Cricket: Australia's short cut to glory

Cricket World Cup final: Pakistan disintegrate under assault from Warne and McGrath; Pakistan 132 Australia 133-2 Australia win by 8 wkts
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IT WAS always asking too much, after the two previous knuckle- clenchers Australia had been involved in the previous week, to expect a third to grace the final at Lord's. In a virtual non-event that saw Pakistan bowled out for the lowest total in a World Cup final, Steve Waugh's team charged to victory, overhauling the 132 needed in 20.1 overs to become world champions for the second time. After five weeks and 42 games, the carnival of cricket came to an end with the second shortest match of the tournament.

As ever, in these commercially driven times, such disappointment does not come in the way of enterprise and, with people having forked out anything between pounds 60 to pounds 100 (some reports say pounds 600 on the black market), one of the first announcements following Darren Lehmann's match-clinching boundary was that winner's baseball caps would be available at the Lord's shop. Soon you will be able to by phials of the losers' tears, or at least one of Dickie Bird's hankies.

Australia will not complain over the ease of their victory. Three years ago they lost the World Cup final to Sri Lanka after playing a draining semi-final against the West Indies, and you could tell by the way their batsmen set about Shoaib Akhtar and Co that they had clearly had enough of close finishes. Chasing the kind of total that has occasionally undermined them at Test level, thanks to top-notch performances by Shane Warne (4 for 33) and Glenn McGrath (2 for 13), they thrashed their way to glory on the back of a 33-ball half-century by their opener Adam Gilchrist.

Pakistan's lack of fight on the day, although a surprise, was not entirely unexpected. On the evidence up to this match they were certainly one of the top three teams in the tournament. But with questions about temperament, as well those regarding match-fixing, adding exponentially to the pressure, their disintegration is sure to precipitate something close to national mourning, especially in a country that judges every loss as a thrown match.

Despite their brilliance and desire to attack, perhaps it is as well Pakistan did not return home heroes. In a country where politics and sport are powerful manipulators of public opinion, talk was of Justice Qayyum's report being flushed into the Indus should Pakistan have won the World Cup.

Now, with the International Cricket Council's annual meeting taking place at Lord's on Wednesday, there is pressure for the report, deliberately sat on while Wasim Akram's men remained in the competition, to be released and for the ICC to take some action. Providing it does, some uncertain futures may be decided before the week is out.

For once the Lord's factor, that tends to compromise teams batting first in one-day finals, was not significant. The pitch, dry and beige in colour, looked a belter, and Wasim had no hesitation in batting after winning the toss. The decision looked sound, too, as Saeed Anwar set off in a flurry of boundaries. His partner, Wajahatullah Wasti, so dominant against New Zealand in the semi-final, allowed the occasion to get to him and, after scratching about for 13 balls, he fended a short ball from McGrath, set to replace his Australian team-mate Tom Moody at Worcestershire next year, to Mark Waugh at second slip.

Just as Warne's uber-ball to Herschelle Gibbs had lifted Australia in their hour of need at Edgbaston, so Waugh's catch, a diving effort that saw body horizontal and both hands used, removed any lingering nerves of their own. Three balls later Saeed, having changed the rubber grip on his bat handle, drove loosely at Damien Fleming and chopped-on for 15, one of five top-order batsmen who got into double figures but failed to go beyond 25, the figure which was provided by extras.

Apart from the skier dropped by McGrath at long-off, Australia bowled and fielded superbly and by the time Warne came on to bowl the 22nd over Pakistan were 69 for 3. It was a different situation to the one that confronted him in the semi-final against South Africa and, with his team on top and Pakistan trying to retrench, he was able to flight the ball without fear of losing the initiative.

Whatever he says to the contrary, and he now reckons he is going away to review things, his body language before last Thursday's game betrayed a waning confidence. But such are the recuperative powers of true champions, that one ball - the "Gibbs ball" as it is now being called - achieved something a dozen sport's psychologists and a thousand hours in the nets could not: absolute proof that he had not lost it.

Evidence of that came almost as quickly this time. In his second over he persuaded Ijaz Ahmed to play across a leg-break that skidded down the Lord's slope to take off-stump. His next victim, Moin Khan, was beaten in the flight and Shahid Afridi, after clumping one four over mid-on, chose one too full and too straight to sweep.

Fittingly, his 20th wicket of the tournament, which gave him a share of the World Cup record with New Zealand's Geoff Allott, was Wasim, who was held at midwicket by his opposite number. Warne now has 282 wickets, one fewer than Craig McDermott, Australia's record-holder in one-day internationals.

With at least 70 more runs required to make Australia's batsmen sweat a little, Pakistan needed little short of a miracle. Just before the Aussie innings began, Wasim got his men in a circle. If it was the "cornered tiger" speech that inspired them to victory in 1992 it didn't work and, having shown their teeth throughout the event thus far, they ended the competition like a toothless moggy.

With Shoaib eschewing control for speed, Gilchrist, who had had a poor tournament with the bat, was given room to play his favourite strokes.

Thrashing at anything wayward - at one point he cut Shoaib for six over the slips - he and Mark Waugh added 75 for the first wicket before he drilled Saqlain Mushtaq's first ball to Inzamam, who damaged his thumb taking the catch, at mid-off. As he has done all tournament, Inzamam promptly left the field. On the day, it was the only consistent thing about Pakistan's cricket.

Richard Williams, World Cup Guide, page 3