The Stuff of Legends

Part 6 Final.
Unparalleled in sports history.

Mission complete

SOMETHING AKIN TO Hilary on top of Everest, Armstrong on the moon, Scott arriving at the South Pole, Australia winning a third consecutive cricket World Cup is something unparalleled in sports history. To have been a part of that journey has been an experience that will never be matched.

While the trek began eight years before the Cup in July 1999, and gained momentum in March of 2003, the final assault didn’t commence until August 2006. It was at this point we put together the final pieces of the plan. We took the players and support staff on a ‘boot camp’ to ensure that whatever was put in front of the team (or individuals within the team), we would conquer it, we would find a way through – we would not be beaten!

Our mission was to win The Big Three – the ICC Trophy (never won by Australia), then the 2006–07 Ashes series (to regain the urn and completely erase the disappointing results of 2005) and finally take the treble, the 2007 World Cup.

As we strode through the early part of the tournament, a little like Rommel’s Afrika Korps in the early stages of the desert war of North Africa, a number of things became clear. The strategy of having a single focus for the players had worked.

In the 2003 World Cup, I had talked to the team about the key parts of the tournament, such as the first two games against Pakistan and India. It was essential that we won those games in order to get our campaign off to a confident start, but it was also important because these were two of the teams that we could possibly meet again in the semi-finals. I also discussed why it was important to position ourselves as number one by the end of the preliminary rounds as it meant our semi-final, while not on our ideal surface, would be held at a ground we had played on at least twice before.

The 2007 Cup campaign was different. Our confidence, particularly our bowling group, had been dented by injury and the recent results in the Commonwealth Bank Series against England, and then losses to the Kiwis in the land of the long white cloud. It was crucial to have our confidence in each other returned as quickly as possible. One of the important lessons of the boot camp was that to complete a mission successfully we needed to rely on each member of the group.

I looked at the games ahead with the chairman of selectors, Andrew Hilditch and captain Ricky Ponting, and we charted the period where we were to play South Africa, West Indies and supposedly India as a make-or-break period in the tournament. For the remainder of the team, it was simply about one game at a time.

peak performance coaching

Everest Peak Performance Framework

We needed to prepare for each new game the same way: arm ourselves with as much detail of the opposition as was relevant; make our two primary groups (batting and bowling) accountable for what they would deliver through the game; ensure that we trained and prepared as hard as we could to deliver the game plan; and then play with the freedom to release those skills through quality decision making.

This approach saw Australia dominate its way through every preliminary game, no matter the strength of the opposing team or the conditions or difficulties encountered. It was with this feeling of confidence in our skills, in each other’s skills, in our planning and preparation, and the surface in Barbados (a harder, faster wicket), that we could not wait for the final to arrive.

A short lead-up time is always beneficial at this stage of an event, unless there is an injury which is critical to the team. We had no serious injury problems apart from the odd niggle, but nothing that was going to prevent anyone being selected for the final contest.

We spent 25 April, Anzac day, demolishing South Africa in St Lucia, a win for which our bowling group must take great credit. Having the Proteas 5 for 27 after 9.5 overs virtually set the seal on our march through to the final.

The next day, 26 April, was a travel day and settling into the Hilton in Barbados. The day after we trained lightly, with the weather doing its best to prevent us from doing much at all. Normally we would have a final strategy meeting two days out from the game, but due to travel and the short time between games, the final team meeting was at 6.00 pm the night before the game.

We went through the various pieces of business as usual: ‘administrivia’ concerning the staging of anthems before the game, and a little detail of post-match requirements involving the sponsor’s beer only to be drunk, no Fosters allowed; then to the playing groups who delivered their normal succinct messages and commitments to the team. Next, Ricky ‘Punter’ Ponting mentioned that in 2003 I had asked the team how they were feeling on the eve of the final so that individuals could express their feelings, be they confidence, doubts, nervousness, excitement or whatever. So I asked the players the same question: ‘How were they feeling on the eve of the 2007 World Cup Final?’

