Series review

The World Cup 2006-07

Tony Cozier

1. Australia 2. Sri Lanka 3= New Zealand and South Africa

Adam Gilchrist smacks a six in his 72-ball hundred during the World Cup final © Getty Images

In securing the World Cup for the third successive time, an unprecedented hat-trick, Australia set standards of power and perfection beyond even West Indies in their supremacy of the tournament's formative years.

The statistics were awesome and they did not lie. Victorious in all their 11 matches, Australia plundered over 300 whenever they batted first on their way to the final, where they amassed 281 for four from their weathershortened 38 overs. They never yielded more than six wickets and won by more than 200 runs three times, more than 100 once more. Four of their batsmen featured in the top ten run-scorers, four of their bowlers in the top seven wicket-takers.

Matthew Hayden and Glenn McGrath headed the two lists, and McGrath - at 37, in his fourth World Cup and his last international appearance - was fittingly named Player of the Tournament. From Adam Gilchrist, Australia could boast an innings of awesome authority: in the final, he scored 149 off 104 balls, higher than any of the four hundreds in previous finals. Combined, Australia's batting averaged 66 runs per wicket, scored 6.5 runs an over and hit 67 sixes, figures well in excess of their nearest rivals. And all under Ricky Ponting, a dynamic captain who emulated Clive Lloyd in raising the cup for the second time.

Australia had won all their games, too, in their 2003 triumph in South Africa, but had to fight then to overcome England and New Zealand. On arrival in the Caribbean, McGrath announced that their aim in 2003 had been to win; now it was to dominate. It seemed like so much bluff at the time. Australia had come off six defeats in seven one-day internationals, three to England in surrendering the Commonwealth Bank Series at home, three in the annual Chappell-Hadlee Trophy in New Zealand, where Brett Lee, a key bowler, injured an ankle severely enough to be ruled out of the World Cup. Those results pushed them down to No. 2 behind South Africa in the International Cricket Council's one-day rankings. As it turned out, they had simply timed their slump perfectly before coming again.

"They made a lot of good teams look bad" was the simple assessment of Mahela Jayawardene, captain of the admirable runners-up, Sri Lanka. Such an extraordinary performance would normally have defined any global event. Instead, it was overshadowed by a succession of setbacks, from beginning to end and even beyond, that blighted the first such major extravaganza staged in the cricketing Caribbean, an undertaking which cost the nine participating governments a total of $US700m to meet the exacting requirements of the ICC.

Even Australia's crowning glory was spoiled by rain, in Barbados of all places, which resulted in the first of the nine finals to be abbreviated, and by the bungling of the supposedly elite match officials who mistakenly prolonged the finish into the darkness of night at the rebuilt Kensington Oval, to the bewilderment of the players and the 20,000 spectators, among them several thousand celebrating Australians.

Two months later, the ICC penalised referee Jeff Crowe and umpires Steve Bucknor, Aleem Dar, Rudi Koertzen and Billy Bowden for their inexplicable misinterpretation of a basic regulation: they were omitted from the panel for the World Twenty20 championship in South Africa in September. Overall, the umpiring was good, but not on the big occasion. Not everyone would agree with ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed's assertion that dropping the five officials was "a proportionate measure".

It was an ending that typified the tournament. The mantra of Chris Dehring, head of the management company set up by the West Indies Cricket Board, that it would be "the best World Cup ever" was no more than a pipe dream; it soon turned into a protracted nightmare. The ICC and the WICB were widely held responsible for the many shortcomings, a point emphasised when Speed, Dehring and WICB president Ken Gordon were booed at the presentation ceremony after the final in the dimly lit stadium.

Yet not all the problems that cropped up on an almost daily basis could be laid at their feet. Several were entirely unexpected and unavoidable. Indeed, the most common apprehension before the tournament was how such small, underdeveloped territories, all with their own governments and currencies, widely scattered across the Caribbean Sea down to Guyana on the South American mainland, could cope with such a mammoth task.

"Logistical nightmare" was the phrase used by sceptics, conscious of the insularity that divides the former British colonies in every endeavour but cricket, the laid-back attitude of the people, the limitations of hotel accommodation in most venues and, not least, the unreliability of regional air transportation.

