On April 28, 2007, the indomitable Australian cricket team won their third straight World Cup title, and fourth overall, after beating Sri Lanka by 53 runs via the Duckworth-Lewis method at Bridgetown, Barbados. However, this wasn’t before the match was interrupted by everything — blundering officials, inclement weather, bad light and, most importantly, a hurricane originating more than 16,000 kms away at New South Wales. Jaideep Vaidya takes you through the bedlam.
It was a shambolic and farcical World Cup Final in the organisational sense. Keeping with the general reactions from local and visiting fans, who had blasted the organisers for sucking the Caribbean spirit out of the tournament for commercial reasons and other vested interests, the officials decided to save the best for last. Inclement weather in the Caribbean at the time ruined many games, there were complaints that the tournament was just dragging on and on with the end nowhere nowhere in sight, and the antipathy didn’t subside, of course, when both India and Pakistan were knocked out in the first round itself, but then that really was the teams’ own doing rather than the ICC’s. However, let’s talk about the cricket first, because there was enough of it — and quality stuff at that — to overshadow anything the ICC could cough up. Well, almost anything.
On a World Cup Final day that was almost ruined by Mr Weather’s untimely and uninvited arrival and later by the gloominess of the overcast twilight, the people who had stuck around at the Kensington Oval for the match had to endure a different hurricane out in the middle. And it even had a name. No, not Katrina, Irene or Wilma. This one was called Hurricane Adam; Hurricane Adam Gilchrist, to be precise.
The match was reduced to a 38-over-a-side affair after the rains had eaten away into the first four hours of play. Australia captain Ricky Ponting surprised many by deciding to bat first on a pitch that promised plenty of help to the fast bowlers early on. It looked a good batting pitch with plenty of runs, but the overcast conditions and the tinge of green on the surface begged to threaten the top-order batsmen of the team taking strike first.
Perhaps Ponting was preparing for the possibility of a premature ending due to bad light since the Kensington Oval did not have any floodlights, or perhaps he did not want to tamper with a winning formula — Australia had won their last two World Cup finals batting first. Ponting’s opposite number, Mahela Jayawardene, was mighty glad the decision was made for him. Whatever Ponting’s reasoning was, cricket fans around the world would thank him for his decision as he enabled millions to witness one of the finest innings ever played in the most important cricket match in the world.
Gilchrist strode out into the middle along with his opening partner of a 100 ODIs, Matthew Hayden, among loud cheers from the large Australian contingent, who had braved the weather, in the stands. The old warhorse, Chaminda Vaas, and the latest Sri Lankan bowling sensation, Lasith Malinga, took the new ball and started well, each conceding just two runs from their opening overs. Then, with no warning whatsoever, Gilchrist flicked the switch on.
Vaas drifted on middle-and-leg on the second ball of the third over and Gilchrist swiftly flicked him off his pads one-bounce for four to fine-leg. Vaas maintained the same line, but changed the length to a shorter variety next up. Bad idea, as Gilly powerfully drove it over wide long-on for the first six of the innings. Dilhara Fernando and his grunts were brought into the attack by Jayawardene soon, but it made no difference to Gilchrist who was in a different zone altogether. On 31, Gilchrist gave Sri Lanka a difficult chance to take his wicket when he drove Fernando right back towards the bowler’s ankles. Fernando could not get down in time, as Gilchrist lived to die another day and went on to punish the Lankans for their generosity. Fernando went for two fours and a massive six over long-on that same over.
Gilchrist’s third consecutive half-century in World Cup finals came up in the 13th over, bowled by Muttiah Muralitharan. The explosive left-hander had hit 54 from 36 balls against Pakistan at Lord’s in 1999, before clobbering India for 57 from 48 at Johannesburg four years later. Gilchrist’s hat-trick against the sub-continental neighbours was completed at Barbados in 43 balls, but he wasn’t done yet.
Gilchrist went on ticking landmark after landmark from there on. First up was the 100-run partnership between him and Hayden — their 16th overall, equalling the record set by Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar — via an uppish drive wide of long-off for four. In the 19th over, the duo skipped past Mike Brearley and Geoff Boycott’s 28-year-old record for the highest opening partnership in a World Cup final — 129. Then, in the 21st over, came the big one.
Malinga had been treated with a hint of caution by the Aussies in the four overs he had bowled thus far. It was the first time they were playing the ‘slinga’ and the two openers cautiously took just nine runs off his first spell. However, as Malinga ran in to bowl his fifth over, in the Batting Powerplay, the duo were ready for him this time. First, Hayden showed the first signs of aggression by carting the bowler over long-on for his first six. Gilly, on 96, then came in and spanked Malinga to the long-off fence to bring up his hundred — in just 72 balls. As he celebrated, his showed his left palm to the Australian dressing room and pointed to a lump inside the glove. As it turned out, it was a squash ball cosied up in there to help with his grip — an innovation of First-Class cricketer Robert Mueleman, we were to later learn.