‘I can’t wait,’ replied Andrew ‘Roy’ Symonds. Michael Clarke said, ‘I’m nervous, not sure I will be able to sleep. Glenn ‘Pidge’ McGrath answered: ‘I’m very relaxed – the final is why we are here.’ Punter said ‘Not trying to build the game up too much.’ I sensed those words were not only for himself but for the rest of the team as well. Shaun ‘Taitty’ Tait piped up: ‘Banks beer’s a good drop … given we can’t drink Fosters,’ to which Brad ‘Hads’ Haddin replied, ‘This has been your first comment in a team meeting for the whole tour!’

This light-hearted moment was followed by Punter’s final address to the team as captain.

He praised the intensity of our last game against the Sri Lankans and wanted that to be repeated. He wanted the players to really enjoy the experience of playing a final, of which this was his fourth. He reinforced his total confidence in the players – no matter what they were confronted with, he knew they would be able to respond. His final message and emphasis was to have a presence on the field and in everything we did from breakfast to the end of the game.

I read the good luck fax from the Prime Minister to the team, and presented the final two team awards to Michael Hussey and Andrew Symonds. And so we left the room ready for tomorrow.

Unfortunately, inclement weather intervened just as it had in the Champions Trophy in India in October the previous year. The start was delayed, but not before Ricky had won the toss and decided to bat. Getting runs on the board first in a final is a very compelling tactic, although bad weather and the certainty that the match would be reduced in duration caused us all to rethink that strategy. In the end though, we still believed it was the best decision.

At 12.15 pm, nearly three hours after the normal commence­ment of play, Adam ‘Gilly’ Gilchrist and Matthew ‘Haydos’ Hayden strode to the crease to exert their presence on the final. It was a measured start with Lasith Malinga bowling his first four overs for six runs, although Gilly was getting into stride at the other end with 37 having come from Chaminda Vaas and Dilhara Fernando. The powerplay was lifted in the eleventh over and that seemed to be the signal for Gilly to really explode, taking 16 from Fernando. Captain Mahela Jayawardene introduced his trump card, Muttiah Muralitharan, and followed this with Tillakaratne Dilshan to take some pace off the ball, but still Gilly attacked, plumping Fernando back over mid-off for six to bring up the 100 partnership at 16.2 overs. Drinks were taken more for relief from Gilly’s brutal onslaught than the heat-induced thirst of the Bajan skies. By then the score was 135 from 19 overs with Gilly on 95 from 66 balls and his silent partner, Haydos, on 30 from 49 balls.

There was little let-up from this incredible partnership until the fifth ball of the twenty-third over when Hayden was caught trying to hit Malinga over cover with the score on 172. Gilly was finally out five overs later having played one of the greatest innings of all the World Cups – 149 from 104 balls and his first 100 in World Cup competiton. What a time to produce it!! It was a personal triumph, just payment for the dedication, hard work and integrity in everything he had done throughout his cricket career.

The plunder continued and we were able to finish the shortened innings length of 38 overs at 5 for 281. An early wicket in Sri Lanka’s chase and we were on our way. But Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara had other ideas and their partnership had them well and truly in the game. However, just as the bowling group had done against any side that threatened in the tournament, they struck. This time, through the ‘jack rabbit’ Brad Hogg getting Sangakkara, and another seven wickets falling in the space of 12 overs, the game was ours (or so we thought). At this point, the Sri Lankan batsmen were offered the light which had been distinctly dark for some time, with still three overs left. From the players’ perspective this was the end of the game and celebrations began.

In the coaches’ area we were quite restrained as we had just been told that the full quota of overs had to be bowled, otherwise we would be trooping back the next day! Confusion reined. Fortunately, common sense prevailed with all parties agreeing to conclude the game in almost complete darkness.

It was time for all the players who had not been selected and the support staff to swoop onto the field and engulf the players who were inebriated on the sweetness of victory.

The end of match speeches and interviews seemed oddly long given the moon was already high in the sky – although speeches and interviews always seem long and an anticlimax at this juncture, whether you are the winning team that just want to celebrate or the losing team that just want to get off the oval as quickly as possible.

The champagne, the photos with the Cup, the lap of honour waving to an army of supporter groups who had travelled to Barbados for the finals, and the return to the dressing rooms where the stories flowed and the stuff that legends will be made from in years to come, were born.

‘Underneath the Southern Cross I stand …’

Mission complete, gentlemen!