And so the 2007 Cricket World Cup ends in the fashion in which the entire tournament has been played; a one-sided affair with Australia brushing aside all those before them. Congratulations on three back to back titles, the first time it’s been done. Despite the typical shenanigans one associates with Australian cricket, including running down the pitch intentionally in order to scuff it up and give their bowlers a better surface to bowl on, the batting performance of Gilchrist alone was worthy of winning the trophy.
It wasn’t without a great deal of luck, though. Firstly Sri Lanka were unlucky not to get Gilchrist out much cheaper and had a half-dozen chances to get rid of the Australian Vice Captain en route to his 149 off just 104 balls. However, fortune favours the brave, and when you think it was Gilchrist’s first ever World Cup hundred, the fastest ever in a World Cup final and the highest individual total in a final, it showed why the Australians have dominated; their ability to deal with pressure and up their game in the big matches.
Secondly, the conditions seemed to change. It wasn’t that the ball did much off the surface, which definitely favoured the batsmen, but contrary to all common wisdom, instead of swinging early, the ball did nothing in the first innings, only to begin to swing in the second. When you think that the humid conditions during the Australian innings should have been swing-friendly, it really does show why the art of swing bowling is so shrouded in mystery. Is it the moisture in the air, is it the pace of the bowling, is it the exact seam position or is it something entirely less tangible that creates swing?
Whatever the reason, Nathan Bracken, a player not good enough to forge a successful Test career, and a player whose talent I’ve always thought to be distinctly average, was able to swing the ball more than a quality swing bowler like Vaas. Of course it didn’t help that the Sri Lankan opening bowler was guilty of pitching the ball far too often on Gilchrist’s leg stump, bowling wides and no balls and generally showing ill discipline. Apart from Malinga it’s hard to think of a Sri Lankan bowler who did bowl with discipline, which is surprising when you think he’s the most inexperienced and considered to be quite raw.
It was the three remaining members of the 1996 winning squad, Vaas, Murali and Jayasuriya, who wilted under the pressure, with too many wides and far too many balls pitched on leg stump to Gilchrist, a man who loves it there. Given that I don’t recall a single cross-batted shot in the Oz Wicketkeeper’s bludgeoning innings, it’s clear Jayawardene missed a trick. Bouncers tempt the batsmen into cross-batted shots, but slingier bowlers like Tait and Malinga tend to have skiddy bouncers that don’t bounce as high but come on to the bat a tiny bit quicker. This can often catch the batsman playing with an angled bat and chopping on. We saw Tait do this with great effect against England.
When Sri Lanka came out to bat, the changed conditions allowed for some swing, which not only got rid of Tharanga cheaply, but made scoring harder early on, not ideal when chasing a massive target. Ponting and Clarke’s attempts to rough the pitch up when batting did result in the odd bit of uneven bounce, and one ball to Jayasuriya in particular stayed very low. However despite that, Jayasuriya and Sangakkara put up good resistance and actually got into a good position when it began to rain.
The Umpires should have stopped for the rain but bottled the decision. Instead they allowed the wicket to get wet, the ball to move slower off it, and therefore made Sri Lanka’s task that much harder (of course the wet ball hindered Australia too, but they could deal with that using rags). Not only that but with the pressure of a potential Duckworth-Lewis target Jayasuriya was put in an impossible position where he had to throw caution to the wind and sacrifice his wicket. The standard of umpiring throughout was pathetic. There were at least two good shouts for LBW against Gilchrist earlier in his innings, one of which (off the bowling of Muralitharan) was plumb. Tait got away with at least two above head-height bouncers not given as wides, when Fernando was called for one that was never a wide. The calling of wides down the leg side was also poor.
And then, as if to rub salt into the wounds when facing an utterly impossible task, Bucknor gave Jayawardene out LBW when the ball was going at least 3 inches wide of the leg stump. Again, I suppose this wasn’t out of the ordinary for a tournament in which the umpiring standard has generally been terrible. Even Australia, who have had the greatest luck with the umpires, can probably name a half-dozen bad shouts given against them during the tournament.
I suppose, despite my intense dislike of Glenn McGrath the person, it was a fitting end to a great career for McGrath to finish the tournament not only with the most wickets for this World Cup, but the most by any individual in any single tournament. Together with his record for the most World Cup wickets in his career, the two statistics combine to make McGrath without a doubt the best ever World Cup bowler. The pitches in the Carribean were not ideal ones for McGrath’s metronomic style of bowling, but he cleverly adapted, bowling more aggressively and mixing line and length in a very un-McGrath fashion.
The farcical nature of the final, where at one point the scorecard claimed Sri Lanka needed 0 to win, was the perfect way to end a tournament which has been an utter joke from start to finish. And it only got even more ridiculous. The Sri Lankans were offered the light and took it, understandably. It was incredibly dark, almost night, and there was no point in prolonging the agony when they were clearly going to lose the match. The Australians celebrated winning the tournament, the scorebard even acknowledged their achievement, and yet the umpires, quite rightly, said that the match wasn’t over.
Of course it wasn’t, technically, and the umpires mentioned they could come back again tomorrow. Which raises the question, why not simply have a rule that states that the World Cup final must be a 50 over a side match, with as many rain days as necessary to ensure this? At the point at which it became clear it would be a reduced overs match, why not simply come back again tomorrow? With the current structure of the rules, a team could bat one day under overcast conditions, have the second half of the day rained off and then the opposition come to bat under brilliant sunshine.
Having a reduced overs match should always be a last resort after exhausting all possible rain days, even in the earlier parts of the tournament. Reduced overs ODIs blur the line between Twenty20 and One Day cricket, a point made all the more poignant when you consider that the Twenty20 World Championship is just around the corner. But they didn’t take that option, and quite fittingly, the dullest World Cup in recent memory went out with a fizzle rather than a bang. It was a hollow victory for Australia, in my opinion, but nonetheless, their performance during the tournament probably just about deserved the trophy.