Waugh to Ponting, Pt II: The year that changed everything
Australia had a new captain and 12 months to come up with the 15-man squad they deemed best equipped to defend the ODI World Cup. Here's how they did it
Ricky Ponting was asleep in his bed in Potchefstroom, outside Johannesburg, when a 6am phone call from then Australian Cricket Board CEO James Sutherland woke him.
Fortunately for the 27-year-old, the news was good: he was set to be named Australia's new ODI captain.
Ponting and the Australians were in the middle of a Test series against South Africa, and the news came as a surprise for the Tasmanian, who felt Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist had been ahead of him in the pecking order. Head coach John Buchanan meanwhile, was still to be sold on the need for change.
"I guess at the time I was still very much in Steve Waugh's camp; I didn't see the need to replace him as captain," Buchanan tells cricket.com.au.
"While we had lost those games (in the home tri-series) to New Zealand, and while we hadn't necessarily dominated the one-day scene as we had the Test scene, I wasn't sure that change was needed."
Australia XI, Feb 10, 2002 – Feb 10, 2003 (most matches played): Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting (c), Damien Martyn, Darren Lehmann, Michael Bevan, Shane Watson, Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Glenn McGrath
Mark Waugh, too, had been omitted from the squad for the seven-match ODI series against the Proteas that would follow the Tests, spelling an end to his decorated career in that format.
Waugh's form had been strong in the two-and-a-half-years following the 1999 World Cup, and the day before he found out about his axing from selection chairman Trevor Hohns, he had hit 110 in a warm-up match against South Africa A, with his second fifty coming from 24 balls.
However, the threat of the selection axe had been ever-present since his brother Steve's controversial sacking as ODI captain following Australia's disappointing home tri-series, in which they failed to reach the final for just the third time in 22 years, and Mark's returns had been poor (one fifty, 126 runs at 21).
At 36, his best years were undoubtedly behind him, while pushing for a regular place at the top of Australia's ODI order was Matthew Hayden, whose prolific form for Queensland over the years had begun to materialise in the Test arena.
"The way Matt was batting in Test cricket, and then whenever he had the opportunity to play domestic one-day cricket, he was absolutely braining them for Queensland as well," remembers Jason Gillespie, who himself had returned to the ODI set-up that 2001-02 home summer.
"The selectors must've just thought 12 months out from the World Cup: How can we make this team better? We've got this bloke who's six years younger than Mark Waugh and he's absolutely whacking it – he can probably give us a little bit more overall."
It was the end of an era; for the first time since 1986, an Australia ODI squad would be without a Waugh.
The regular inclusion of Gillespie also marked a significant change in personnel as Australia began plotting their way towards the 2003 World Cup. The South Australian, as well as Queenslander Andy Bichel, had returned to the squad during the home summer, with swing bowler Damien Fleming the notable exclusion.
Fleming was only 31 and had been a World Cup hero in 1999 but a chequered injury history, coupled with the irresistible form of Gillespie in the Test side, meant the Victorian's days as an international cricketer were behind him.
"'Dizzy' (Gillespie) was really at the peak of his powers at that point," recalls Buchanan.
"He and (Glenn) McGrath were just a lethal combination, and then of course we were able to back it up with (Brett) Lee and (Shane) Warne."
Gillespie had fought his way back from a broken leg in 1999 to reestablish himself as one of the world's most feared Test bowlers, and with a World Cup a little over 12 months away, selectors saw no reason he couldn't replicate his performances in the 50-over format.
"I didn't have too many issues adjusting my bowling to one-day cricket," Gillespie remembers. "As a general rule, my length in Test cricket was a fraction fuller than what I bowled in one-day cricket – we're only talking maybe a foot or so.
"But overall it didn't change too much for me; I tended to take the new ball a bit and was still trying to get batsmen out.
"The old 'top of off (stump)' theory doesn't change too much, and that was my focus.
"And when you've got someone as good as Glenn McGrath in your team, I certainly learned from being at the other end.
"He was making sure he was nailing his line and lengths, he was very disciplined, and then he had a good bouncer, a good yorker and a change of pace.
"I was never quite as disciplined as Glenn but I certainly sought to apply those same principles."
