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Confessions of a World Cup addict: By any means necessary, Australia look to maintain title stronghold

Karma, they say, is a bitch. History’s reputation, as far as I am aware, is not quite so negative. But we are admonished not to ignore it; those who fail to heed its lessons, we are warned, are condemned to repeat it.

Beaten by the West Indies in the first final in 1975, Australia won their first World Cup three tournaments later in 1987. And to hear them tell it, they’re about to win their sixth—count them! 1987, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2015 and 2019–of the last nine.

No other team has more than two!

Photo: The Australia Cricket Team celebrate their ICC World Cup success in 2015.

Impressive as that record is, is it really surprising? A brief sally into history might help to shed some light…
The motto of the college where I worked for many years and which I had previously attended ran—still runs after almost 150 years of the school’s existence!—“Certant omnes sed non omnibus palma” (“All strive but the prize is not for all.”) QRC—ask CLR James—was very proud of its British public school character.

If British educators brought values like ‘Stiff upper lip and all that, old chap’ and ‘It’s not cricket’ west to the Indies, the ones who went south seem to have been warmed by a rather different sun.

“To go south,” says the dictionary, is “to fall in value, deteriorate or fail.” So Down Under, ‘the prize is not for all’ soon became ‘the prize must not be for anybody else.’ And so the win-at-all-costs ethic took pride of place. Play hard and fair mutated into play hard and win. Winning was not just better than whatever was in second place, it was everything.

Cricket as played Down Under offers several examples of that general philosophy.

First, the positives. At the end of the 1960-61 West Indies tour to Australia, a million Aussies are reported to have filled the streets of Melbourne to see Frank Worrell’s team off. Worrell, of course, was the quintessential gentleman and his demeanour rubbed off on his entire team. And, it seems, on Richie Benaud and his men. Eventually. But Benaud himself it was who appealed when Joe Solomon’s falling cap dislodged a bail. The umpire had little choice but to raise the dreaded finger.

In the end, Australia won.

Photo: Former West Indies cricket great and captain Sir Frank Worrell.

Both teams played hard but fair, wanting to win but never by any means necessary. Indeed, on one occasion, the home umpire—in those days, all umpires in Australia were from Australia—turned down an appeal for a catch at the wicket against Wally Grout. The Aussie wicketkeeper deliberately hit the next ball high into the covers and began to walk off even before the catch was completed.

And who can forget Kumar Sangakkara and all his team-mates appealing for a catch at the wicket against another Aussie wicketkeeper, Adam Gilchrist, in the 2003 World Cup semi-final? As South African umpire Rudi Koertzen astounded the Sri Lankans by making no move to raise his finger, Gilchrist walked.

If history tells us what the reaction was in Australia, I don’t remember it. My guess would be general consternation.
In the end, Australia won.

There was definite, almost universal disapproval—publicly anyway—when, in 1981, the Aussie captain gave Trevor Chappell an order to use cricket’s rules in a way that clearly contravened the spirit of the game. With New Zealand needing seven runs off the last ball and a six for a tie, Greg Chappell instructed his younger brother to bowl underarm.

Wicketkeeper Rod Marsh shook his head in disapproval the moment he realised what his skipper was planning to do. Benaud unequivocally denounced it as “the worst thing I have ever seen happen on a cricket field.” Chappell subsequently apologised and admitted that it was the wrong thing to do.

In the end, Australia won.

Photo: Umpire David Sheppard (centre) intervenes as Australia captain Steve Waugh (left) and West Indies legend Brian Lara trade words.

Similar outcome in Barbados in 1995 when Brian Lara was controversially dismissed at a critical moment in the game. Lara and Carl Hooper had taken WI from six for three wickets to a still shaky 120 before Hooper departed.

With West Indies on 156 for five, Lara cut Brendon Julien hard to point. Steve Waugh flung himself low to his right and got a hand to the ball but did not hold on. As he scooped it up again, umpire Srinivas Venkataraghavan raised his finger. When Waugh claimed the catch, a doubtful Lara looked in the direction of Lloyd Barker at square-leg; he was unmoved. Lara had to go.

In the end, Australia won.

The Aussies replaced WI as world champions, a title which sat long on Aussie shoulders as if it belonged there. And Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Steve Smith worked hard to keep it there. By the end of 2017, however, India, inspirationally led by Virat Kohli, had made their way ruthlessly up the Test rankings to claim the number one spot. Perhaps uncomfortable with their new second fiddle status, skipper Smith’s Aussies set out for their tour of South Africa determined to set things right.

Smith and David Warner, his deputy, went south, down to a new low, taking with them then 25-year-old new boy Cameron Bancroft. They cynically plotted to use sandpaper to rough up the ball.

In the end, Australia lost.

Photo: Australia teammates Steve Smith (right) and David Warner.
(Copyright SABC News)

Wicketkeeper Tim Paine temporarily took over the Test captaincy but it was hard-hitting opener Aaron Finch who led the ODI squad. Having already served year-long bans for ball-tampering, both Smith and Warner have earned places in the 2019 World Cup squad.

But the tough-as-nails Finch continues as skipper—how dat go look? His Aussies meet South Africa on 6 July in the final game of the round robin stage.

And so the whirligig of time, Shakespeare says in Twelfth Night, brings in its revenges. Would it not be poetic justice if the perennial chokers were to choke the 2019 World Cup life out of the perennial winners?

Karma, after all, is a bitch…

About Earl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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7 comments

  1. Earl Best

    I never heard of this guy, Juliet, but he is good. in just under half an hour, he manages to do for Indian cricket what it takes Andrew Jennings almost 300 pages to do for football.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Earl Best

    Thanks. I shall give it my full attention when I have a spare moment later this evening.

  3. Not if DJ Bravo is on the team

  4. Can’t rule them out.They’re too dangerous

    People will underestimate them

    Still don’t agree with leaving out Handscomb though