South Africa 2003: Drama everywhere but on the pitch
25 March 2003
JOHANNESBURG: The 2003 cricket World Cup feasted on drama.
It boasted world records, giant-killings, politics, match forfeits and
even a *** scandal. It showcased the best one-day side to ever play
Only one thing was missing - exciting cricket.
No blame could be attached to Australia.
Without the sorcery of Shane Warne, the grit of Steve Waugh, without the
world-class Jason Gillespie, they still put on a breathtaking show.
In Warne's absence after failing a *** test, the electric Brett Lee
rapidly established himself as the biggest draw in the game.
When Australia were not playing, however, much of the cricket was as
flat as some of South Africa's tired pitches.
Former England captain Tony Greig got so irritated watching one
pedestrian encounter that he exclaimed: "I have a message. Dig up your
Things had begun so well under the Newlands lights on February 9.
Brian Lara, dropped first ball, made a century and West Indies, despite
a Lance Klusener flurry, won by three runs in a dramatic encounter.
Days later, Australia demolished Pakistan by 82 runs in an enthralling
re-run of the 1999 final, perennial under-achiever Andrew Symonds
scoring a 125-ball 143. For a while, there were runs galore.
The pace, however, slowed. Twenty-five of the 40 first-phase matches
included at least one of Canada, Namibia, Netherlands, Kenyan or
Bangladesh, who ended the tournament having not won for 32 games
spanning four years.
Zimbabwe, with Andy Flower and Henry Olonga launching an on-the-field
protest against alleged human rights abuses in their country, were also
Everyone likes a plucky underdog once in a while, but only if he bats
like Canada's John Davison, who scored a 67-ball hundred against West
Indies, the fastest ever seen in a World Cup. Canada still lost by seven
Watching Sri Lanka's Chaminda Vaas take a hat-trick with the first three
balls of the match against Bangladesh, and Glenn McGrath take a World
Cup record of seven for 15 against Namibia, was amusing but hardly
Then there were those match forfeits.
England refused to go to Zimbabwe and New Zealand declined to fly to
Kenya, citing security worries.
Interminable meetings followed, between players, their national boards,
the International Cricket Council, sponsors and lawyers. The long months
ahead will be full of legal action.
Those forfeits did not just detract from the cricket.
They opened the way for Kenya and Zimbabwe to reach the Super Sixes. The
tournament never recovered.
Their success meant no more Lara or Carl Hooper, Wasim Akram - who
became the only man to take 500 one-day wickets during the Cup - or
Shoaib Akhtar, no more Shaun Pollock or Michael Vaughan.
Hosts South Africa were knocked out along with 1975 and 1979 winners
West Indies, 1992 winners Pakistan and three times finalists England.
None, in truth, were playing well but none was to get the chance to run
For South Africa, the agony of failure was particularly acute as their
fate was sealed in a rain-affected tie with Sri Lanka, the result an
uncanny echo of their 1999 elimination in the semi-finals after tying
Suggestions that the team had misread their victory target on a
Duckworth-Lewis scoring sheet made things even worse.
The Super Sixes proved less than enthralling.
Kenya's genuine and historic achievement in reaching the semi-finals was
hailed by cricket chiefs as a vindication of globalisation.
Spectators, however, were increasingly turned off as the six-week,
14-team, 52-match tournament dragged on and on.
Kenya's ageing team did magnificently and deserve further encouragement.
But they were not magnificent to watch.
The Wanderers final was meant to rectify matters, with Lee pitted
against the record-breaking Sachin Tendulkar.
India were being talked up furiously as worthy opponents for the
"They thought they were in the same league as the Australians," former
India all rounder Robin Singh was to say later on South African television.
"They got carried away with the hype."
Instead, they were obliterated as Australia became the first side to win
three World Cups, taking their winning one-day streak to 17 successive
Skipper Ricky Ponting hit a majestic 140 not out and the game was as
good as won. Tendulkar's fifth-ball dismissal merely confirmed it.
India may well have been the second-best side at the World Cup, but they
were not on the same planet as the Australians, who beat them twice
during the Cup, by nine wickets and 125 runs.
One-day cricket thrives on close finishes. Those statistics suggest
South Africa 2003 never really had a chance.