Joint-favourites for the event when it commenced, Australia duly won the World Cup in 1999. But that bland statement covers up an exciting roller-coaster of a ride towards the title triumph. Down and virtually out as the preliminary stage concluded, Australia displayed nerves of steel, a never-say-die attitude and some sparkling cricket to become only the second team besides the West Indies to win the trophy twice.

Once again there were 12 participating teams, placed in two groups. The nine Test-playing nations were joined by Kenya, Bangladesh and Scotland. While Group A comprised England, India, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Kenya and Zimbabwe, Group B comprised Australia, Bangladesh, Scotland, Pakistan, West Indies and New Zealand. The top three in each group qualified for the Super Six stage that was played on a league basis, and the top four made it to the knock-out semi-finals.

Steve Waugh
© CricInfo
The sluggish manner in which Australia started their campaign did not augur well for them. After their expected victory over minnows Scotland, they went down to New Zealand by five wickets and to Pakistan by ten runs. At this stage, Australia were in danger of being knocked out at the preliminary stage. An emphatic win over Bangladesh -­ a target of 179 being reached with 30.1 overs to spare -­ still left them with a tough match against the West Indies. Here Australia pulled off a strategic six-wicket victory, deliberately batting slowly in reaching a modest target of 111 in as many as 40.4 overs. Australia slowed their chase to a crawl, doing just enough to ensure they would enter the Super Six on net run-rate while enabling West Indies to improve their own side of the equation against New Zealand. Under tournament rules, Australia would retain points won against fellow qualifiers into the Super Six stage. The intentional tactic became a hot debating point, but the fact remained that Australia squeezed into the Super Six, pushing New Zealand into third spot on net run-rate. But they still entered the second stage carrying no points and faced an uphill task.

From now on however there was no stopping Australia. They lifted their game and successively defeated India by 77 runs and Zimbabwe by 44 runs. However they still had to beat South Africa in their final Super Six game to edge New Zealand out. At 48 for three in reply to South Africa's 271 for seven in 50 overs, it seemed like curtains for the Australians. But Steve Waugh stroked his way to a marvellous, unbeaten 120 after being dropped by Herschelle Gibbs on 56, perhaps the most expensive missed catch in World Cup history as later events proved. Australia won by five wickets, with two deliveries to spare, and a rematch followed in the semi-final.

This turned out to be the match of the tournament. In a pulsating finish, the teams were all out for the same total of 213. The tie meant that Australia edged out South Africa for a place in the final, the crucial fact being that they finished higher in the Super Six table ­- second to third -­ and that was determined by net run-rate. The pressures behind them, Australia demolished Pakistan with single-minded ruthlessness in the title clash, winning by eight wickets with 30 overs to spare. The Waugh brothers were the twin batting pillars, Steve getting 398 and Mark 375, each notching up a century. Not far behind was Ricky Ponting with 354. Australia was also well served in the bowling department. Shane Warne, with 20 victims, emerged as joint leading wicket taker in the tournament with Glenn McGrath (18) not far behind. The fast bowler also had the best figures of the competition -­ five for 14 against the West Indies.

South Africa were also unfortunate in that after making much of the early running for the third successive World Cup, they were eliminated before the final. In the preliminary stage, apart from one shock loss to Zimbabwe, they did little wrong and easily topped their group. In the Super Six, they continued their good form by defeating Pakistan and New Zealand and at this stage looked the team to beat for the title. Then came that crunching defeat against Australia followed by the heart-breaking tie against the same opponents in the semi-finals, ending their campaign with a suddenness that was shattering. Lance Klusener was their star performer, with his bludgeoning hitting towards the end of the innings, and he finished the tournament with a strike rate of 122.17. Along with Allan Donald he figured prominently in the bowling department too. He had 17 wickets including a spell of five for 21 against Kenya while Donald took 16. Gibbs (341) and Jacques Kallis (312) were the leading batsmen.

If South Africa had the right to feel disappointed at the final outcome, Pakistan ended the tournament with mixed feelings. Rated third by the bookies on the eve of the competition, they reached their fifth semi-final and second final. In the preliminary stage they won their first four matches before going down to Bangladesh in a shock defeat. Comfortably topping the pool however, Pakistan were on top of the points table as the Super Six commenced.

