Down Memory Lane: The 2003 Cricket World Cup

Nishant Dey Purkayastha

The cricket World Cup had over the years helped the game grow considerably at the global level. The popularity of cricket had increased manifolds and more and more countries were taking up the game. The eighth World Cup, in 2003 hosted jointly by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya, saw as many as fourteen teams participating. It was the first time that four ICC Associate members, Netherlands, Canada, Namibia and Kenya, were part of the tournament. Netherlands and Namibia were put in group A along with Australia, India, England, Pakistan and Zimbabwe. Group B comprised Kenya, Canada, Bangladesh, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies and New Zealand. The format adopted in the 1999 World where the group stage was followed by a super-six stage before the semi-finals was continued with. Each team was to play the other six teams in its group in the first stage with the top three teams of each group moving into the super-six, carrying forward the points earned in the league stage against the other qualifying teams. The teams would then play the qualifying teams from the other group in the super six with the top four teams of this stage moving into the semi-finals. Defending champions, Australia had been dominating world cricket for the past couple of years and they were hot favourites to retain their title. Hosts South Africa were expected to be tough competitors at home while India and Pakistan too had good squads on paper. Australia lost Shane Warne due to a failed drugs test hours before the start of the tournament, but they lived up to the tag of favourites and lifted the World Cup, winning all their 11 matches in the process.

Australia eased past most of their opponents with ease in the group stage. They were in difficult situations against Pakistan and England, but Andrew Symonds came to the rescue on the first occasion with a murderous 143 while against England it was Michael Bevan and Andy Bichel taking the Aussies home with a 73-run ninth wicket partnership. Australia ended the group stage with a 100% win record and they topped group A. Pakistan lost their matches against Australia and England by big margins and they were also defeated quite comfortably by arch-rivals India. They still could have made it to the semis, but their match against Zimbabwe was washed off and that brought the curtains down on their World Cup ambitions. The result hugely benefitted the Zimbabweans who were able to make it to the super-six for the second time in consecutive World Cups. They were also helped by the fact that England refused to play in Harare due to safety reasons and the ICC decided to award the match to the Zimbabweans.

India started shakily, recording an unimpressive win over Netherlands before being crushed by the Aussies. But Sourav Ganguly’s men picked themselves up and led by star batsman Sachin Tendulkar, the Indians went on to win their next four group matches to take second spot behind Australia. England’s decision not to tour Zimbabwe cost them dearly as they now had to beat two out of Australia, India and Pakistan to ensure progress into the super six stage. They defeated Pakistan and has Australia on the rocks, but Bevan and Bichel denied England a victory. A loss against India meant that England had to return home after the group stage. The minnows in the group, Netherlands and Namibia lost each of their matches against the top sides by comfortable margins. The Netherlands, making their second World Cup appearance after 1996, managed to beat Namibia to take the sixth spot in group A.

Hosts South Africa had a disastrous World Cup campaign despite Herschelle Gibbs’ wonderful form at the top of the order. They started off with a close 3 run loss at the hands of West Indies. A poor bowling performance led to a defeat against New Zealand. A terrible miscalculation meant that their match against Sri Lanka ended in a tie. The South African dressing-room sent word to the batsmen, Mark Boucher and Lance Klusener, that the Duckworth/Lewis target at the end of the 45th over was 229, provided they lost no more wickets. Boucher achieved this by hitting the fifth ball from Muttiah Muralitharan for six and then blocking the last. But unfortunately for the Proteas, they had actually tied the match, a result that was not good enough to take them through. Sri Lanka topped group B with four wins and a tie. A shock defeat against Kenya was the only blotch on an otherwise flawless campaign. West Indies too didn’t have luck on their side as their match against Bangladesh was washed off by rain. Points were shared and West Indies bowed out of the group stage.

