The 2003 ICC World Cup was held in South Africa in February and March, with Zimbabwe and Kenya as subsidiary co-hosts. The participants were the test-playing teams (Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, Pakistan,New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Zimbabwe) plus four "minnows": Kenya (as co-hosts), and Canada, the Netherlands, and Namibia, the top three in the ICC Trophy competition. The tournament took place against a troubled political backdrop, with the worsening crisis leading up to the US/UK invasion of Iraq, and more directly, the increasingly dictatorial behaviour of Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe and recent terrorist attacks on hotels in Kenya. In sporting terms, Australia were clear favourites to win, with South Africa, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka thought to be in with a chance.

The structure of the competition - criticised somewhat for making the tournament excessively lengthy - was based on a qualifying group stage, with two groups of seven teams playing a round robin, the top three of each group going on to a "super sixes" stage for which the teams retained their points for matches against their fellow and played the three qualifiers from the other group; the top four in the super sixes were seeded for the two semi-finals, first against fourth and second against third. The final was held in Johannesburg on 24 March, the last of 54 scheduled matches. Games were the by now standard 50 over one-day internationals, with a few day-night games. Reserve days in case of rain were only made available in the later stages, with washed out games to be restarted rather than continued; fortunately this slightly contentious rule never had to be applied. Rain-interrupted games were decided using the Duckworth Lewis method.

There had for some time been some dispute about whether England should boycott their scheduled match against Zimbabwe in Harare, in protest against the Mugabe government's pretty appaling record of election rigging and human rights abuses. The English Cricket Board, paralysed by fears of messing up a lucrative TV contract set up at the peak of the now declining market for televised sport, put on a spectacular show of vacillation and indecision, with the board and players' representatives frequently contradicting one another, culminating in a series of inspections by the ICC to examine whether the matches posed any threat to the safety of players or supporters. Although the ICC declared the match safe to play, following threats from a shadowy organisation called "the Sons and Daughters of Zimbabwe" the England team decided to refuse to play on safety grounds rather than political ones. They applied to the ICC to have the game cancelled and the points split between the teams, but they were ruled to have forfeited the match. Similarly, in Group B New Zealand, drawn to play Kenya in Nairobi, declined to travel and Kenya were awarded a walkover.

Another black cloud fell over the start of the tournament when star Australian spinner Shane Warne fell foul of a dope test, testing positive for a banned diuretic that could vaguelty conceivably be used as a masking agent for steroids. Despite, or possibly because of, his claims that he was browbeaten into taking it by his mother for purely aesthetic reasons, he was given a one-year ban (only half the two years recently set as the standard tariff by WADA) by the Australian Cricket Board and is unlikely to play international one-day cricket again.