As it was, Ehsan Mani, the ICC's immediate past president, could say at the end that "The organisation of the 2007 World Cup was the best I have seen." Barbados prime minister Owen Arthur termed it "a tremendous success", and Gordon boasted that "We have done it when people didn't think we could." Such assessments were hardly impartial but, against most expectations, stadiums were completed on time, teams were delivered to their destinations in order and with baggage intact, customs and immigration formalities were considerably smoother than usual and, as in South Africa, the 4,000 volunteer workers were a credit for their amiable efficiency.

The ultimate success or failure of the World Cup will be judged by the host countries on what returns come from the massive investment, for the game generally and for the improved infrastructure. Gordon was "optimistic enough to hope" that the WICB's $US15m debt would be erased when the audited accounts were finally in, allowing the board to carry out development plans that had had to be shelved. "I think the performance has been more or less what we expected it to be," he said. "We do not expect any unpleasant surprises."

A preliminary International Monetary Fund report was less confident.

"The net effect of the Cricket World Cup could well be negative in light of its heavy fiscal costs and the already high public debt burdens in the region," it said.

These were not considerations that prompted Simon Barnes, chief sports writer of The Times, to dismiss it as "the worst sporting event in history" and former England player Angus Fraser to state in The Independent that it "failed to live up to most of its pre-event hype".

The first disaster came six days into the competition: the death of the widely respected Pakistan coach and former England batsman Bob Woolmer, in his Kingston hotel room, hours after Pakistan were eliminated at the group stage by a shock loss to Ireland.

It became even more serious four days later, with the Jamaican police's stunning declaration that Woolmer had been murdered, a development that placed the tournament itself in doubt and triggered as many conspiracy theories as the Kennedy assassination.

The cloud hung ominously over the event, and more especially the Pakistan players, throughout, and well past its conclusion. It was not until June 12, nearly three months after the police's original announcement of death by strangulation and the consequent alternative opinions - implicating a matchfixing mafia and including poisoning by an ancient formula familiar to Harry Potter fans - that Jamaica's police commissioner, Lucius Thomas, finally acknowledged that Woolmer, a diabetic with heart problems, had actually succumbed to natural causes. The same deduction had been made by informed Jamaicans, and many outsiders, from the start.

In between, there were several other hitches, if none quite so dramatic. Some were equally unforeseen, others predictable even before a ball was bowled. Altogether, they explained the general dissatisfaction. The early exits of Pakistan and India (first-round victims of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) removed two attractive, long-established teams and several star players, while Bangladesh and Ireland, enthusiastic and deserving but anonymous outsiders, advanced. Such a double blow undermined the considerable outlay of the main subcontinental sponsors and television networks, and created a flood of cancelled airline, hotel and ticket bookings.

Supporters, thousands of them from the Indian and Pakistani expatriate communities in the nearby United States and Canada, had salivated for months over the prematurely scheduled Super Eight clash between the archrivals in Barbados. Bangladesh against Ireland was not an alternative they could accept.

The consequent financial losses were widespread. Hotels were left with unfilled rooms, as were residents who had been encouraged to spruce up their homes to provide bed and breakfast for the expected overflow. The Barbados government had to flog cabin space at reduced prices on a cruise liner it had leased for $US30m to accommodate the expected Indian influx. Only 800 of the anticipated 5,500 eventually turned up. Even West Indies captain Brian Lara was affected. His recently acquired plantation house, set on 18 acres in Barbados, had been leased to sponsors for three elaborate functions which were cancelled once India departed.

By then, it was obvious from the sprawling emptiness at the impressive - and expensive - new and renovated stadiums that the local organising committees had misjudged the ability of their own people to afford the high ticket prices - varying from $US20 to $120 for the first round to $130 to $390 for the final. In South Africa four years earlier, prices for the final ranged from about $30 to $50. Gordon stated 672,000 tickets were sold, generating revenue of $32m, but attendances totalled only 445,000.

