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'99 Rewind: Aussies woes grow after NZ stumble

For the 25th anniversary of Australia's 1999 World Cup campaign, we revisit the defining moments on and off the field that made Australia's second ODI World Cup triumph so memorable

As was expected given Scotland's 1000-1 outsider ranking, Australia had started their 1999 World Cup campaign with a win but there were more issues worthy of concern than celebration from the six-wicket win.

The immediate positive was star spinner Shane Warne – with a two-match suspended ban hanging over him after penning an incendiary newspaper column – escaped any further sanction for flicking the bird at Scotland fans during the game at Worcester.

In addition to taking a hefty swipe at Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga in his column published by 'The Times' on the day of the Scotland fixture, Warne had also criticised English crowds who he believed "overstepped the mark" during Australia's recent warm-up game at Taunton.

Ponting's World Cup Memories: The '99 turnaround

So it was hardly surprising that Warne was targeted relentlessly when Australia bowled first against Scotland, with the endless choruses of 'who ate all the pies?' eventually goading him to gesture angrily in response.

His suspended sentence wasn't enacted because ICC match referee Ranjan Madugalle claimed he did not witness the incident, but the unruly crowd behaviour – which included multiple pitch invasions during the Scotland game – was another irritation for Australia skipper Steve Waugh.

Of greater consequence were the shortcomings Waugh saw in his team's fielding and bowling.

The former prompted a series of rigorous fielding sessions that dominated training in the days prior to Australia's second match against New Zealand at Cardiff, to try and avoid a repeat of the three dropped catches and as many missed run outs in the Scotland game.

Replication of the booze ban from Australia's 1987 Cup triumph might have proven unsuccessful, but Waugh and coach Geoff Marsh clearly remembered the obsessive fielding regime Bob Simpson pioneered in that campaign.

"There wasn't a blade of grass in India where Simmo (then coach Simpson) didn't hit us catches," Marsh would habitually recount.

The bowling woes were not so simply addressed.

Chris Cairns smashed a quickfire 60 against the Aussies // Allsport/Getty

At their heart was the unpredictable nature of the white Dukes-brand balls that pace bowlers from every competing nation were finding difficult to control.

A combination of late-spring's heavy cloud cover, prevailing UK damp and the Dukes ball's pronounced seam saw 149 wides called in the tournament's first six matches.

Even the usually exemplary Australia duo Glenn McGrath (six) and Adam Dale (seven) had struggled to find the mark at Worcester where sundries (39 of them, including 22 wides and eight no-balls) top-scored for the Scots.

Adam Dale struggled for wickets and accuracy in the early going // Allsport/Getty

Swing bowling specialist Damien Fleming, the only Australia bowler not to concede a wide against Scotland, noted the Dukes ball also felt smaller in bowlers' hands and its polyurethane skin – added to help maintain colour and durability – gave it a rock-hard quality.

So hard, Steve Waugh reported four of his bats were broken during the first fortnight of Australia's Cup tilt.

And Marsh cited that factor, coupled with cold hands in Britain's biting May chill, as a possible explanation for the sloppy fielding.

We've got three games we've got to play well in or we'll be going home

— Australia captain Steve Waugh

"There's no magic formula aside from working on it in the nets and getting a little routine for yourself and sticking with it," Fleming said ahead of the vital NZ match.

The Kiwis had begun the campaign in more emphatic fashion, knocking over Cup rookies Bangladesh for 116 by employing 'dibbly-dobbly' medium-pacers Chris Harris and Gavin Larsen who relied on nibble off the seam rather than swing through the air.

Despite Australia's dominant historic record against their smaller neighbour, Marsh declared the Black Caps as the form team of their qualifying group which proved painfully prescient on another rain-interrupted day in Cardiff.

Having focused on fielding and bowling heading into the game, Australia suddenly found deficiencies with their batting as they managed a meagre 8-213 from 50 overs which NZ duly chased down with 28 balls to spare.

The sub-par batting effort was exacerbated by Kiwi allrounder Chris Cairns's brutal take-down of Warne's bowling, and the result dampened the planned post-match celebration for the arrival of Warne's second child (Jackson) born in Melbourne that day.

Waugh was now fending off questions about his team's scoring prowess, with some querying the suitability of recently installed opener Adam Gilchrist (having posted totals of six and 14) against the challenges posed by the new Dukes ball.

Shane Warne welcomed the arrival of his second child during the New Zealand match // Allsport/Getty

The bigger picture showed that even though Australia had dropped only one game, the stumbling sum of their parts meant they would struggle to progress past the group stage unless they could win their three remaining preliminary matches.

Some members of his playing group were already privately exploring holiday options in the south of France in the expectation Australia would exit early, and with northern hemisphere summer still more than a week away.

Adam Gilchrist faced scrutiny over his place as an opener early in the 1999 World Cup // Allsport/Getty

However, Waugh remained typically bullish about the chances of his men turning it around for the crucial match-up against undefeated Pakistan in Leeds three days hence.

"We've got to find a way to get up against Pakistan, I think we're 10 per cent down," Waugh said after the loss to the Kiwis.

"We've got three games we've got to play well in or we'll be going home."

Up next: Australia face turning-point clash against Pakistan on May 23.