Group A

  • Feb 10 Zimbabwe beat Namibia by 86 runs (D/L method)
    Zimbabwe scored a more than comfortable 340 and had Namibia thoroughly on the ropes at 104/5 when the rains came, but late enough for the match to be decided by the rain rules. Andy Flower and Henry Olonga marked their protest against the Mugabe regime by playing in black armbands, which was to lead to a reprimand from their national federation.
  • Feb 11 Australia beat Pakistan by 82 runs
  • Feb 12 India beat Netherlands by 68 runs
    India, who came into the tournament in awful form, duly collected four points from the Dutch, but in such unconvincing style that there seemed to be some grave doubts about their abilities against serious opposition
  • Feb 13 Zimbabwe v England - Zimbabwe awarded walkover
  • Feb 15 Australia beat India by 9 wickets
    A match that seemed to confirm India's slump; they were skittled for 125 all out and beaten easily. Back at home, several of the players' homes had to be put under armed guard as criticism rained in from all sides.
  • Feb 16 England beat Netherlands by six wickets
    England opened their campaign a week late with a comfortable win over oranje who could only score 142 in their 50 overs
  • Feb 16 Pakistan beat Namibia by 171 runs
  • Feb 19 England beat Namibia by 55 runs
  • Feb 19 India beat Zimbabwe by 83 runs
    The Indian batsmen finally got their heads together and set a target of 255 which was too much for the co-hosts despite their home advantage.
  • Feb 20 Australia beat Netherlands by 75 runs (D/L method)
  • Feb 22 England beat Pakistan by 112 runs
    In their first match against serious opposition, England set an unspectacular score of 248 runs, but batting second under lights Pakistan were unable to deal with the swinging ball with young James Anderson taking 4-24 as they were all out well short of the target.
  • Feb 23 India beat Namibia by 181 runs
  • Feb 24 Australia beat Zimbabwe by seven wickets
    A workmanlike performance took Australia past Zimbabwe's 246 with a couple of overs to spare.
  • Feb 25 Pakistan beat Netherlands by 97 runs
  • Feb 26 India beat England by 82 runs
    Despite extremely tight bowling by Andy Flintoff (2/15 off his 10 overs), India managed to score a reasonable 250, but with the floodlights on the ball was swinging violently and Ashish Nehra destroyed England's innings with figures of 6/24, the third best in World Cup history.
  • Feb 27 Australia beat Namibia by 256 runs
    The most one-sided match in the group provided Australia with some easy batting practice before Glenn McGrath with figures of 7/15 led the demolition of Namibia for 45 all out.
  • Feb 28 Zimbabwe beat Netherlands by 99 runs
  • Mar 1 India beat Pakistan by 6 wickets
    Always a high-key fixture, this was probably the best game of the series. Pakistan set a challenging total of 273 with a century by Saeed Anwar, but Sachin Tendulkar played a masterful innings of 98 despite injury to punish the Pakistani attack and lead India to victory. Many usually restrained commentators described it as the best batting they had ever seen.
  • Mar 2 Australia beat England by 2 wickets
    England now needed to beat Australia to qualify under their own steam, and came within a hair's breadth of doing so in one of the closest games of the cup, Michael Bevan hitting the winning run with only two balls to spare after he and Andy Bichel had rescued a seemingly beaten Australia from 135/8. Bichel had also bowled excellently, taking 7 for 20.
  • Mar 3 Netherlands beat Namibia by 64 runs
    The tournament's wooden spoon match saw - the losers would be the only team to score nul points - the Netherlands take their first World Cup victory with Feiko Kloppenburg and Klaas van Noortwijk scoring the teams first two centuries in international cricket on an excellent batting wicket.
  • Mar 4 Zimbabwe v Pakistan - Match abandoned (rain)
    With England waiting in their hotel rooms to see if the already effectively eliminated Pakistan team could get them out of jail, the elements proved enough to put Zimbabwe through.
            P W L T N  RR
Australia   6 6 0 0 0  2.04 24
India       6 5 1 0 0  1.11 20
Zimbabwe    6 3 2 0 1  0.50 14
England     6 3 3 0 0  0.82 12
Pakistan    6 2 3 0 1  0.23 10
Netherlands 6 1 5 0 0 -1.45  4
Namibia     6 0 6 0 0 -2.95  0

Australia's perfect record gave them an extremely healthy cushion of 12 points to take through to the second stage, and India too were in a solid position.

Group B

  • Feb 9 South Africa lost to West Indies by 3 runs
    An extremely close match opened the tournament, with the hosts narrowly failing to match the total set after a spectacular century by Brian Lara
  • Feb 10 Sri Lanka beat New Zealand by 47 runs
  • Feb 11 Canada beat Bangladesh by 60 runs
    Despite their (rather tenuous) test-playing status, Bangladesh are a weak one-day side and showed it in being soundly beaten by the Canadian part-timers
  • Feb 12 South Africa beat Kenya by 10 wickets
    Another overwhelming win for the major team against one of the minnows led to more grumbling that these sides did not belong in the competition. This was, however, somewhat premature.
  • Feb 13 West Indies lost to New Zealand by 20 runs
  • Feb 14 Sri Lanka beat Bangladesh by 10 wickets
    Chaminda Vaas took a hat-trick with the first three deliveries of the game and a fourth wicket the same over to lead the demolition of the hapless Bangladeshis; their 125 all out was easily beaten.
  • Feb 15 Kenya beat Canada by 4 wickets
  • Feb 16 South Africa lost to New Zealand by 9 wickets (D/L method)
    Herschelle Gibbs scored a century as the hosts set a seemingly unassailable 306, but rain forced a reduction in the New Zealand innings with a revised target of 229 and captain Stephen Fleming played a spectacular 134 not out to lead his team to the win.
  • Feb 18 West Indies v Bangladesh - No result (rain)
    An unfortunate - and ultimately fatal - loss of two points by the Windies, who had set a total that Bangladesh could not possibly have made.
  • Feb 19 Sri Lanka beat Canada by 9 wickets
    Canada set a record for the lowest ever one-day international score, all out for 36 runs, which Sri Lanka took less than five overs to beat in one of the shortest matches you could ask for.
  • Feb 21 New Zealand v Kenya - Kenya awarded walkover
  • Feb 22 South Africa beat Bangladesh by 10 wickets
    An easy win for South Africa who bowled bangladesh out for 109 and made the target in under 12 overs
  • Feb 23 West Indies beat Canada by 7 wickets
    Canada set another record, this time a very unexpected one, with John Davison scoring the fastest ever World Cup century, off 75 balls. However, the team slumped to 202 after he was out, and the Canadian bowling was taken apart as the Windies matched the score in under 21 overs.
  • Feb 24 Sri Lanka lost to Kenya by 53 runs
    The first real surprise result, with Kenya's Collins Oboya demolishing the Sri Lankan middle order, taking 5-24. Suddenly, with the free points from the cancelled New Zealand game, Kenya looked in a good position to be surprise qualifiers for the Super Sixes
  • Feb 26 New Zealand beat Bangladesh by 7 wickets
  • Feb 27 South Africa beat Canada by 118 runs
  • Feb 28 Sri Lanka beat West Indies by 6 runs
    Chaminda Vaas, one of the tournament's most successful bowlers, took four key wickets to stop West Indies from overhauling a modest total, and put them all but out of the running for a place in the next round
  • Mar 1 Kenya beat Bangladesh by 32 runs