Neutral, group-stage matches, particularly those involving the likes of Canada, Holland, Scotland and Bermuda, had little appeal to West Indians, a consideration that did not seem to be appreciated. The message became clearer when no more than half the 20,000 seats were taken at the brand new Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua for West Indies' first Super Eight match - although the home team had won all three of their first-round matches, and were meeting the champions, Australia, whose recent record against them (in tournaments in Malaysia and India) was a narrow 3-2. The inaccessibility and lack of character of the purpose-built stadiums in Antigua and Guyana, both well away from the capitals, contrasted with the cosy charm of the centrally located Recreation Ground and Bourda which they replaced. Strict regulations everywhere also conspired to spoil the usual Caribbean revelry, before public and media pressure prompted officials to relent. No alcoholic drinks could be taken through the gates (a ban defied by Trinidadians who sneaked in their rum in plastic suncream bottles); musical instruments had to be pre-vetted; conch shells - an identifiable sound of West Indian cricket - were disallowed, as they were deemed a potential weapon; and, initially, no pass-out tickets were issued.

The liveliest place in the early stages was Sabina Park, where an Irish contingent of around 1,000 joyously celebrated their spirited team's tie with Zimbabwe and nerve-racking victory over Pakistan, appropriately on St Patrick's Day, which sent them into the next stage - the Super Eights - on their World Cup debut.

It was not until the show reached Grenada and Barbados for the last rounds of the Super Eights, after the organisers finally relaxed their strictures, that the carnival mood returned and two of its best-known characters, MacFingall and Gravy, could again lead their bugle-blowing, multinational conga lines through the popular stands at Kensington Oval.

In all, the tournament dragged on for 47 days, as long as the last Olympic Games and football World Cup put together. It was a duration dictated by the increase from 14 teams in 2003 to 16 and the introduction of reserve days in case of bad weather. As it was, only one of the 51 matches carried over into a second day.

All thoroughly yawning. The length of the 2007 World Cup came under heavy fire © AFP

South African coach Mickey Arthur complained that "the length of the tournament and the time between games didn't allow us to get momentum". His team endured seven days between their last Super Eight match and their loss to Australia in the semi-final. West Indies were idle for eight days

Security was understandably tight, given the safety fears that have haunted all such sporting occasions since the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, not to mention the sponsors' demands for utmost vigilance against ambush marketing. It was also often excessive, even after the furious public reaction when World Cup stewards were pictured frisking police officers at a warmup match in Barbados. between defeats by Sri Lanka and South Africa. Most others had off periods of at least five days.

When the South African board's chief executive, Gerald Majola, asked for a report after his players were allegedly seen "extremely drunk" by travelling supporters, captain Graeme Smith gave the logical explanation that they were simply young men relieving the tedium. There were several nightclub sightings of the underachieving West Indians, and the police had to step in when an irate fan drew a gun on a group out late in Grenada and demanded they go back to bed.

There were no repercussions in those instances, but there were, both short and long-term, for England players enjoying the delights of St Lucia the night after losing to New Zealand in their opening fixture.

Andrew Flintoff was dismissed as vice-captain and suspended for one match after capsizing a pedalo in the sea near the team's hotel at 4 a.m. and allegedly having to be rescued by a security guard. Several of his team-mates (James Anderson, Ian Bell, Jon Lewis, Paul Nixon and Liam Plunkett) were fined for a "breach of team discipline" when incriminating photos, taken by fans on their mobile phones, appeared in the British press. Kevin Shine, England's bowling coach, and Jeremy Snape, a temporary psychologist and spin bowling coach, had to make a donation to charity for not exercising their authority when they saw the players staying up late.

The issue did not end there. Back home in June, midway through the Test series against West Indies, captain Michael Vaughan said that what had become known as the "Fredalo" affair had affected England's morale - though they had already been feeble against New Zealand. "Suddenly, you've got players who have no freedom left," Vaughan told The Guardian newspaper. "I like to see players enjoy themselves, but no one would dare go out after that incident, and you can't create any spirit then."

Perhaps they should have taken a cue from Graeme Smith. If the players were bored, so increasingly were those watching on the spot and on television across the globe, as one one-sided match followed another. Six were won by over 200 runs, six more by over 100. Teams romped home 16 times with seven or more wickets to spare. Only three matches went to the last over. Of these, two - Ireland's tie with Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka's two-run win over England - went right down to the last ball.

As five of the six 200-run victories involved Bermuda, Holland and Scotland (the other was Australia's vengeful pasting of New Zealand in the Super Eights), it reinforced the view that the Associates generally were not up to it and devalued the game's premier event.

