Australia win anti-climactic final
World Cup No. 7
Minnows Scotland , Kenya, Bangladesh
Not so much tinkering as a complete revamp. The 12 entrants were split into two groups, and the top three in each group went into the Super Six, carrying with them the points they had earned against the two teams who had also qualified from their group. They then played the qualifying teams from the other group, creating a final all-played-all league table, with the top four going into the semi-finals. Confused? Most people were.
The Super Sixes were enough for everyone. The flaws became glaringly obvious as washed-out matches skewed the groups, and somehow Zimbabwe qualified at the top of their group as their defeats in the first stage came against sides who were eliminated. The organisers also hit on the idea of putting on an opening ceremony so dire as to make people long for the overblown hype of three years earlier.
Australia, the favourites, struggled, losing to Pakistan and New Zealand, and thereafter needed to win every game to avoid elimination. However, their match against West Indies was a coordinated farce, with the complex points system persuading Australia to aim for a narrow win to ensure both of them went through at New Zealand's expense - at one stage, chasing a paltry 111, Australia scored 12 runs in 10 overs. England, with home advantage, were surprisingly eliminated, mainly because Zimbabwe sprung two major upsets, defeating India and South Africa, while Sri Lanka, the holders, never remotely looked like staging anything resembling a meaningful defence. Bangladesh's defeat of Pakistan in a dead rubber sparked justified celebrations ... but deep suspicion has since been cast over the result.
The system of carrying forward points earned against other qualifiers meant Zimbabwe headed the table before a match had been played, although they were beaten in all three games and eliminated. India, handicapped by qualifying without a point, went out despite a convincing victory over Pakistan, and Australia also had to come from a standing start, only securing a semi-final place against South Africa with a five-wicket win in their final match against ... South Africa. Pakistan topped the group, despite only winning one Super Six match (against Zimbabwe). New Zealand also went through with a solitary win.
At Old Trafford, Pakistan's Saeed Anwar (113*) and Wajahatullah Wasti (84) made light of overhauling New Zealand's 241 for 7 in a nine-wicket win, leaving those non-Pakistanis who had paid £120 to touts for a ticket a little short-changed. The other match at Edgbaston was a classic, with South Africa seemingly assured of victory in a see-saw contest when Lance Klusener, needing nine to win off the final over, crashed Damien Fleming's first two deliveries for four. Klusener tried a sharp single from the fourth ball, Allan Donald failed to hear his call and was run-out by half the length of the pitch. Even though the match was tied, Australia reached the final as they had finished higher in the Super Sixes.
"An unworthy match produced worthy winners," noted Wisden Cricket M onthly. The game was eagerly anticipated, even though the Lord's crowd was more corporate than enthusiasts, but a contest that had started at 11.15, half an hour late, was all over by 4.35 because Pakistan, the most exciting side in the tournament, had gone to pieces when it mattered most.
The cast list of those bowing out was impressive, not least a brace of Waughs from Australia , West Indies ' Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose (who topped the list of most economical bowlers), and Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva from Sri Lanka's victorious 1996 side. Three others were making a World Cup farewell, not that we knew it at the time - Shane Warne missed 2003 after failing a drugs test and then retired from one-day cricket, while Mohammad Azharuddin and Hansie Cronje fell from grace after being embroiled in the match-fixing scandal
Rahul Dravid topped the run scorers in his first tournament with 461; Klusener set the tournament alight with his clubbing; Zimbabwe's Neil Johnson showed his allround class with 367 runs and 12 wickets.
Not to be forgotten
The spread-betting companies failed to allow for the swinging white Dukes ball - one estimated 240 to 260 wides in advance and were taken to the cleaners when there turned out to be 979; wildly enthusiastic support for the Asian countries, not seen in any of the three previous English World Cups; Some dodgy planning which hoisted the ECB by its own petard - they got greedy and ended up with sponsor slots unfilled ... they also managed to release the official tournament single the day after England had been eliminated.