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Australia's home one-day season featured all the emotional turmoil and lingering unrest of a divorce - because that is precisely what it was. After 26 years of regarding one-day cricket and Test matches as bedfellows, Australia decided it was time for a split in the family.
Having won only one in three of their limited-overs matches since the 1996 World Cup, Australia embraced and enhanced a new world trend. The Australian Cricket Board told the selectors to pick a specialist one-day side who could be moulded into a world-beating force for the 1999 World Cup. And, amid enormous controversy, they chose separate captains for the Test and one-day teams.
A universal rating as Test cricket's most dynamic captain did not save Mark Taylor from the sack; wicket-keeper Ian Healy was also axed. Steve Waugh became Australia's new one-day captain and, with his brother Mark, and Shane Warne, formed the experienced core of a team which, on occasion, featured as few as four regular Test players. The side took time to gel, and the plan looked doomed when Australia lost two of their first three games. A Sydney newspaper put mug shots of Australia's three selectors on its back page under the headline "Wanted for incompetence". But Australia rallied late to win the competition, coming from behind to beat South Africa in the best-of-three finals.
For most of the series, it seemed South Africa's one-day team had the "we can win from anywhere" feel that characterises Australia's Test team; while Australia's one-day side had the "we just can't quite get over the line" mentality that dripped off South Africa in the Test series. But such are the vagaries of a three-team competition that Australia managed to win the trophy despite losing six games and winning only five - beating South Africa who won eight, lost only three and defeated Australia the first five times they played. This was one of those rare summers when winning didn't justify everything.
Not for the first time, South Africa paid the price for trying to field their top team in every game, ignoring the chance to introduce fresh, high-qualify replacements. The schedule wore them down but they were, without doubt, the best team of the one-day summer. Opener Gary Kirsten was named Man of the Tournament.
Though they won only two games - their first, against South Africa, and their last, against Australia, New Zealand put up a good fight throughout. They were pipped by one run, two runs and with two balls to spare in desperate finishes which drained their morale without ever quite driving them to despair.
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