Less reliable but perhaps the most lethal on his day was Lee. The speedster had been playing international cricket for a little over two years by the time the Australians arrived in South Africa, and after an introductory period of blowing batsmen away with sheer pace, his habit of leaking runs (almost six per over through 2001) had become a concern.
"Initially it was just 'bowl quick and you'll get wickets' but as he ran into better players and better teams, that particular formula wasn't working, so he was generally pretty expensive," Buchanan recalls.
"He always believed he was going to swing the new ball in one-day cricket, but the ball never really swung, so really it just came down to his one trick being bowling fast."
Australia had stumbled badly on home soil in failing to make the tri-series finals in 2001-02 but neither Ponting nor Buchanan believed it was anything more than a blip on the radar.
Even without the Waughs, the squad was still stacked with proven top-class players: Gilchrist, Ponting, Bevan, Warne and McGrath had formed the backbone of the successful 1999 World Cup campaign, while the likes of Lee, Gillespie, Hayden and Damien Martyn had all shown their quality in international cricket.
"When I looked at the one-day team I'd inherited, I couldn't help thinking how lucky and privileged I was to be in charge," Ponting later wrote in his autobiography, at the close of play.
"Steve had argued that our mediocre form in Australia was an aberration. I believed that too … we'd lost our first three games (against NZ) in the VB Series, but then we claimed four of our last five – not enough to get us into finals but hardly an indication we were in some sort of catastrophic slide."
As the squad prepared for the series, Buchanan – a staunch supporter of Waugh's – quickly noticed the impact his new skipper was having on the group.
"I wasn't a supporter of the decision (to change captains) at the time but in hindsight it was obviously the right call," Buchanan reflects.
"From Steve's point of view, he was still an effective player in the one-day arena, but what Ricky was able to bring straight away on tour was new life, new energy – just a new feel in and around the one-day group.
"It became evident once he took over that there was a new breath of life, and in terms of preparation for the World Cup, it was the perfect introduction for Ricky – we were playing in South Africa with a group of players that weren't going to be too dissimilar to what we took to the World Cup.
"So it was a good opportunity to work with them in surroundings we were going to face in a year's time."
Going off a tip from then selector Allan Border, the Australians scoped out the university town of Potchefstroom as a potential home base for their World Cup campaign. It was a smaller locale away from any curious media and potential trouble in Johannesburg, and with excellent training facilities, it was soon declared the perfect fit and the necessary plans were put in place.
Australia won the first two ODIs and tied the third, though Ponting's tenure began nervously with returns of 14, 0 and 3. In the fourth match, he made a decisive 129 as Australia went up three-nil, while in the fifth he finished unbeaten on 44 and fittingly hit the series-winning runs as the tourists raced to an unassailable four-nil lead.
In averaging 42, Hayden had gone a long way to shoring up his opening spot alongside Gilchrist, who had made a century and a fifty in an impressive return to form after a lean home tri-series.
Through the middle-order, a year of experimentation was getting underway. While Martyn, Bevan and Darren Lehmann had all established themselves to varying degrees in the ODI side, selectors wanted to keep their options open with the World Cup still 12 months away.
A central focus in that regard was team and squad balance.
"In picking a (World Cup) squad, you really are trying to cover all the positions," Buchanan says. "That way if somebody goes down unexpectedly for whatever reason, then you believe you've got a decent back-up person to fill that gap."
Such a mentality meant the all-round talents of Shane Watson were viewed favourably. Watson debuted inauspiciously during the South Africa series, playing four matches, and went on to fill a host of roles (from No.3 to No.8) in another 14 matches through 2002.
"'Watto' had moved from Queensland down to Tassie and I know Ricky Ponting was a huge fan of his," Buchanan says.
"He was a very good bat and a reasonably quick bowler, and just a good all-round prospect.
"His selection was based on that, and that (SA) tour was an opportunity to look at him at an international level, where the World Cup was going to be held."
Watson had leapfrogged fellow allrounder Andrew Symonds, who had been given an extended run in the middle-order in the years following the 1999 World Cup (he played 43 of Australia's 52 ODIs up to the end of 2001) without ever producing a performance to secure his spot.
"(Buchanan) was a massive believer in 'Symmo', as was I, and we'd both expected him to do good things at the top level," Ponting wrote.
"But he'd had a few chances and never taken advantage of them, so the selectors were entitled to look elsewhere."
