The second NatWest Series, this time offering England the opportunity to test their capabilities against two of the best one-day sides in the world, ended as it began, with crowd trouble overshadowing a level of performance that the hosts never threatened to match. The beer can that thudded into Michael Bevan's cheek, as the Australians gathered on the Lord's Pavilion balcony to receive the NatWest Series Trophy, provided a symbolic signature to a tournament that disturbed as much as it entertained.
The cricket at times was breathtaking. Australia set a template for a new style of one-day cricket. Instead of frustrating the opposition with defensive bowling and field-settings, they played attacking cricket more akin to the opening session of a Test match, and Pakistan, led by a rejuvenated Waqar Younis, were almost as impressive. England, weakened by the loss of key players, were pedestrian in comparison and, after six successive defeats, opened an inquest into their long-term one-day strategy in the build-up to the 2003 World Cup.
Sadly, it was not the only inquiry to result from the tournament. Pakistan's frenzied supporters crossed the line between enthusiasm and unacceptable behaviour too often. They interrupted the opening day/night encounter against England in Birmingham, caused a steward to be taken to hospital with rib injuries at Headingley, and provoked Steve Waugh, the Australian captain, into leading his side off the field at Trent Bridge. Even after security had been tightened for the final at Lord's, the beer can thrown at the players during the presentation ceremony left Bevan with a mark on his cheek, and a sour taste on the competition as a whole.
Waugh, who had previous experience of crowd invasions during a tour of the West Indies shortly before the 1999 World Cup, repeatedly voiced his concern about security on English grounds. ECB chief executive Tim Lamb rejected Waugh's suggestion that the English authorities did not regard crowd invasions as a safety issue - and claimed after the Edgbaston match that the board were doing everything they could to ensure there was no repetition. Although it was thought at the time that the authorities were hindered by lack of legislation that would allow prosecution for encroachment of the playing field, the later inquiry into the disturbances concluded that existing laws were, in fact, strong enough, and ruled out introducing tougher ones.
Nor did England's fortunes on the pitch provide a much needed distraction from the off-field problems. Already without captain Nasser Hussain and all-rounder Craig White through injury, they lost their most influential batsman, Graham Thorpe, with a calf strain in the warm-up for the opening match, leaving in disarray their plans to introduce new talent alongside senior players. Alec Stewart, as he had the previous year, accepted the opportunity to lead the side; Surrey team-mates Ben Hollioake and Ally Brown were recalled, and Owais Shah of Middlesex and Durham's Paul Collingwood given their first taste of international cricket.
The comprehensive opening defeat by Pakistan under Edgbaston's lights, once Waqar had personally appealed to the crowd to leave the field and allow the match to be completed, set the tone for England's performances. Unable to restrict the attacking strokeplay of Inzamam-ul-Haq, Saeed Anwar and Azhar Mahmood, they then struggled in reply against opponents vastly more experienced in these situations. Better displays against Australia and Pakistan in the next two games, resulting in last-over defeats, proved a false dawn; England's performances grew steadily worse while their opponents set ever-increasing standards of excellence. Only Marcus Trescothick and Nick Knight passed 200 runs for England in the tournament, while the bowling provided little penetration beyond the established trio Darren Gough, Andrew Caddick and Alan Mullally.
Australia, by contrast, more than lived up to their status as world champions, growing stronger with every game and, after dismissing England for their lowest ever total of 86 at Old Trafford, went on to complete a comfortable final victory over Pakistan, as they had two years previously in the World Cup. Their bowling attack was irrepressible. Jason Gillespie and Glenn McGrath's consistent accuracy enabled them to bowl to Test-match fields, while Brett Lee, working his way back to fitness following an elbow operation, demonstrated lightning-fast pace. The batsmen were equally impressive, with Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting each averaging more than 90 and, later in the tournament, Adam Gilchrist displaying the destructive strokeplay that would soon light up the Ashes series.
For Pakistan, Waqar rose to the responsibilities of leading the side and finished as the tournament's leading wicket-taker with 17. Two days after claiming seven for 36 against England at Headingley, the second-best one-day international figures yet, he took six for 59 against Australia at Trent Bridge to inspire the world champions' only defeat of the competition.
Match reports for
6th Match: Australia v Pakistan at Chester-le-Street, Jun 16, 2001