Bermuda, the smallest entry into any World Cup with a population of 66,000, were thoroughly out of their depth. Their loss by 257 runs to India was the heaviest in any one-day international, India's 413 for five the highest World Cup total. To their credit, Bermuda accepted their plight with a constant smile. They were happy just to be there.

It was an attitude epitomised by left-arm spinner Dwayne Leverock. Weighing in at 122 kilos (20 stone) he was comfortably the largest player, and an invitation for headline writers to reveal their silly side ("Undone by a wide delivery" and "Owzfat!" appeared after he dismissed England's Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen in a practice match).

Leverock's obvious delight in everything he did made him one of the personalities of the tournament. The highlight was his spectacular, diving, right-handed catch at slip to dismiss India's Robin Uthappa off teenager Malachi Jones's first ball on World Cup debut. While Leverock set off on a high-fiving, kiss-blowing jog around the outfield, young Jones was consumed by tears of joy. It was a special moment in the midst of the mundane.

Though it was Bermuda's debut, the World Cup was not new to Scotland, the ICC Trophy champions of 2005, and Holland. Yet they did no better than in their previous appearances. Kenya, weakened by internal turmoil and a lack of strong opposition since their surprising advance to the semi-final four years earlier, were never expected to repeat. Canada, in their second successive World Cup, were somewhat more competitive than they had been in South Africa, and Ireland were a revelation, but they were examples of the ICC's drive towards globalisation only in their reliance on several players born or raised in more traditional cricketing lands.

The ICC stoutly defended the inclusion of so many minor teams, but Ponting, the Australian captain, reflected the more general view that their entry should be conditional on dominating the tiers below over time. "I would like to see them prove themselves the best of the emerging group by quite a way," he said. "It should be over a two-year period, not one tournament."

For its riveting fluctuations, its capacity attendance, its atmosphere and its sense of occasion as the emotional farewell to international cricket of the incomparable Lara, England's victory over West Indies at Kensington Oval was the best match of the lacklustre seven weeks. It came off the penultimate ball with England's last pair together. But, as the predictable semi-finalists had been already settled, the match had no real meaning. In between the drabness, there were the upsets essential to any sporting contest - and a few individual highlights as well.

The two major, far-reaching shocks came on the same day. In Port-of- Spain, Bangladesh unsettled India with incisive bowling, sharp fielding and the precocious batting of their adolescents to win by five wickets. In Kingston, on a pitch of unfamiliar green, the Irish stunned Pakistan, and their own band of boisterous followers, in a low-scoring affair.

Those results were to send India and Pakistan home to angry receptions. Meanwhile, they set off festivities in Bangladesh, where a national curfew was ignored by ecstatic crowds taking to the streets to celebrate; and created an instant profile for cricket in the land of hurling, Gaelic football and horse racing, where pubs were filled with punters transfixed by a supposedly alien game.

Nor were the two upstarts through with their surprises. Bangladesh confirmed their potential, thoroughly outplaying South Africa by 67 runs in the Super Eights on the back of Mohammad Ashraful's innovative 87 - and then their inconsistency, succumbing by 74 runs to the Irish in the clash of the Lilliputians a week later. Ireland's euphoria, symbolised by the armflapping dances of two of their bowlers at the fall of a wicket, was tempered when they confronted the eventual finalists - bowled out for 91 by Australia and 77 by Sri Lanka.

With its featureless pitches and small size, Warner Park in St Kitts, one of the four venues for the group stages, was the place for batting records. Herschelle Gibbs took advantage of its modest dimensions, and the generosity of Dutch leg-spinner Daan van Bunge, to lift six sixes in an over, a feat previously achieved in first-class cricket by Garry Sobers and Ravi Shastri but never in an international match.

"I never thought about getting six in a row, but if it's your day, it's your day," Gibbs said. "After the first three, I thought I was in with a chance. But I decided I wasn't going to charge him; I'd wait to see what he does and luckily they fell into the right slot."

Bowlers fell into the right slot so regularly and the boundaries were so invitingly short that Gibbs's sixes were among 70 hit in the six matches on the ground, which also witnessed the fastest hundred in World Cup history, off 66 balls, by Hayden in Australia's pulsating victory over South Africa, the first meeting of the one-day game's two top-ranked teams.

