Having beaten Pakistan and India 3-0 in each Test series earlier in the summer, Australia confirmed their ranking as the No. 1 in both forms of the game by dominating the one-day Carlton & United Series. They only lost once, to Pakistan right at the start, and, completely overwhelmed them in the finals.
Steve Waugh's Australians had the tournament's outstanding bowler in Glenn McGrath, who took 19 wickets at 15.31, and there was excellent back-up from the Lee brothers, Shane and Brett (16 each). Shane Warne's absence through injury for most of the qualifying games went unnoticed. As for the batsmen, someone was always in control, whether it was Ricky Ponting, who top-scored with 404 runs in spite of three successive mid-term ducks, Michael Bevan, Mark Waugh or Adam Gilchrist. India's Sourav Ganguly, with 356 runs from seven games, rivalled them as a main attraction, and the young Pakistani, Abdur Razzaq, shone as an all-rounder, scoring 225 runs and taking 14 wickets - sufficient to win him the Man of the Series award.
The one-sided nature of the tournament soon became apparent. India in particular were a disappointing side, out of sorts much of the time, and managed only one win in eight games. After their opening match, and a flight from Brisbane to Melbourne, Sachin Tendulkar, their captain, criticised the non-stop schedule. "It's unfair," he said. "If you want to see quality cricket, you need to give the players recovery time." Tendulkar's own sketchy form, 198 runs at 24.75, undoubtedly contributed to his team's malaise.
Although the series began with a degree of controversy, nothing matched the inflammatory circumstances of the previous season, when Muttiah Muralitharan was called for throwing. A fuse was laid, waiting for a torch, when the ICC lifted its suspension of the Pakistani fast bowler, Shoaib Akhtar, but it was never lit.
The ban was imposed after a nine-man ICC panel, acting on doubts raised by the umpires and referee during the Test series against Australia, ruled that Shoaib's action was sometimes illegal. Suspicion centred on his bouncer, which it was said he threw. Pakistan, however, appealed to the ICC, in particular to the president, Jagmohan Dalmiya, and cricket chairman Sir Clyde Walcott, and included Shoaib in their squad. The suspension, claimed the Pakistan Cricket Board's secretary, Shafqat Rana, was racially motivated. While his team-mates prepared for the series by losing to Australia A and Queensland, Shoaib remained in Perth to work on his action.
The likeliest outcome was that Shoaib would return to Pakistan without playing. Instead, the ICC relented on the eve of the tournament. By some strange logic, it was decided that an illegal action need not be considered so if the resulting delivery is a no-ball. "Since bouncers are not used in one-day cricket," Dalmiya reasoned, "as these are called no-balls, it would be best to permit Shoaib to play for Pakistan in the triangular series. Remedial coaching will be continued by the Pakistan board."
Meanwhile, Darrell Hair, one of the umpires who drew attention to Shoaib's action (and who called Muralitharan seven times at Melbourne in December 1995) rebutted claims that he and his colleagues on Australia's five-man international panel were biased and racist. In a statement read by Hair at a pre-series meeting of team officials in Brisbane, convened by the tournament referee, Cammie Smith, the umpires expressed their discontent with the criticism. The most apparent consequence of the statement was that Hair was not selected to stand in the final matches.
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