Winning one World Cup is a dream come true for many, but what do you call a team who have done it three times in a row? The Australian team of the mid 90s right up to the late 2000s were nothing short of invincible. They proved that across formats, be it in Tests, where they were ruthless or in the 50-over format, where they always found a way to get the job done, just like a champion side. The Australian side of that era, first under Steve Waugh and then under Ricky Ponting set high benchmarks, which not many teams have emulated. Perhaps no team can ever.
On this day in 2007, in the most farcical end to a World Cup, Australia achieved what no team has ever done before – win the World Cup thrice in a row – and their fourth overall.
If it was Ponting and Damien Martyn who took the Indian bowlers to the cleaners in the 2003 final against India, it was Adam Gilchrist in the 2007 final, who single-handedly took apart the Sri Lankan bowling attack. While Gilchrist showed true sporting spirit in the 2003 World Cup semi-final against the same team, when he walked off even after being given not out by the on-field umpire, he more than made up for it at the grandest stage against the same opponent. However, his scintillating 104-ball 149 was only overshadowed by how poorly the match reached its conclusion.
Video Courtesy: Hbkpalmer
Gilchrist had already smashed 54 off 36 and 57 off 48 in the 1999 and 2003 finals respectively, but he outdid himself by a long margin in 2007.
Not many were happy with the way the 2007 World Cup was organized. Not only did the competition have 16 teams, it had the most number of matches ever played in a single edition and to further add to the fans’ woes, the ticket prices too were exorbitantly high. Sambit Bal rightly wrote on ESPNcricinfo, “They have brought the World Cup to the most joyous and spontaneous part of the cricket world and squeezed every ounce of enjoyment out of it.”
Not to forget, both India and Pakistan were knocked out in the group stages and the latter’s exit was followed by the controversial death of their coach Bob Woolmer, which did no favours in helping the tournament gain popularity.
Due to rain, the match was reduced to a 38-over affair. Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden gave the defending champions an ideal start. Gilchrist was dropped by Dilhara Fernando of his own bowling albeit a tough chance when he was on just a run-a-ball 31, but that would eventually prove to be a costly miss for Sri Lanka as the Aussie ‘keeper would go on to score a century off just 72 balls and ended with 13 fours and eight sixes in a stroke-filled 149 off 104. He put on 172 for the first wicket with Hayden (38 off 55) in less than 23 overs. Hayden played the perfect second fiddle in that partnership, which proved to be one of the decisive factors.
While Gilchrist scored at a strike-rate of over 143, the rest of the team managed to score at just over 85, but was good enough for Australia to put up a daunting total of 281 for 4. The 23 extras too certainly helped Australia’s cause.
Barring the 116-run second wicket stand between Sanath Jayasuriya (63) and Kumar Sangakkara (54), Sri Lanka never looked to be in the game. They always seemed to have an outside chance, but with a required run-rate of 7.40, it was never going to be easy to achieve considering Australia’s bowling attack.
There was a stoppage of play when the lights deteriorated, followed by rain with Sri Lanka on 149 for 3 in 24.5 overs. The Duckworth-Lewis par score at that point was 175 from 25 overs. When play resumed, the target was readjusted to 269 from 36 overs, meaning, Sri Lanka still needed 123 runs more from 67 deliveries and with seven wickets in hand, and they had the ammunition to do so. But then, Sri Lanka lost wickets at regular intervals. The runs required went from 81 off 36 and then 74 off 24. The light was starting to fade and when it was offered to Chaminda Vaas and Lasith Malinga, they accepted it. With Sri Lanka well behind the Duckworth-Lewis score, Australia started celebrating their third consecutive title. But there was a twist…
According to the rules, if play was stopped due to bad light, the match would resume on the reserve day, which meant that Ponting’s men had to come on to bowl the remaining four overs the following day. The two captains reached a consensus where Australia would bowl only with their slower bowlers. Malinga was stumped off Symonds’ final ball of the over post resumption. Vaas and Fernando played out the remaining overs and Sri Lanka finished at 215 for 8, losing by 53 runs eventually.
All the umpires on duty for the match – Steve Bucknor and Aleem Dar (on-field), Billy Bowden (Reserve umpire), Rudi Koertzen (TV umpire) and Jeff Crowe (Match referee) were met with boos all around the Kensington Oval for the way they let the match reach its conclusion. As a result, all five of them were suspended for the upcoming ICC World T20 2007 in South Africa.
Sri Lanka went on to lose the 2011 World Cup final against India and the 2012 World T20 final to West Indies before they finally tasted success in the 2014 World T20.
Ponting stepped down as Australia’s captain following his side’s quarter-final exit in the 2011 World Cup – their worst finish since the 1992 World Cup. Michael Clarke took over the reins.
Under Clarke, Australia went on to win their fifth World Cup title, this time at home; becoming only the second side after India to do so.