of committed players, including a future captain in the young Steve Waugh, took Australia to victory over England in the final.
"I think one-day cricket for us really did turn things around in that 1986-7 period," Border commented. "Bob was very insistent on getting the basics right in general."
The disciplines of one-day cricket, including Simpson's rigorous fielding drills, influenced Australia's approach to the five-day game. Simpson was in charge two years later when Australia regained the Ashes in England.
"We went from being very sloppy to very, very professional and quite ruthless," Border said.
Apart from a blip at the 1992 World Cup, Australia have been at the forefront of the one-day game since. Mark Taylor succeeded Border as captain, although he was eventually pushed out of the one-day side with Waugh taking over as skipper for limited-overs internationals.
Under Taylor, Australia lost the 1996 World Cup final to Sri Lanka, under Waugh they beat Pakistan three years later.
Waugh, seeking new challenges, placed equal importance on one-day and test cricket. His teams attempted to score at one-day rates in test cricket, placing even more pressure on the opposition as both forms of the game continued to feed off each other.
Now, with Ricky Ponting in charge, they bid on Sunday to become the first country to win the one-day game's ultimate trophy for a record third time.
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