|Photos||Video & Audio||Blogs||Statistics||Archive||Shop||Mobile|
March 14, 2007
Glenn McGrath said it would have been one of the biggest upsets of all time. It wasn't. Instead Scotland were dispatched in a predictably perfunctory fashion, as Australia brought their five-match ODI losing streak to a suitably emphatic end. A margin of 203 runs was the second largest in the history of the World Cup. Such ruthlessness was the very least that Ricky Ponting would have demanded of his men.
It's been an uneasy month for Australia. The surrendering of their No. 1 status has coincided with a run of injuries that would have ruined sides of lesser resolve, and one trouble-free victory over such limited opponents as the Scots cannot yet dispel the doubters. Shaun Tait was quick and nasty in his eight-over spell, but he has not yet convinced as a sure-fire replacement for Brett Lee, while the degree of turn that Brad Hodge extracted in his six overs was evidence that Andrew Symonds' recuperation cannot come quickly enough.
But for today, it was enough just to play from memory, and in Ponting and McGrath, Australia have two cricketers who can hardly recall what it is to fail in a World Cup. Both have been ever-present since the start of the 1996 campaign in the subcontinent - a tournament in which they tripped up only in the final - and their sheer know-how was enough to put this contest beyond any shred of doubt.
McGrath is such an old bloodsniffer. The emotion of his valedictory appearances in the CB Series last month all but overwhelmed him, but today he had regained his focus and was utterly unfazed by Scotland's meagre challenge. On Tuesday he was talking animatedly about his determination to overhaul Wasim Akram in the all-time list of World Cup wicket-takers. He reduced his requirement by a quarter with three of the cheapest wickets he's ever picked up. The Netherlands are next in his sights, and Wasim's grip on the record weakens by the over.
"Glenn's made it pretty public he'd like to be taking the new ball at the moment," Ponting said at the close, "but he's such a great bowler and an utter professional, and you know what you're going to get from game to game. There was a bit of bounce for him today - he exposed that - and as the tournament goes on, if there's a bit of moisture early on then he'll probably take the new ball as he'll be pretty dangerous."
Ponting too has more slices of history in his grasp. In the space of an innings, he rumbled past four World Cup legends - Mark Waugh (1004), Viv Richards (1013), Aravinda de Silva (1064) and Javed Miandad (1083) - and is now comfortably parked in second place on the list of tournament run-scorers, behind only the matchless Sachin Tendulkar (1732).
This was his fourth World Cup century - a record-equalling achievement - and his second in consecutive innings, following his extraordinary unbeaten 140 in the 2003 final. "These are the things I look back on at the end of my career," he said. "I don't worry too much about them now. Hopefully I've got another ten or 11 games in this World Cup, and if I play in all of those I should be sitting near the top of that run-chart."
Against such a tide of experience, Scotland could never be expected to compete, although for 45 overs of Australia's innings they did their best. Good, basic cricket was Scotland's watchword, and in the sterling efforts of Paul Hoffmann and Craig Wright in particular, they produced it. Nothing flash whatsoever, merely naggingly accurate wicket-to-wicket bowling, backed up by the skills of Colin Smith, who stood up to the stumps.
It was disciplined stuff, aside from the odd aberration - most notably Smith's failure to hold on to an edge when Ponting was 23 - but it was a limited strategy with limited scope for success. "I think we were realistic about the challenge," Scotland's captain Wright said. "These were world-class players and a world-class team, and to play against that level of opposition is not something we often get the opportunity to do. Next week we've got another opportunity against South Africa, and hopefully we'll raise our game for that."
Ponting's disdain for the challenge of the lesser teams has been thinly disguised, but he was philosophical about the benefits of such one-sided contests. "If they have got something out of the game that they can use throughout the tournament, or when they go back to Scotland, that's what it's all about," he said. "We need the game to be strong throughout the world. It wasn't so long ago Sri Lanka were in that same situation, and look where they are today. If Scotland can take something out of today, then that's good for the game around the world."