The St Kitts-Nevis government marked these achievements by according honorary citizenship to Gibbs and Hayden. Gibbs also earned a preannounced $US1m for the Habitat for Humanity housing charity from one of the sponsors, and a local resident presented Hayden with a greyhound. Lasith Malinga won no such material benefit from an equally compelling performance, a spell of four wickets in four balls that all but conjured an extraordinary victory out of nothing in Sri Lanka's Super Eight encounter with South Africa in Guyana. Wicketless in his previous seven overs, he was summoned by captain Jayawardene with South Africa five wickets to the good and just ten runs from their goal. His response was a record in all international cricket, but there was no fairytale ending: South Africa's last pair managed to eke out the win.

With his shock of gold-tinted locks, his extraordinary slingshot action, his fiery pace and combative method, Malinga was star material and one of the reasons for Sri Lanka's advance to the final. But for Australia's magnificence, they would have made worthy champions.

Once the Australians had settled in by beating England in a warm-up, and effortlessly dealt with Scotland and Holland at the group stage in St Kitts, they proceeded with ruthless consistency. They simply had no identifiable weakness.

Their top-order batting was so insatiable that Mike Hussey - top of the ICC's batting rankings before the tournament - got to the middle only six times in 11 matches, often in the closing stages. When he was given a chance to open, against Ireland, the target was a mere 92 and it was knocked off in 12.2 overs. Hayden's 659 runs were only 14 short of Sachin Tendulkar's World Cup record, set in 2003. Ponting also passed 500, and Gilchrist and Michael Clarke 400, as Australia rattled along at an average rate of 6.5 runs an over throughout. Their average opening stand was 76, with the next-best South Africa's 43; England's openers were well down the list, with 17. No bowling was better balanced. McGrath's familiar metronomic control was complemented by the genuine pace of Shaun Tait (a most adequate substitute for the absent Lee), the left-arm swing and seam of Nathan Bracken, and the confusing chinamen and googlies of Brad Hogg. They shared 86 wickets at 16.44 runs apiece; McGrath's 26 in his fourth, and last, World Cup took his overall tally to 71, well past Wasim Akram's previous high of 55.

No fielding was sharper, no squad fitter. Sir Viv Richards described Australia in the field as "like a pack of wolves", a term equally applicable to the West Indian teams in which he excelled. Shoppers in Bridgetown were aghast to find the next day's finalists jogging through the streets in the midday sun on the three-mile journey back to their hotel. They compromised on nothing.

The tragedy: the Jamaican police's stunning declaration that Bob Woolmer had been murdered placed the tournament itself in doubt © AFP

Whenever they perceived a threat, someone was there to end it. As South Africa's Smith and A. B. de Villiers chased a formidable total of 377 for six at Warner Park, their galloping opening partnership of 160 in 21 overs was cut short by Shane Watson's laser-like direct hit from the boundary's edge at square leg. Smith soon had to retire (temporarily) with cramp, and Hogg virtually settled the issue with the wickets of Gibbs, the returning Smith and the becalmed Jacques Kallis.

Against England, after Ian Bell and Pietersen, whose 104 was the only century Australia conceded, put on 140 for the third wicket, the last eight fell for 83, McGrath, Tait and Bracken finishing with three apiece, to leave their batsmen with a straightforward task.

Hogg again stepped up to dismiss Sri Lankan captain Jayawardene and Chamara Silva and end a promising fourth-wicket stand of 140 in their Super Eight match. By then, all but the last semi-final place had been determined, influencing Sri Lanka to omit their main bowlers, Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas, along with the injured Malinga, in anticipation of more important matters ahead. The decision brought accusations of belittling the tournament.

No other team approached Australia's consistency. With Pakistan and India eliminated, England and West Indies palpably limited in confidence, allround depth and, perhaps, by late-night activities, and Bangladesh and Ireland not realistic contenders, it was expected from the early stages of the Super Eights that Australia would be joined in the last four by Sri Lanka, New Zealand and South Africa.

Over and above its negative impact on the commercial interests, the untimely departure of the two subcontinental giants robbed the tournament of several of its luminaries. At a stage when it required the best, there was no Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid or Mahendra Dhoni, no Inzamam-ul- Haq, Mohammad Yousuf or Danish Kaneria. For all the exciting promise of the youthful Bangladeshis and the infectious fervour of the Irish, Ashraful, Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim, Trent Johnston and the O'Brien brothers did not carry quite the same appeal.

