The Australian team is part of cricket folklore for many reasons. Not only were they involved in the first international cricket match across all three formats, they have also been the most successful cricketing nation so far. Their adaptability and fighting spirit have resulted in 5 World Cup titles, head and shoulders above the next best – West Indies and India (2 titles each).
As the Australian team gears up to face archrivals England in what will be their eighth World Cup semi-final appearance (joint most with New Zealand, who have not won a title yet), let us look at how their previous World Cup Semi Final matches have turned out:
1975, against England at Headingly, Leeds
By the end of the group stage of the eight-team global event, England had topped their group by comprehensively beating their three opponents. Meanwhile Australia, thrashed by the West Indies, stood second in their group. The venue of the semi-finals, Headingly, had produced two contrasting encounters in the group stage: a high scoring Australia vs Pakistan (483 runs in total) and a low scoring India vs East Africa (223 runs in total).
On the day of the Semi Final, the Aussie captain Ian Chappell had no hesitation in putting England in on a pitch that looked green and damp. While the fielders ran to their positions between overs to ensure maximum overs while the pitch is still green, their fast bowler Gary Gilmour ripped through the English batting line-up and had them tottering at 37/7. In a memorable spell of 6/14, Gilmour dismissed four English batsmen with inswinging deliveries. He removed opener Barry Wood with a perfect yorker and had Tony Grieg by a superb one-handed catch by wicket keeper Rod March. All his victims fell to single digit scores. England’s tail wagged a bit alongside captain Mike Denness, but they ended up with a paltry 93.
When they turned out to bat, the Aussie openers saw through the new ball to some extent. After Geoff Arnold provided England their first breakthrough in the eighth over, the English bowlers reduced Australia to 39/6. Gilmour then ensured that the day belonged to him. He joined Doug Walters in the middle and scored a run-a-ball 28 to help them cross the line without further damage.
1987, against Pakistan at Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore
The fourth edition of the World Cup was a party to many first-time events, like holding the event outside England and having neutral umpires. This was also the first time that the mighty West Indies did not feature in the knockout stages.
In the first semi final Australia, who entered the tournament tagged by some as the “worst team to leave the Australian shores to play the World Cup” faced Pakistan, the losing semi finalists of the previous two editions – 1979 and 1983. Australia had luck with toss in the tournament and got to bat first in seven of the eight games, including the semi final and final. Australia got off to a good start with the openers seeing off Imran and Wasim to put together 73. While Imran Khan returned at the back end to bag 3/17, the Australian batsmen had put up a decent total by then. Steve Waugh, who had previously contributed mainly with the ball in the tournament, provided the final touch. He stuck a vital 18 runs off the last over bowled by Saleem Jaffer, a number that ultimately was the margin of victory for Australia.
While chasing, Pakistan got off to a disastrous start. They lost 3 wickets inside 11 overs. Javed Miandad and Imran Khan scored half centuries to consolidate the innings. Alan Border, who enjoyed a golden arm in the tournament, had Imran caught by the keeper while the target was still 100 runs away. When Bruce Reid dismissed Miandad in the 44th over, Pakistan was all but out of the game. Craig McDermott cleaned up the tail to bag a five-for. Pakistan lost their third consecutive World Cup Semi Final.
1996, against West Indies at PCA Stadium, Mohali
“West Indies had won 95 per cent of the match” – Mark Taylor, the Australian skipper, summarized after the end of this epic game.
The toss was the only thing that went Australia’s way until a little before the very end. Before the spectators could even settle in, Australians found themselves tottering at 15/4. They lost most of their gun batsmen in Taylor, Ricky Ponting and the Waugh brothers- Mark and Steve. Michael Bevan and Stuart Law scored half centuries to give their bowlers something to bowl at- a modest 207.
At one stage during their chase, West Indies were cruising at 165 for two with 43 needed of last 9 overs. Within the next 50 minutes, they managed to lose eight wickets and along with that, the hope to qualify for the finals after 13 years. Glenn McGrath dismissed a well set but cramping Shivnarine Chanderpaul for 80. Shane Warne then bowled an extraordinary three over spell during which he picked up three wickets for just six runs. Needing 10 of the last over, the West Indian captain Richie Richardson, facing Damien Fleming, hit four off the first ball. What followed was an error in judgement from Richardson - he set off for a single that resulted in the run-put of Curtly Ambrose. This decision proved fatal because it led to Courtney Walsh having to be on strike; he tried to hoick the first ball he faced only to find his stumps rattled. Australia won by five runs and the West Indies have never come closer to a World Cup title since.
