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Greatness beyond individuals

By Daniel Laidlaw
March 24, 2003 17:17 IST
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The Australian one-day team has delivered stunning confirmation that it is a great one. This had already been strongly suspected, with much evidence in existence to support the status, but it is only rare moments of dazzling illumination like World Cup finals that really confirm it.

It can be too easy to take record winning streaks and undefeated World Cup campaigns for granted, to see it as a kind of norm rather than an exception, and not appreciate what it takes to achieve. Unfortunately, it's easy to become blasé about greatness, without giving it proper consideration. The World Cup final, then, came as an astonishing reminder not to do that. It emphatically demonstrated that this Australian team is indeed a great one.

Steve WaughWhat the final indicated, above all else, is that Australia's greatness really lies in its team ethos, not its individual members. Steve Waugh helped mould the approach of the present team and foster its spirit, but has been proven nonessential to it (which should be the ultimate tribute -- a great leader is not one who leaves a team unable to survive and progress without or after him). Ricky Ponting is likely not indispensable either, nor anyone else. The captains and leading players are custodians, shepherds, important components and influences to be sure but in no way proprietors of the group's success. It must be so, because this is a different team to the one which triumphed four years ago, and been considered world champions in the intervening period.

Under Ricky Ponting, but not really because of him, a new and different level of excellence has been reached. Hayden, Symonds, Lee and Hogg were not part of the previous Cup triumph. No one person can be said to be responsible for making the team what it is, which is why dynasties are formed. Players come and go, but spirit is much more enduring.

Ponting's team clearly has the intangible quality of the champion side: it is more than the sum of its parts. Experience counts, yes. Skill, talent and technique, definitely. Coaching, administration, structure and everything that goes into facilitating on-field performance, sure. Still, all things being equal, none of those will necessarily make the difference on the day, if the players aren't particularly committed to playing for each other. Spirit still counts for so much.

Ricky PontingIt is the champion's spirit that enables a team to produce its best on the biggest occasions. It reveals so much. Australia had overcome adversity and a variety of challenges to reach the 2003 World Cup final, but nothing to quite confirm or refute its status absolutely. That would almost certainly come on the biggest stage, against the best opponent. Sourav Ganguly intimated as much leading up to the final.

As was the case in '99, Australia produced its best performance in the final, in doing so setting the benchmark for the future. Scoring 359 in the World Cup final is unthinkable, an optimistic joke. Producing that type of display has to require an intangible spirit, something that goes beyond mere ability, experience, and the necessary fearless confidence. It's difficult to explain otherwise.

Andrew SymondsTo reach that point, the Australians had to overcome a drugs scandal that sent home their star spinner before the first game, injury to a premiere fast bowler that incapacitated him before the Super Six, controversy over playing in Zimbabwe, and a racism charge laid by the vice-captain. Among various on-field challenges. They gained a batsman who finally discovered how to play at this level in Andrew Symonds, producing bookend match-winning performances in his team's two most important pre-final games, the opener against Pakistan and semi-final against Sri Lanka. In the final, his batting services were not required.

The champion's spirit was exemplified by Damien Martyn, an unobtrusive member of the side and a surprise selection for the final with a broken finger. He could have taken the easy option and not played, indeed it appeared the balance of the team would be better served if he had not. Instead, he played, and produced a fluent unbeaten 88 in a record partnership with his captain.

The spirit was exemplified in captain Ricky Ponting, who overcame moderate recent form and a somewhat unconvincing start to finish with a fantastic flourish, personally leaving an indelible mark upon the tournament to put the final beyond reach. In the past, Australia has occasionally been guilty of not capitalising on their position to the fullest extent in the final overs; on this occasion, Ponting saw to it they blazed ten runs an over across the last 12 overs with some astonishing, memorable strikes.

As much as anyone, the spirit was exemplified by Adam Gilchrist, responsible for influencing the course of the innings by imposing himself upon the defining early overs in fearless fashion. He seized on favourable deliveries superbly, attacking what was marginally too short with the fullest confidence, until bad deliveries became less marginal. Gilchrist was beaten second ball he faced, but importantly treated it like any other game, in an insouciant frame of mind. He was unnecessarily dismissed before time, but the frenetic start left a nervous Indian attack stunned and set the platform for the deeds of Martyn and Ponting.

Gilchrist's seizing -- or at least, reception of -- the initiative contributed to a collectively awesome batting performance, which made the second half of the game virtually redundant.

Such a display should not be yawned away as just another Australian victory, for it was far from inevitable that anything like it would occur in a final that had so much potential. That it did is confirmation both of Australia's greatness as a one-day unit at this particular moment in time, and the evolving champion spirit of the Australian team of the current era generally.

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Daniel Laidlaw