Australia's road to the 2003 World Cup made for a busy 2002. After South Africa, they hosted a three-match ODI series against Pakistan in June to launch the opening of what was then Docklands Stadium in Melbourne, then went to Kenya and Sri Lanka for multi-team tournaments.
As well as Watson, the likes of Queensland run-machine Jimmy Maher and his state teammate Bichel were given opportunities to push their cases.
Bichel was behind the McGrath-Gillespie-Lee trident in the fast-bowling pecking order but had shown his ability as a match-winner at the top level, most recently in January 2002 when he had taken 5-19 to rout a star-studded South Africa side for 106 at the SCG.
He also possessed the kind of upbeat personality and team-first mentality that Ponting and Buchanan believed were essential traits for the back-up players in the squad.
"(Bichel) always said he would rather be 12th man than 13th – he had the right approach to being in a squad," Buchanan remembers. "He was one of the best drink waiters, and he was as good as anybody at looking after his mates on the field, but he was certainly pushing selection as well.
"There was a bit of experimentation going on during those tours.
"We were looking for a back-up 'keeper and we liked the idea of Jimmy Maher filling that role because he was also a very good batsman, and he could really bat anywhere we needed him to."
Lee meanwhile, was beginning to discover some of his best form. The right-armer had been working alongside the metronomic McGrath and Gillespie and their consistency appeared to be rubbing off.
In 12 overseas ODIs between March and September, he took 24 wickets at 18.79, striking every 24 balls and – crucially – conceding just 4.68 runs per over, some 1.3 fewer than the previous year.
"He'd learnt about how he could better adapt his own game to the one-day game," Buchanan says. "He'd learnt a bit more control, and he'd also learnt how to take pace off. He was quite no-ball prone and he pulled that back a bit.
"So there were a number of things that he was learning in the process of getting to that World Cup and becoming the cricketer he was."
Gillespie, who was in the middle of his most prolific ODI calendar year, also noticed the transformation.
"Previously, you could just see the inconsistency – he was trying so hard to impact and impress," he says.
"But what he learned was the best way to do that was to be disciplined and ruthless with his line and length, and use his variations a bit more sparingly.
"That made him an amazing one-day bowler."
Ponting's squad was beginning to properly take shape when disaster struck in the 2002-03 home tri-series against England and Sri Lanka.
On December 15, in the second match against England at the MCG, Shane Warne dove to save a run from his own bowling and landed badly on his shoulder. The leg-spinning maestro was stretchered from the field, his World Cup involvement suddenly at risk.
Australia had handed off-spinner Nathan Hauritz an ODI debut in South Africa eight months earlier, while Stuart MacGill had performed admirably in Warne's absence whenever required in the Test side.
Neither however, were deemed to quite fit the bill. If Warne was going to miss the World Cup, Australia's brains trust wanted a wrist spinner as his replacement, which ruled out Hauritz. And while MacGill was a match-winner on his day, he was viewed in some quarters as being a risk in terms of his economy rate, while he offered little in the field or with the bat.
Step forward Brad Hogg. It had been six years since the left-arm wrist-spinner had played for Australia, but the then 31-year-old had toured South Africa in September with Australia A, taking five wickets in five matches.
Hogg could also bat, while legend had it Australia fielding coach Mike Young had taken one look at him in action for WA against Queensland and singled him out as one of the country's most dynamic fielders.
Like Bichel, Hogg also had the reputation of being an effervescent, positive influence around any playing group – a fact underlined by his attitude when he was again picked for Australia A for two one-dayers against England in the lead-up to the ODI tri-series.
"I knew I was up against Nathan Hauritz (to replace Warne)," Hogg tells cricket.com.au. "I was playing in Sydney but I knew I was going to be 12th man in (game two in) Queensland.
"Basically I just said to myself, 'Right, I'll try and perform as well as I can here in Sydney, but when I get to Queensland I'm going to be the best 12th man I can possibly be'. I just felt that might get me over the line.
"When you looked at the set-up, you had Warne and MacGill as the mainstays in the Test format. Brilliant bowlers. I just thought, What's my advantage over those two?
"And I knew I was a better fielder and a better bat, so if I could keep my bowling quite economical and every now and then get the odd wicket, I had plenty to give."
