Cricket World Cup: McGrath's cool will test Shoaib's fire

Lord's final: Australians believe experience of extraordinary semi-final win will serve them well against Pakistan

IF TOMORROW'S World Cup final between Australia and Pakistan goes down to the last over, one team will be clear favourites. Over the past week Australia, mainly on the back of two brilliant individual performances, have shown that their resilience and steel have been forged in the heat of combat. Providing Thursday's draining scrap with South Africa did not take too much out of them, they come to Lord's believing that no setback is beyond them.

After their week, in which they twice prevailed against Hansie Cronje's men, with just two balls to spare, you tend to believe them too, and Pakistan will need to have one of their "on" rather than "off" days, if the final is to have any of the delicious tension of the game that preceded it.

That match, which many reckon was the finest one-day game ever seen, was sport at its most transcendental. A heady cocktail of skill, error and failure, it was drama on a scale undreamed of by other sports.

They say World Cup semi-finals are the cruellest hurdle of all, and those privy to the dramatic twists and turns will be analysing the detail for some time to come.

"It would have been a sensational final," remarked Glenn McGrath, Australia's rangy fast bowler the morning after. "The favourites must have changed three times in the last two overs. We always back ourselves in any situation, but when Lance Klusener hit those two fours in the last over I though that was it. After that, like everyone, I was hoping for a miracle."

McGrath, who had bowled the penultimate drama-filled over, was fielding at short fine leg when Klusener and Allan Donald undertook their fatal hesitation waltz with the scores level. Once again, South Africa had stumbled against Australia, with the finishing tape inches from their nose.

"South Africa seem to intimidate other teams," said McGrath. "Yet it's different for us and we tend to do it to them. Mind you, I feel for their guys, especially AD [Donald], who I get on well with. You try to think if the roles were reversed how you'd feel and it is a tough call for him to cop all the blame. He was pretty down afterwards. Like me he takes it personally and losses like that really hurt."

McGrath, who had a quiet match, conceded his match-winner's role to Shane Warne, who produced a spell on a par with his pre-shoulder operation brilliance. "Everyone has been writing Warney off recently, but he showed he's got a long time to go yet," said McGrath. "The ball that got Herschelle Gibbs gave us all a big lift and it suddenly put a different complexion on the game."

While it is heartening to see Warne able to find his old brilliance, Pakistan tend to play spin well and it will probably fall once more to McGrath to provide Australia's cutting edge with the ball. Given that Shoaib Akhtar is Pakistan's enforcer, comparisons between them, despite the difference in top speeds, are inevitable.

If the pair were cars, Shoaib would be a temperamental thoroughbred, an Italian beast like a Ferrari or Lamborghini. Fast, flashy, but with a chance that it could all go horribly wrong if the roads suddenly got slippery. McGrath on the other hand, reeks of Teutonic efficiency and is probably in the BMW class with its emphasis on high performance, whatever the conditions.

"Shoaib has got genuine pace, but he still has a long way to go," reckons the Australian beanpole. "When I got started, I had pace and raw talent. But I'm largely the bowler I am today due to experience. Knowing how to react, because of all the situations you've been put in, will take him another three or four years.

"Of course, while he's young, fit and feeling good, he may as well charge in like he does. Obviously, the crowd likes that but it can be a pressure. Looking at the speedo and trying to bowl quicker all the time can be a distraction and you can forget to concentrate on the job in hand."

Over recent years, the main struggles between Australia and Pakistan have been off the field, rather than on. The match-fixing accusations which have been levelled from both camps, have bred an animosity that cannot be converted into anything positive on the field and those concentrating solely on the cricket will probably prosper most on the day.

Nevertheless, the private duels between certain players will be fascinating and none more so than the one between the two captains, Steve Waugh and Wasim Akram.

Waugh has grown up in the last few weeks. A man always likely to lead by example, he is now adopting the unusual flourishes of his predecessor, Mark Taylor. Why else would he have given brother Mark eight overs during Australia's most vital game of the competition. Wasim too is a gambler, though with so much raw talent to call on, his desire to risk everything in all-out attack is borne from Plan A, rather than as a contingency lower down the alphabet.

Other skirmishes to watch will be Inzamam-ul-Haq versus Warne and Moin Khan against anyone who cares to step in his way. Although a World Cup final will have no difficulty in motivating those involved, you cannot help but think that Pakistan's relatively easy route to the final may count against them when the pressure bites.

Whatever the outcome of the match, however, cricket - especially with England long forgotten - needs a spectacle we can remember. So far it has taken 41 matches for this World Cup to reach boiling point. One more while the water is still hot, will do everyone a service.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games