Australia v Pakistan, World Cup Final: Preview
Rick Eyre - 20 June 1999

Five weeks, forty-one matches, roughly 250 hours of playing time. A World Cup longer and more gruelling than in any other major sport reaches its climax at Lord's today, as Australia and Pakistan both attempt to join the West Indies as the only teams to win the title for the second time.

Both teams will be playing their tenth match of the World Cup today, when they have finished they will have played close to 70 hours cricket in this tournament. Compare this to France who played seven games, slightly more than eleven hours on the pitch, to win the 1998 FIFA World Cup. Compare also to the Rugby World Cup later this year in Wales, where the winner will have played six matches of rugby for eight hours of playing time. Neither football event lasts so long as the 38 days of the 1999 ``Carnival of Cricket''.

It really has been a long haul. But for one team it will become truly worthwhile today.

Neither Australia nor Pakistan have had flawless paths to the final. Australia, who pre-tournament were second favourites to win after South Africa, put in an umimpressive display in beating Scotland, and then showed problems in their bowling in fielding in losing to New Zealand and Pakistan. Since then, they have been undefeated in their last six matches. A clinical victory over Bangladesh was followed by another clinical performance against the West Indies. The latter victory was soured by attempts to manipulate the net run-rate to shut New Zealand out of the tournament and improve their own Super Six standings. Ironically, this attempt failed, and even more ironically, proved to be unnecessary.

Commanding wins over India and Zimbabwe were followed by two extraordinary, and possibly flukey, fightbacks against South Africa. A courageous rearguard victory in the Super Sixes last Sunday was followed by the most astonishing tie in the semi-final, a finals spot handed to Australia on a platter thanks to a bizarre last wicket run out. There is no doubt, however, that Australia's form at this point of the tournament is much more confident and sound than it was a month or so ago.

A strong argument could be placed for saying that Pakistan do not deserve to win this World Cup.. after all, wouldn't it be reasonable to expect that the best cricket team on Earth would not be one that falls foul to an ICC associate team (ie, Bangladesh) along the way? But for all Pakistan's midtournament depression (losses to Bangladesh, South Africa, India) they remain a team overflowing with raw talent who have produced so many moments of individual genius in this tournament. Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar, Saeed Anwar, Saqlain Mushtaq, Moin Khan... all of these names are associated with some great memories of the World Cup. And then there's Azhar Mahmood, Abdul Razzaq, Shahid Afridi, Wajahatullah Wasti, Ijaz Ahmed...

And, of course, Inzamam ul Haq.

For Australia, Steve Waugh, a much-maligned captain of late, proved last Sunday just what he can do as a big-match player, a quality he has demonstrated in Test matches over and over again. Shane Warne is, despite India continuing to be his nemesis, one of the outstanding bowlers of this tournament, as is Glenn McGrath - for whom India definitely was not a nemesis. Damien Fleming and to a lesser extent Paul Reiffel provide strong support in the bowling attack, but the fifth bowling spot continues to be a slight weakness for Australia, something that was their absolute undoing in the ten-run loss to Pakistan at Headingley four long weeks ago. Bevan, Ponting and Steve Waugh have been more than dependable with the bat, less so Mark Waugh and Darren Lehmann, while Adam Gilchrist is probably one of the flops of World Cup 99. Australia will need consistency from its batsmen if they are going to win today.