Although they avoided first-round elimination, the subsequent failure of West Indies and England, whose accompanying army of supporters were already frustrated by the surrender of the Ashes in Australia, deflated interest even further.

Each could count but a solitary victory over opponents in the top eight of the ICC rankings. West Indies prevailed over Pakistan in the Cup's opener but managed to beat only Zimbabwe, Ireland and Bangladesh thereafter. England's thrilling last-match triumph over West Indies to determine the fifth and sixth place was negligible consolation for another forlorn campaign at a major event.

West Indies were hamstrung by their interminable internal problems. Wrangling between the board and the players' association meant contracts were not signed until well into the tournament and, for a time, there was talk of strike action.

The same chaos obtained on the field. Their bowling and fielding were so shoddy that they conceded totals of more than 300 to Australia, Sri Lanka, South Africa and England; their batting was so uncertain they did not once pass 300 themselves. Hayden, Sanath Jayasuriya, de Villiers and Pietersen scored hundreds against them, but Shivnarine Chanderpaul's unbeaten 102 against Ireland was their only century.

Their selection was as baffling as some of their tactics. Against New Zealand, instead of the strike bowler Jerome Taylor, or Ian Bradshaw, the steady left-arm seamer, they chose Lendl Simmons, a batsman who was sent in at No. 8, scored 14 not out and did not play another match. For the mustwin affair against South Africa, they chose to give 19-year-old Kieron Pollard his debut. He was not used again. In the same match, Lara apparently forgot about his last powerplay, which he did not introduce until the 45th over.

The response of an expectant public to such an outcome was passionately expressed by the prime minister of St Vincent, Ralph Gonsalves. It was, he fumed, "a betrayal of the Caribbean people and a let-down".

England's optimism after clinching the Commonwealth Bank Series in Australia a month earlier was diminished by the opening defeat by New Zealand and the capers that followed. Vaughan returned to the captaincy but played only one significant innings (79 against West Indies), and Flintoff, who had taken over from him in Australia, was so out of sorts that four of his seven innings were in single figures and only one over 23.

Pietersen's hundreds against Australia and West Indies confirmed his status as one of the most destructive of contemporary batsmen. But instability in the top half of the order meant the quirky attention of 36-year-old wicketkeeper Paul Nixon was required to clinch victories over Bangladesh (when a molehill of 143 was made to look a mountain) and West Indies.

The left-handed Nixon's seventh-wicket stand of 87 with Ravi Bopara, which pushed Sri Lanka so close, included one of the shots of the tournament, his reverse sweep for six off Muralitharan.

There was little penetration in England's bowling, but it was repeatedly left with vulnerable totals to defend, none more so than against South Africa, who raced past England's all-out 154 in 19.2 overs. Angry supporters booed Vaughan at the presentation ceremony.

So the semi-finals pitted Australia against South Africa and Sri Lanka against New Zealand, who had taken contrasting courses to that stage. Sri Lanka carried their group win over Bangladesh into the Super Eights but went through the wringer twice in their next three matches. Malinga's sensational spell just failed to seize an improbable victory over South Africa in the opener and, after Jayasuriya's second hundred set up the demise of the hapless West Indians, Nixon and the impressive Bopara carried them down to the last ball in the next game. It was an experience that seemed to fortify them, and things were more straightforward after that.

New Zealand seemed to reserve their worst for last. They had beaten their first six opponents, including England and West Indies, none by fewer than six wickets or 114 runs, but suffered their first reversal against Sri Lanka. While they appeared to regroup two days later, beating erratic South Africa by five wickets, their confidence was further undermined in their last Super Eight encounter when Australia, whom they had humiliated in the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy just two months earlier, inflicted their heaviest oneday defeat.

These were unsettling preludes to the semi-final, where they encountered Sri Lanka at full strength. This time they were undone by such sparkling all-round cricket that it seemed perfectly feasible the Sri Lankans could repeat their 1996 success in the final, even over Australia. The victory was based on a masterly, unbeaten 115 off 109 balls by Jayawardene, early strikes by Malinga and Vaas in an excellent new-ball spell, and the customary cleanup operation by Muralitharan.