  • This win guaranteed Kenya a place in the super sixes and definitively removed any hope for the West Indies.
  • Mar 3 New Zealand beat Canada by 5 wickets
    An easy win was enough to guarantee New Zealand a place in the Super Sixes despite the points they had dropped.
  • Mar 3 South Africa v Sri Lanka - Match tied (D/L method)
    In this crunch match for the third qualifying place, a miscalculation by the South African batsmen of the score they needed to stay ahead of Sri Lanka with the rain threatening led to the points being split, and the host nation going out of the competition from a position from which they should have won; one run more when the rain came would have put them through.
  • Mar 4 West Indies beat Kenya by 142 runs
    A dead match; the West Indies skittled Kenya, but the overall standings were not affected.
             P W L T N  RR
Sri Lanka    6 4 1 1 0  1.20 18
Kenya        6 4 2 0 0 -0.69 16
New Zealand  6 4 2 0 0  0.99 16
South Africa 6 3 2 1 0  1.73 14
West Indies  6 3 2 0 1  1.10 14
Canada       6 1 5 0 0 -1.99  4
Bangladesh   6 0 5 0 1 -2.05  2

Although Sri Lanka were top of the group table, Kenya were actually in a better position for the next round as the other two qualifiers were both teams that they had already beaten (or at least, been given the points by).

Super Sixes

Although the criticism over the length of the tournament tended to focus on the inclusion of the lesser lights in the opening round, this series of nine games served only to eliminate two teams, and in fact the end result was exactly as it would have been had the top two in each group gone straight to the semi-finals.

  • Mar 7 Australia beat Sri Lanka by 96 runs
    A rampant Australia set a score of 319 and then ran through the disappointing Sri Lankan batting systematically for a convincing win. That was enough to guarantee that Australia would be among the semi-finalists.
  • Mar 7 India beat Kenya by 6 wickets
    Kenya gave India a close fight and proved the value of their tight bowling and fielding again, giving India real trouble in chasing a modest 226, before they were rescued by a captain's innings from Sorav Ganguly.
  • Mar 8 New Zealand beat Zimbabwe by six wickets
    Zimbabwe set a fairly good score of 252, but a Nathan Astle century steered New Zealand home with a couple of overs to spare to keep their hopes alive.
  • Mar 10 India beat Sri Lanka by 183 runs
    India bounced back from their uncertain performance against Kenya by setting 292 against Sri Lanka, with Tendulkar once again just missing out on a century. The Indian seamers then blew the Sri Lankan batting apart - the top four of the order were all out for ducks, and there was no way back after that. India were now certain of a semi-final place.
  • Mar 11 Australia beat New Zealand by 96 runs
    Australia were, as they had been against England two matches earlier, in trouble at 84/7 when Michael Bevan and Andy Bichel (again) rescued them to post a still very modest total of 208. However, Kiwi hopes were dashed when Brett Lee took five wickets in 15 balls to spearhead a systematic destruction of their batting, and they were all out for 112
  • Mar 12 Kenya beat Zimbabwe by 7 wickets
    In what was in effect the African final, the outsiders from Kenya - and particularly their accurate if unspectacular medium-paced bowling and excellent fielding - proved too much for the demoralised and injury-struck Zimbabwe team; Kenya were, against the odds, through to the semi-finals
  • Mar 14 India beat New Zealand by 7 wickets
    A New Zealand win would have put them through, but the Indian seamers once again did a lot of early damage and they were all out for a mediocre 140. Although the Indians too lost some early wickets on a difficult pitch, they were steered home in comfort by Rahul Dravid and Mohammed Kaif
  • Mar 15 Sri Lanka beat Zimbabwe by 74 runs
    Zimbabwe could no longer qualify, but this had been announced as the last international appearance for Andy Flower, at one time the world's top-ranked batsman. However, that was not enough to inspire the Zimbabweans to beat Sri Lanka, who got the win they needed to end New Zealand's hopes of a semi-final place. After the match, Henry Olonga, who had not been selected for the team since his protest in the opening game, announced that he too was retiring from international cricket and would furthermore not be returning to Zimbabwe at all.
  • Mar 15 Australia beat Kenya by five wickets
    A dead match, with no effect on qualification or seedings for the top two qualifiers; both teams rested a few players, and the result went much to form.
            P W L T N  RR
Australia   5 5 0 0 0  1.85 24
India       5 4 1 0 0  0.89 20
Kenya       5 3 2 0 0  0.35 14
Sri Lanka   5 2 3 0 0 -0.84 11.5>
New Zealand 5 1 4 0 0 -0.90  8
Zimbabwe    5 0 5 0 0 -1.25  3.5