The biggest success story of the group stage was Kenya. New Zealand’s refusal to play in Nairobi due to security reasons gave Kenya full points for the match without even a ball being bowled. Leg-spinner Collins Obuya’s five-wicket haul gave them a surprise victory over Sri Lanka and another win against Bangladesh to follow it up saw them through to the super six. Despite missing out on what would have possibly been a comfortable victory against Kenya, New Zealand made it to the next stage. They lost their opening match against the Lankans, but wins against South Africa and West Indies were enough to take them through. Canada’s supporters too had some moments to cheer about as their team pulled off an incredible win over Bangladesh, a side that had just attained test status. John Davison provided more joy as he struck the fastest World Cup century ever against West Indies. Bangladesh had a very disappointing campaign, losing all their matches to end at the bottom of the table.

Brett Lee was devastating in the super six for Australia, picking up 11 wickets in three matches to lead his team to three comfortable victories. India too notched three comprehensive victories to book a semi-final berth as the second placed team behind Australia. New Zealand started with a win against Zimbabwe, but despite Shane Bond’s heroics with the ball, they suffered crushing defeats against India and Australia. They hadn’t carried forward any points from the group stages either and hence they failed to make it to the last four.

Kenya’s fairytale run in the World Cup continued as they became the only African team to reach the semis ahead of their more fancied co-hosts, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The Kenyans had carried over maximum possible points from the group stage and so a win over Zimbabwe was good enough to take them through. Sri Lanka recovered well from big defeats against Australia and India to register a comfortable victory over Zimbabwe that took them through to the last four. Zimbabwe, another surprise in the super-six stage, could not progress any further as they lost each of their matches in the super six to crash out of the tournament.

The semi-finals failed to provide much thrill as both the matches turned out to be one-sided affairs. Sri Lanka had Australia in a spot of bother at 3 for 51, but Symonds once again bailed the Aussies out of trouble, this time with a responsible unbeaten 91 that took Australia to 212. The Lankan top order succumbed to the pace of Lee and they were 7 wickets down for just 123 when rain interrupted play. No further play was possible and the Aussies were declared winners by 48 runs by the Duckworth-Lewis method. Kenya’s dream run was finally halted by the Indians as a century from skipper, Sourav Ganguly took them to a convincing 91-run victory that saw them through to the final of the World Cup for the first time since ‘Kapil’s Devils’ had won it in 1983.

The final at Johannesburg saw the two best teams in the tournament, Australia and India, facing each other. Ganguly’s decision to field first after winning the toss back fired as the Australian openers punislhed the new- ball bowlers with a 105-run partnership in just 14 overs. Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting and Damien Martin took charge after their departure as the duo put together an unbeaten 224 run third wicket stand that took Australia to a mammoth 359. Ponting ended with 140 off just 121 deliveries while Martyn contributed 88 off 81. Much of India’s hopes rested on the in-form Sachin Tendulkar, but his dismissal in the very first over made the task all the more difficult. Sehwag hung around at one end for an almost run-a-ball 82, but there was no support from the other. India were bowled out within 40 overs for just 234. Australia’s victory margin of 125 runs was the highest in a World Cup final in terms of runs. Ponting was the obvious choice for the man-of-the-match award for his destructive knock.

Sachin Tendulkar, the highest run-getter in the tournament, was declared the player of the tournament. Sri Lankan left-arm pacer, Chaminda Vaas, ended as the highest wicket-taker. Controversies on and off the field threatened to divert the attention away from the action, but the quality of cricket didn’t allow that to happen. England’s boycott of Zimbabwe grabbed headlines for a few days. Andy Flower and Henry Olonga of Zimbabwe were censured by the ICC for their black arm-band protest against the country’s President. Australia deserve special mention for their ruthless brand of cricket that kept people hooked to the on-field action. The Aussies became the first team since West Indies in 1979 to go unbeaten throughout the tournament. The only disappointment for viewers was the fact that the semis and the final turned out to be one-sided affairs. In terms of financial profits, this World Cup was the most successful by a long way despite the elimination of the main hosts, South Africa, from the group stage itself. By winning their second World Cup on the trot, Australia re-affirmed their domination of world cricket.

Edited by Staff Editor


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