It was the fifth time the semi-final had proved a match too far for New Zealand, a fair reflection of a sound, all-round team, which was best personified by Scott Styris, Jacob Oram and wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum, but lacked the special extra that defines all champions. Shane Bond, their high-class fast bowler, produced memorable spells against West Indies and Bangladesh but missed the Australian match through illness and was well below his best in the semi-final.

On sound evidence but to their understandable annoyance, South Africa have been classified as chokers since their return to the international fold in 1991-92. As in their near-death experience against Malinga in the Super Eights, it was more their inconsistency than their temperament that now marked their play. The prime example was de Villiers, whose 146 off 130 balls against West Indies, completed in spite of almost unbearable cramp, and 92 off 70 balls against Australia in the group match were counterbalanced by four ducks - two of them against Holland and Ireland.

In between their narrow win over Sri Lanka and emphatic ones over Ireland, West Indies and England, South Africa went down to comprehensive defeats by Bangladesh (their first in eight matches between the teams) and New Zealand. By the time they encountered Australia for the second time, in the semi in St Lucia, their uncertainty was evident. Smith and Kallis were bowled slogging as if they were in the closing, not opening, overs, the Australian attack gratefully accepted some cheap wickets, and the anticlimax was effectively complete at 27 for five in the tenth over.

With palpably the two best teams contesting the final, there was the prospect that a forgettable tournament would at least be treated to a memorable climax. That hope, too, was dashed - in an ironic twist, by the weather. Suspicious of the usually unsettled climate in the Caribbean at the end of May, the ICC had pushed back the original World Cup dates by a month, only for the rain to arrive on the most important morning of the tournament.

The consequent reduction to 38 overs an innings was clearly an unsatisfactory method of determining cricket's most prestigious prize. But Gilchrist's phenomenal batting, and the feisty rejoinder by left-handers Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara in a second-wicket stand of 116 from 17 overs, provided some consolation for the multinational crowd of 20,000. With the skies once more closing in and the target still in the distance, Sri Lanka's effort effectively ended once Sangakkara and Jayasuriya were out within three overs of each other. As the rain returned and the evening became darker, so did the confusion that had been the hallmark of the tournament. While Australia's win was clear-cut and deserved, the fiasco at the end gave Sri Lanka no sense of proper closure. They, and the competition, deserved better.

There were several closures in another sense. Duncan Fletcher (England), Bennett King (West Indies) and Greg Chappell (India) were coaches who read the signs and jumped before they could be pushed after their teams' failures. Lara, disappointed captain of the disappointing home team, did the same, announcing his retirement from all international cricket a few weeks after speaking enthusiastically about leading West Indies on the summer's tour of England and beyond. There were tears in many eyes around Kensington Oval as the most compelling batsman of his time bade his unexpected farewell, with a lap of honour round a ground that had witnessed some of his finest innings. Inzamam and Fleming stepped down as one-day captains; both of them soon lost the Test captaincy, too.

In contrast, parting was sweet sorrow for Australia's coach John Buchanan, who had presided over his second World Cup triumph. He had made it known before arriving in the Caribbean that it would be his last mission after more than seven years in charge of the supreme team of the era. So wide was the gap between them and the rest, it is hard to imagine it disappearing quickly enough to prevent them claiming a fourth successive title in 2011, whoever is coach.

The ICC has allocated the next World Cup to its four Asian Full Members, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Finally and grudgingly acknowledging that the West Indian exercise was too long, chief executive Speed said the ICC would try to reduce it by between seven and ten days, although, given that 16 teams are planned again, he did not elaborate on how that would be achieved. Of more concern should be the even greater distances to be covered and the potentially problematic political issues to be tackled. The lessons of the 2007 World Cup should be instructive.