1999, against South Africa, Edgbaston, Birmingham
Many fondly remember this match as perhaps the greatest ODI ever played. The game began with a bit of ice between the two team as Australia beat South Africa in the Super Six stage of the tournament, a win that proved to be crucial as it ensured that the Australians finished above South Africa in the Super Six table.
During their encounter at Edgbaston, a Shawn Pollock special (5/36) rolled over the Australians for 213. The decision to make Australia bat first proved correct at the halfway mark as only Steve Waugh and Michael Bevan were able to cross the 50-run mark.
While chasing, the South African openers looked comfortable until the 12th over mark. Shane Warne, bowling the 13th over, proved to be the hero for Australia in a second consecutive semi-final as he got rid of both the openers- Herschelle Gibbs, with a ball that reminded everybody of the famous Mike Gatting dismissal, and Gary Kirsten. South Africans were reeling at 175/6 when Lance Klusener came to the crease. With regular wickets falling at the other end, South Africa found themselves needing 13 off the last over with 1 wicket in hand.
Klusener faced Damien Fleming, who was bowling the last over of a World Cup semi-final for the second consecutive time, and hit him for two consecutive boundaries. Steve Waugh, the Australian captain, brought the field in to save the single. This led to panic as Alan Donald, backing up too far, almost ran himself out the next ball. The scare of the last ball became the reality of the next one. Klusener set off to run as soon as he hit the fourth ball of the over. Donald, ball watching, was late to take off, lost his bat mid-way and was run out by miles. A tie was enough for the Australians to qualify on the technicality of net run rate. For South Africa- the tag of ‘chokers’ was coined.
2003, against Sri Lanka, St George’s Park, Port Elizabeth
As the Australian team entered an era of dominance, they played a series of one-sided knock out World Cup matches. During the eighth edition of the World Cup, co-hosted by South Africa along with Zimbabwe and Kenya, the Australian team finished undefeated in the entire tournament.
The talking point of their semi-final game against Sri Lanka was Adam Gilchrist who, knowing that he edged the ball while attempting the sweep, walked off despite being ruled not out by the on-field umpire.
Under tough batting conditions, Sri Lanka was in with a chance with a few early wickets. However, the Sri Lankan wicket keeper Kumar Sangakkara missed a stumping off Andrew Symonds when he was 31. He ended up scoring a crucial 91 to help Australia put up 212 on the board.
While chasing, Sri Lanka found it hard to survive against the pace of Brett Lee. He took three early wickets to reduce them to 37/3. Andy Bichel ran Aravinda de Silva out and in no time, Sri Lanka were 76/7. Sangakkara and Chaminda Vaas strung a 47-run partnership, but the skies opened up to wash out even the minor Sri Lankan hopes. Australia won comfortably by Duckworth/Lewis calculations.
2007, against South Africa, Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium, Gros Islet, St Lucia
Australia followed their undefeated World Cup campaign in 2003 with yet another undefeated campaign in 2007. This time around, they were even more ruthless as they hardly played any close encounters, unlike the 2003 edition when they had a couple.
South Africa, with their wounds from the disappointment of the last two World Cups relatively fresh, failed to put up a fight. Having elected to bat first, they found themselves at 27/5 as Glenn McGrath and Shawn Tait wreaked havoc. South Africa was bowled out for 149, a target that Australia chased with 7 wickets and 111 balls to spare to march to their fourth consecutive World Cup final.
2015, against India, Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney
Of the four teams in the World Cup semi-finals in 2015 (South Africa and New Zealand being the other two), Australia would have preferred facing India. They had an undefeated run against India across all formats for the past few months.
Having lost the toss, India managed to have a good start as they got rid of the dangerous David Warner early. However, Steve Smith, their nightmare over the past few months, ensured that his form against India continued. He scored a century as Australian put up 328 with contributions from all other batsmen.
While chasing, India got off to a decent start with a first wicket partnership of 76. Nevertheless, a few quick wickets by the Australian pacers ensured that the Indian team was behind the game at all times and ended up 95 runs short. Australia went on to beat New Zealand in the final and win their fifth World Cup title.