At this second stage Pakistan lost to South Africa and India, but qualified for the penultimate round with a whopping 148-run victory over Zimbabwe. And the manner in which they coasted to a nine-wicket win over New Zealand marked them out as the right team to take on Australia in the title clash. In the allimportant game, however, Pakistan never had a chance after being dismissed for 132 in 39 overs, and Australia romped home in the most lop-sided World Cup final ever.

But Pakistan had their share of outstanding performers. Saeed Anwar got two hundreds on his way to an aggregate of 368 while their five-man attack of Saqlain Mushtaq (17), Shoaib Akhtar (16), Wasim Akram (15), Abdur Razzaq (13) and Azhar Mahmood (13) all finished among the wickets. Pakistan also had the outstanding wicket-keeper of the tournament in Moin Khan, who had 16 dismissals.

New Zealand, in making their fourth World Cup semi-finals, played much good cricket. They finished third in their group, the highlight being their upset victory over Australia. In the Super Six stage a no result, a defeat and a victory was enough to earn them a place in the penultimate round, where they were swept aside by Pakistan. New Zealand's leading batsman was Roger Twose, who aggregated 318 runs, but their best player was probably Geoff Allott. The left arm medium-pacer, with a tally of 20 wickets, finished joint leading wicket taker with Warne.

Zimbabwe were the surprise packet of the tournament. Not given a chance of proceeding beyond the preliminary stage in a heavyweight group, Zimbabwe upset India and South Africa, not only qualifying for the Super Six but, along with Pakistan, carrying through four points. With this sort of start, even one victory in three matches at the second stage would have seen Zimbabwe through to the last four. But they did their cause no good with one no result and two defeats, and bowed out of the competition. Their outstanding player was opener Neil Johnson, who aggregated 367 runs including a gallant unbeaten 132 against Australia at Lord's.

India's campaign commenced amid unprecedented media hype. It was made out that with a team of superstars, they had a realistic chance of regaining the World Cup after 16 years. Not long after the tournament commenced, it was accepted that the hype was largely unrealistic. With losses to South Africa and Zimbabwe, India were immediately on the back foot and though they came back strongly with successive victories over Kenya, Sri Lanka and England, it was obvious that there were chinks in their armour. They finished second to South Africa in the group standings, but started the Super Six with no points. Needing to produce something out of the ordinary to proceed to the knock out stage, they lost to both Australia and New Zealand, and a consolation win against Pakistan did not help.

India finished at the bottom of the Super Six table. In the end it was a disappointing campaign, especially considering that they provided some of the most joyful moments of the tournament. Whatever the weakness of the bowling, the batting was a treat. Rahul Dravid, with 461 runs, was the leading scorer in the competition. Sourav Ganguly, with 379, was not far behind. Ganguly got two hundreds while Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Ajay Jadeja got one each. No other country had more than two centuries. Moreover, Ganguly's 183 against Sri Lanka was the highest score of the competition, and the second-highest score in World Cup history. The next two highest scores were Dravid's 145 against the same opponents and Tendulkar's unbeaten 140 against Kenya. India's 373 for six against Sri Lanka was the secondhighest total in one-day internationals, while the second-wicket partnership of 318 between Ganguly and Dravid in the same match was the highest in any ODI. A poignant touch was added to Tendulkar's knock against Kenya, compiled just a day after he had come back from Bombay following his father's funeral. But the mediocrity of their bowling meant that India's campaign could not go beyond the Super Six stage.

Lance Klusener
© CricInfo
Holders Sri Lanka had a nightmarish experience. The championshipwinning side of 1996 simply broke up, as both the batting and bowling failed. With a record of two wins and three losses they finished fifth in their group. England, after looking sure of a place in the Super Six after wins early in the tournament, were edged out by their defeat at the hands of India, as well as by Zimbabwe's upset win over South Africa. Likewise in Group B, West Indies were challenging for a place in the Super Six until they were edged out by both Australia and New Zealand. They did however have the satisfaction of registering the quickest victory in an ODI. They won their game against Scotland in just three hours. Scotland were shot out for 68 in 31.3 overs and West Indies raced to victory in 10.1 overs.

Kenya and Scotland, not unexpectedly, lost all their five matches. Bangladesh, however, notched up a point on behalf of the associate members by their victory over Pakistan. They defeated Scotland too and had the statistical satisfaction of a record of two wins, three defeats and four points.