West Indies were unlikely semi-finalists, Australia the favourites. Even in decline, the West Indies were not a team to be trifled with. An extra effort from someone could tilt the balance. That effort, at the outset, came from the Caribbean pacemen.
Curtly Ambrose began ominously with a huge in-swinger that drew a gasp all around. Next ball, the prolific Mark Waugh was trapped leg-before, hopelessly late on his elegant defensive stroke. Brian Lara dropped Mark Taylor in the slips off Ian Bishop. But Taylor edged a Bishop delivery on to the stumps in the fourth over. Two down for 7, and only one run from the bat. That was off the dropped catch. Ricky Ponting was stranded in front of the sticks by another Ambrose special. Three down for 8 off 4.5 overs. Bishop had the resolute Steve Waugh’s bails flying. It was a disaster at 15 for four after 9.1 overs.
Stuart Law and Michael Bevan dug in as Courtney Walsh bowled a thrifty spell. The Mohali wicket lost its bite, so did the bowling. Rookie Otis Gibson was hit for 13 runs in two overs. The pressure eased. The pair posted 138 in 32 overs, Australian fifth-wicket World Cup record. Law was run out for 72. As often happens, Bevan left soon for 69. Ian Healy hit 31 off 28 balls. But a score of 207 did not seem enough.
Despite the early loss of makeshift opener Courtney Browne off Shane Warne's first delivery, left-handers Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Lara batted untroubled, keeping pace with the asking-rate. Lara was in sparkling form, scoring 45 at a run-a-ball and carving out four boundaries. He got a beauty from Steve Waugh that dislodged the off bail. The stand was worth 68 runs in 16.5 overs. Skipper Richie Richardson filled the breach admirably. Chanderpaul got cramps. Soon, Glenn McGrath, had him caught for 80 off 126 balls with 7 fours. Another 43 were required off 50 balls.
Dew had begun to fall as the evening wore on. McGrath had Roger Harper leg-before. Skipper Taylor pulled out his last trick, Shane Warne. Gibson was promoted to hit out but Warne was too wily. Even the unflappable Jimmy Adams could not bear the pressure. The fabled Warne flipper fooled him. Keith Arthurton, woefully out of touch, had collected two runs in four innings. He was far too nervous, swung wildly at Damien Fleming, edged to a jubilant Healy, and failed to add to his miserable tally. With 20 required off 14 balls, Richardson had just nine, ten and jack for company. Warne’s perfectly pitched flipper in the 49th over left Bishop clueless.
Warne grabbed three wickets for 6 runs in his third spell of 3 overs. He recounted later: "I was really pumped up. When we got Chanderpaul we knew we had a very good chance. It is important to bowl a tight line and length under the circumstances rather than spin the ball prodigiously."
West Indies needed 10 runs in the final over with two wickets left. Richardson blasted the first ball to the mid-wicket boundary. Excitement reached fever pitch. There were six runs to win off 5 balls. Surely the captain would see them through. But this was not a situation for rational acts. As the ball streaked to the wicketkeeper, Ambrose took off for a single and just failed to make it. Six to get off 4 balls. The role did not suit the last man Walsh. Richardson watched helplessly. Fleming, accurate and nippy, made the ball skid. Walsh had no idea what he was supposed to do. Before he could decide, the ball crashed into his stumps. Australia had conjured another of cricket’s legendary tales. West Indies were in control for 91 overs. They did not know how to handle the final nine.
Australia: 207 for 8 wickets (50 overs), West Indies: 202 all out (49.3 overs) (CWC 1996)Published 11 May 2019, 11:29 IST