It was only appropriate that Barbados was hosting the World Cup final on a day when it honours its illustrious sons. The setting was perfect for some more name(s), albeit alien, to leave an imprint on the island’s cricketing history.
It had been a below-par tournament so far and the occasion demanded a booster shot to sign off on a high. Left to themselves, the Aussies would have ensured that and much more but the idiosyncrasies of the ICC towards the fag end ensured the mega event stayed shackled.
Immune as we are in the sub-continent to the bungling by administrators, it was nonetheless a sorry sight to see the showpiece event, already witness to numerous on and off-field disasters, end on a sad note.
One could go on but it would be mean going on a different tangent. This is a humble attempt to celebrate an epoch that has once again established beyond doubt, if ever some of us were rocked by it specially after the VB series loss to England, that the Aussies are infallible.
Prior to the final, there were reports on the war of words between the two sides, on the Aussies not being tested thus far and the Sri Lankans -- re-inforced by the return of Vaas, Muralitharan and Malinga after being kept in wraps from the Australians in the Super Eight – testing them thoroughly. All of this was nothing but small talk.
The loyalties were with Sri Lanka, but deep below lurked a feeling that the Aussies, given their ominous form in the run-up to the summit clash, were ordained to win even before the first ball was sent down and as events unfolded, it gained credence. The torrential rain, the slashing of overs to 38-a-side and Ricky Ponting electing to bat seemed to prove that the dye had been cast.
Batting first in a shortened game meant the scales tilting in the world champions’ favour, what with their top six batsmen boasting of strike rates above 90.
“Cometh the hour, cometh the man”, and a cocky New South Wales man by the name of Adam Gilchrist lived up to the adage. By his own high standards, the wicketkeeper had had a mediocre World Cup till yesterday, but all that changed within a few hours.
“Gilly” as he is nicknamed came good and how. His 149 off 104 balls was not only his first century in a third and probably last World Cup final appearance but also the fastest and highest score in a Cup final. Gilchrist cut, punched, drove and hoisted his way to glory and though his departure allowed Sri Lanka pull things back a wee bit, he had ensured the “force” stayed with the Aussies till the end.
It wasn’t as if Sri Lanka played badly. They had done their homework. Unlike the 2003 final when Zaheer Khan lost the plot in the early stages by glaring at Matthew Hayden, not once did the Lankans stare back or back-chat. They played their hearts out but were undone by a simple mantra the Aussies are known to follow. “Raise the bar when the occasion demands”. The Emerald Islanders just could not match up, disappointing thousands of West Indians who had turned up from all parts of the Caribbean to cheer for the underdogs.
Though vanquished, the Lankans were not disgraced unlike India four years ago. To keep a check on sagging spirits, they sought solace in each other. Be it Lasith Malinga running up to console senior team man Chaminda Vaas while he was being ridden roughshod by Gilchrist, or Dilhara Fernando and skipper Mahela Jayawardene exchanging wry grins after a muffed-up run out chance.
Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumara Sangakkara raised visions of a contest but as wizened head Ranjith Fernando put it “We can’t have two such knocks in one match.” It was Gilchrist’s platform, there was no place for a pretender.
Such was the Australian vice-captain’s belligerence that he made the re-worked Kensington Oval ground look much smaller than it was. Such was his sway that we almost forgot that it was man-of-the-tournament Glenn McGrath’s last day of international cricket and John Buchanan’s final day in office as coach.
As celebrations took off in fading light and Ponting lifted the trophy with his comrades, among those present were the iconic figures of Sir Garfield Sobers and Sir Everton Weekes. It was National Heroes Day in Barbados, but the two legends were more than happy to applaud and let the exuberant bunch take centrestage.