Match reports for

1st Match, Group D: West Indies v Pakistan at Kingston, Mar 13, 2007

2nd Match, Group A: Australia v Scotland at Basseterre, Mar 14, 2007

3rd Match, Group C: Canada v Kenya at Gros Islet, Mar 14, 2007

4th Match, Group B: Bermuda v Sri Lanka at Port of Spain, Mar 15, 2007

5th Match, Group D: Ireland v Zimbabwe at Kingston, Mar 15, 2007

6th Match, Group C: England v New Zealand at Gros Islet, Mar 16, 2007

7th Match, Group A: Netherlands v South Africa at Basseterre, Mar 16, 2007

8th Match, Group B: Bangladesh v India at Port of Spain, Mar 17, 2007

9th Match, Group D: Ireland v Pakistan at Kingston, Mar 17, 2007

10th Match, Group A: Australia v Netherlands at Basseterre, Mar 18, 2007

11th Match, Group C: Canada v England at Gros Islet, Mar 18, 2007

12th Match, Group B: Bermuda v India at Port of Spain, Mar 19, 2007

13th Match, Group D: West Indies v Zimbabwe at Kingston, Mar 19, 2007

14th Match, Group C: Kenya v New Zealand at Gros Islet, Mar 20, 2007

15th Match, Group A: Scotland v South Africa at Basseterre, Mar 20, 2007

16th Match, Group B: Bangladesh v Sri Lanka at Port of Spain, Mar 21, 2007

17th Match, Group D: Pakistan v Zimbabwe at Kingston, Mar 21, 2007

18th Match, Group C: Canada v New Zealand at Gros Islet, Mar 22, 2007

19th Match, Group A: Netherlands v Scotland at Basseterre, Mar 22, 2007

20th Match, Group B: India v Sri Lanka at Port of Spain, Mar 23, 2007

21st Match, Group D: West Indies v Ireland at Kingston, Mar 23, 2007

22nd Match, Group A: Australia v South Africa at Basseterre, Mar 24, 2007

23rd Match, Group C: England v Kenya at Gros Islet, Mar 24, 2007

24th Match, Group B: Bangladesh v Bermuda at Port of Spain, Mar 25, 2007

25th Match, Super Eights: West Indies v Australia at North Sound, Mar 27-28, 2007

26th Match, Super Eights: South Africa v Sri Lanka at Providence, Mar 28, 2007

27th Match, Super Eights: West Indies v New Zealand at North Sound, Mar 29, 2007

28th Match, Super Eights: England v Ireland at Providence, Mar 30, 2007

29th Match, Super Eights: Australia v Bangladesh at North Sound, Mar 31, 2007

30th Match, Super Eights: West Indies v Sri Lanka at Providence, Apr 1, 2007

31st Match, Super Eights: Bangladesh v New Zealand at North Sound, Apr 2, 2007

32nd Match, Super Eights: Ireland v South Africa at Providence, Apr 3, 2007

33rd Match, Super Eights: England v Sri Lanka at North Sound, Apr 4, 2007

34th Match, Super Eights: Bangladesh v South Africa at Providence, Apr 7, 2007

35th Match, Super Eights: Australia v England at North Sound, Apr 8, 2007

36th Match, Super Eights: Ireland v New Zealand at Providence, Apr 9, 2007

37th Match, Super Eights: West Indies v South Africa at St George's, Apr 10, 2007

38th Match, Super Eights: Bangladesh v England at Bridgetown, Apr 11, 2007

39th Match, Super Eights: New Zealand v Sri Lanka at St George's, Apr 12, 2007

40th Match, Super Eights: Australia v Ireland at Bridgetown, Apr 13, 2007

41st Match, Super Eights: New Zealand v South Africa at St George's, Apr 14, 2007

42nd Match, Super Eights: Bangladesh v Ireland at Bridgetown, Apr 15, 2007

43rd Match, Super Eights: Australia v Sri Lanka at St George's, Apr 16, 2007

44th Match, Super Eights: England v South Africa at Bridgetown, Apr 17, 2007

45th Match, Super Eights: Ireland v Sri Lanka at St George's, Apr 18, 2007

46th Match, Super Eights: West Indies v Bangladesh at Bridgetown, Apr 19, 2007

47th Match, Super Eights: Australia v New Zealand at St George's, Apr 20, 2007

48th Match, Super Eights: West Indies v England at Bridgetown, Apr 21, 2007

1st Semi-Final: New Zealand v Sri Lanka at Kingston, Apr 24, 2007

2nd Semi-Final: Australia v South Africa at Gros Islet, Apr 25, 2007

Final: Australia v Sri Lanka at Bridgetown, Apr 28, 2007

© John Wisden & Co.