Semi-finals

  • Mar 18 Australia beat Sri Lanka by 48 runs (Duckworth Lewis method)
    Often semi-finals are the best-contested matches, but this was not to be. On a desperately slow pitch Australia couild only pick up 213 runs, with Andrew Symonds top scorer on 91 not out. Sri Lanka were soon in trouble and were well behind the asking rate on 123 for 7 when rain stopped play in the 38th over. No resumption was possible and Australia were declared the victors under the Duckworth-Lewis system.
  • Mar 20 India beat Kenya by 91 runs
    With the day-night matches almost all going to the team that batted first, the possibility that Kenya might pull off the penultimate upset hinged on the toss, but Sourav Ganguly called correctly and chose to bat first. The Kenyan bits and bobs bowling held India back to 188 for the first 40 overs, but a slogged 82 off the final 60 balls, with Ganguly's fourth century of the tournament, set an impossible target for the Kenyans under lights, and they never looked like making it after losing four early wickets. They had, however, got a great deal further than anyone expected and had performed very creditably throughout the series.

Final

  • Mar 23 Australia (359/2) beat India (234 all out) by 125 runs
    A match that had promised much went wrong from the start for India. Sourav Ganguly won the toss and, hoping to take advantage of a pitch still damp from an overnight downpour, put Australia in to bat. However, the Indian seamers whose economy had played a key part in their early successes started coming unstuck early; the opening over bowled by Zaheer Khan went for 14 runs, including no fewer than 8 extras, and it was not much better from then on. Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden made a brisk start, but after they were both out to the spin of Harbhajan Singh for 54 and 37 respectively, Damien Martyn and captain Ricky Ponting came in to put on an unbroken record stand of 234 for a massive final score of 359/2, Australia's highest ever one-day total. India's run chase looked difficult, and with Sachin Tendulkar out for just 4, resistance was mainly down to Virender Sehwag, but India's only realistic chance looked to be the looming rain clouds and the prospect of a restarted match the next day. There were some rain stoppages, but not enough to prevent the match coming to a natural conclusion with India bowled out in less than 40 overs.

Envoi

So, the right team won, and the right team probably came second as well. The Kenyans rode their luck well and got the results they needed by applying their modest skills well, and, since they beat the other losing semi-finalists earlier, I would award them a notional bronze medal; they are clearly at least as deserving as Bangladesh of test status on merit, although the roots of the sport and the spectator base are less solid there. Although there were complaints about the length of the tournament, the "minnows" generally acquitted themselves well, and gave some of the big teams a harder time than in previous World Cups, notwithstanding a couple of really spectacular thrashings. Sadly, there were few moments of real excitement in the final stages, but maybe with the whole thing overshadowed by fuzzy pictures of explosions in Baghdad, that is for the better. Technically there were some problems with the day-night matches, with the teams batting second under lights strongly disadvantaged; that format would be better kept for places where the climate is more propitious. The next World Cup is planned for the West Indies in 2007, with the suggestion that a match or two might, once again, be played in a neighbouring state notorious for executions and rigged elections.

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