In the year that Australia introduced a brewer, Carlton & United, as the new sponsor for their one-day international series, the home side produced a performance that went totally flat. Australia failed to qualify for the finals for the first time since the World Series' inaugural year in 1979-80, when West Indies and England squeezed them out. This time they lagged behind West Indies and Pakistan, and it was Pakistan who won the trophy, for the first time in six attempts.
It seemed a formality that Australia would make the finals when they won their first two games. But they then lost five in a row to make their last match, a victory over Pakistan, a non-event. Before that win Australia had lost 11 of their last 13 one-day games and pundits were asking whether the side that once led the world in this form of cricket had been overtaken by teams playing with more spark and invention. Senior players were privately concerned that team-mates were playing conservatively, to protect their places, rather than displaying the type of bravado and risk-taking exemplified by World Cup holders Sri Lanka. Unusually, their fielding at times slipped below the standard of the opposition.
In contrast, Pakistan's dazzling fleet of young go-getters were a joy to watch. Leg-spinner Shahid Afridi introduced a rocket-like faster ball which snared a bagful of wickets, off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq troubled batsmen with a mystery ball that turned away from the right-handers, and batsman Mohammad Wasim displayed the cool calculation his top order tended to lack. As usual, Pakistan could be brilliant or terrible, with not much in between, but Saqlain was a dominant force throughout the competition, challenging the notion that off-spinners were becoming the dinosaurs of the modern game.
West Indies' form reversed Australia's - they lost two matches, won their next five to head the table, then lost their last qualifier and went on to lose the finals. Brian Lara was judged man of the series for a mid-tournament form surge which included two centuries and lit up his summer... but only briefly: he struggled for most of the Test series.
Match reports for
2nd Match: Australia v West Indies at Sydney, Dec 8, 1996