Hogg was called into the side in Perth, and took one wicket before being pasted all over the SCG by the Sri Lankan batsman. In the following match in Hobart, his fortunes changed midway through England's run chase.
"Hoggy bowled his first spell and got a fair bit of tap," recalled Adam Gilchrist in Walking to Victory. "Ricky took him off after about three overs and held him in reserve. Having worked so hard to get back in the side, I could see Hoggie's mind playing games, as if it was all over for him after one bad spell."
Then at 2-188 and the contest in the balance, Ponting reintroduced Hogg.
"…it appeared to be a risky move," Gilchrist continued, "but by showing faith in his player it was amazing to see the confidence that this instilled in Brad … he took three wickets in three overs, ripping the heart out of their middle order.
"Ricky's timing had been spot on. And Hoggie never looked back.
"Even with Warnie on the comeback trail, we felt that Hoggie was earning a spot in his own right. Not just as a replacement, but as a great support act to Warnie.
"The most significant thing was his refreshing attitude. He seemed to have a smile on his face all the time, and he oozed energy in the field and in everything he did."
Buchanan recalls the Hogg decision as "a very good selection" but reveals it might never have happened at all.
"At the time, we had always been encouraging Michael Bevan to keep bowling his wrist spin, but he chose not to," he says.
"I think he just felt he couldn't do it on the big stage and so he chose not to pursue it.
"If he had gone the other way, I don't think Brad Hogg would have figured."
Australia breezed through the tri-series against England and Sri Lanka, winning nine of 10 matches, including the two finals, in which Warne returned to the side.
The leg-spinner's quick recovery from shoulder surgery was a major boost less than three weeks out from their World Cup opener against Pakistan in Johannesburg, while Hogg's performances had earned him a ticket to South Africa.
"We were a pretty confident group," he says. "We knew we had a strong side, and we knew we were going to be pretty tough to beat."
Hogg, Maher and Bichel were effectively squad members 12-14, though cruelly, Watson's World Cup dream was dashed at the end of January when he was diagnosed with stress fractures in his back, opening the door for an allrounder to jump straight into the starting XI.
"Ian Harvey and Symonds were the two guys who were our other allrounders," Buchanan recalls. "Harvey had a reasonably strong one-day record at that point, and was a bit ahead of the game with all his changes of pace, and he was a decent bat.
"But, like Andrew Symonds, he was a bit inconsistent in terms of his performances, which was less about skill and mainly due to a lack of belief in himself.
"But with Watto out injured, Harvey was the number one pick for that role and then Andrew Symonds was the back-up.
"We generally say that Andrew was the 15th person selected, and that was on the basis that he could cover a range of positions: batting, a bit of off-spin, medium-pace bowling, good in the field.
"But beyond that we needed people off the field who really were good team people, who (mightn't) even get a game through the World Cup but nonetheless still train the house down and look after everybody.
"He was certainly picked on that basis."
After 13 intense months, Australia had landed on what they believed was their best possible 15-man squad. In the process, they had parted ways with a couple of legends in Steve and Mark Waugh, added Test stars Gillespie and Hayden to their best XI, and welcomed a new skipper in Ponting.
It was the dawn of a new era, the sparks of which had been lit during those three defeats to New Zealand.
"It's a fine line, isn't it?" says Kiwi Shane Bond. "Australia made some big changes based on not making those finals, which ultimately led to them dominating a World Cup.
"Sometimes you need a little bit of hurt to come out the other side."
Australia lost Shane Warne, Darren Lehmann, Michael Bevan and Jason Gillespie for some or all of their 2003 World Cup campaign but still managed to go through the tournament undefeated, claiming a third World Cup trophy with a dominant final win over India
Gillette ODI Series v New Zealand
Australia squad: Aaron Finch (c), Ashton Agar, Alex Carey (vc), Pat Cummins (vc), Josh Hazlewood, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitch Marsh, Jhye Richardson (SA series only), Kane Richardson, D'Arcy Short, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner, Adam Zampa.
New Zealand squad: Kane Williamson (c), Martin Guptill, Henry Nicholls, Ross Taylor, Tom Latham, Tom Blundell, Jimmy Neesham, Colin de Grandhomme, Mitchell Santner, Kyle Jamieson, Ish Sodhi, Matt Henry, Tim Southee, Lockie Ferguson, Trent Boult.