Gilchrist went on to add 49 more runs to his score before mistiming a pull off Fernando and ended up being caught by Jayawardene, but not before he had plundered 42 from just 23 balls bowled by the right-handed pacer to him. It was the end of one of the finest ODI innings you would ever see, at least from a man who was 35 years old. “It was a brilliant innings,” agreed Jayawardene, after the match. “Unfortunately, I was the opposition captain looking at it.”
Australia went on to post 281 for four in their 38 overs, and from the body language of the Sri Lankan team walking back to the dressing room, the Australians had one hand on the trophy already.
It was evident that Sri Lanka’s hopes of winning their second cup, which had faded with each run hit by Gilly, lay in the hands of the top four batsmen. Upul Tharanga (6) did not do much, edging Nathan Bracken to Gilchrist for an easy catch early on. This brought Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara together. The duo went about building a vital partnership and brilliantly complemented each other in the middle. While Jayasuriya was the aggressor, for obvious reasons, Sangakkara was the anchor.
Jayasuriya murdered anything that came at him even a few millimetres outside off-stump. The cover and deep point boundaries were under constant bombardment from the strong forearms of the Matara Marauder, who slashed his blade viciously on his way to a half-century. Sangakkara followed suit in his own composed way, drilling the loose deliveries through the gaps and not going for anything extravagant.
However, in the 20th over, with the Lankans needing a further 165 from just 114 balls, Sangakkara went for the big pull off chinaman Brad Hogg and found the safest pair of hands in the Australian unit at short mid-wicket, Ricky Ponting. It brought an end to a 117-run partnership that had restocked the Sri Lankan fans with hope. However, it was to go downhill from there on as Jayasuriya did not last long either. Facing Michael Clarke’s part-time spin from around the wicket, the veteran batsman went for a reckless pull off a short-pitched delivery, and completely missed the ball which kept low. With Jayasuriya’s stumps shattered and a light drizzle beginning to get heavier, the Sri Lankan hopes soon washed away faster than a shanty in a flood.
From 123 for one, Sri Lanka slid to 206 for seven, needing an improbable 63 from 18 balls, before the umpires decided to offer light to the batsmen. The Lankans gladly accepted, as the Australians began celebrating their third straight World Cup win, given the 20 mandatory overs needed to force a result had been played. The ground-staff was seen ushering in the paraphernalia related to the post-match trophy presentation amidst almost pitch darkness, illuminated only by a thousand flashing cameras. Then, to the surprise of everyone at the Kensington Oval, umpire Aleem Dar was seen having an animated discussion with Ponting. “I thought Aleem was having a bit of a joke with us when he said it looks like we’d have to come back tomorrow and play three overs,” said the Australian captain, later. “I said, ‘Mate, we’ve played the 20 overs, we’ve actually finished the game.’”
Ponting’s pleas fell to deaf years and was later seen discussing the options with his opposite number, Jayawardene. The two captains eventually had to agree to play out the three remaining overs, but common sense prevailed, unlike with the officials, as Ponting agreed to bowl just spinners to the Sri Lankan tail-enders in the rapidly fading light. And just like that, Malinga and Vaas were back in the middle with their pads and gloves strapped back on. A man in dreadlocks was seen putting the 30-yard circles back in place as Andrew Symonds took the ball. The game ended 18 ridiculous balls later and the Australians won by 53 runs after Messrs Duckworth and Lewis did the mathematics. Providing a fitting summary of the tournament, the Aussies celebrated their cup win for the second time in 10 minutes.
The blundering officials were made out later and an embarrassed match-referee, Jeff Crowe, took majority of the blame, but suggested that Rudi Koertzen had played a significant role in the gaffe. “Rudi was talking about the allowances and talking about the possibility of tomorrow,” he said. “I don’t think it’s Rudi’s mistake, it’s a collective mistake.
“In hindsight, I should have known the rules and said the game had been called off,” he added. “I’m very embarrassed for the playing control team today. For me, the real confusion has come from the fact we were talking about resuming the game tomorrow, which was technically wrong.”
Not an idyllic ending to a World Cup final, but thankfully, the insanity towards the end was overshadowed by the Adam bomb. Gilchrist illuminated a dull Kensington Oval with his exuberance and panache, pushing everything else to the backseat as he helped Australia cruise along to yet another emphatic World Cup win.
His captain, probably, summed it up best: “As far as I’m concerned, he hasn’t played a better one,” said Ponting said. “He hardly missed the middle of the bat all day. Matty Hayden, who’s probably been batsman of the tournament (659 runs from 11 matches), was looking shaky and scratchy and pretty ordinary at the other end. The one difference between the teams today was Gilly’s innings. To be able to go out and play like that in a final says a lot about the bloke.”
Australia 281 for 4 in 38 overs (Adam Gilchrist 149, Matthew Hayden 37; Lasith Malinga 2 for 37) beat Sri Lanka 215 for 8 in 36 overs (Sanath Jayasuriya 63, Kumar Sangakkara 54; Michael Clarke 2 for 33) by 53 runs (D/L method).
(Jaideep Vaidya is a multiple sports buff and a writer at CricketCountry. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn’t fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog - The Mullygrubber )