Waugh to Ponting, Pt I: How the Kiwis ended an ODI era
This two-part series looks back at Australia's ODI transition between the 1999 and 2003 World Cups, beginning with a dynasty-downing masterclass from New Zealand
In the two years immediately following the 1999 World Cup, the performance of Australia's ODI team had tracked on a steep upward curve.
Steve Waugh's side had been scratchy at times during that '99 tournament and famously ridden their luck to reach the final, where they promptly delivered on the big stage, thrashing Pakistan at Lord's to claim Australia's second World Cup trophy.
That performance had shown new coach John Buchanan the true capability of the ODI outfit he had inherited from the outgoing Geoff Marsh.
Renowned as a meticulous planner, Buchanan was also a staunch advocate of a sky-is-the-limit approach in terms of player and team potential. It was an attitude that immediately clicked with captain Waugh's belief that such a highly-talented playing group should be pursuing greatness.
Australia XI, July 1, 1999 – Jan 1, 2002 (most matches played): Adam Gilchrist, Mark Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Michael Bevan, Steve Waugh (c), Damien Martyn, Andrew Symonds, Brett Lee, Shane Warne, Damien Fleming, Glenn McGrath
And in the 30 months between the end of the World Cup and the beginning of the 2001-02 home ODI tri-series with New Zealand and South Africa, that is precisely what they were doing.
The Buchanan-Waugh alliance was ruthlessly effective. During that period, they won 40 of 52 ODIs, their 77 per cent win rate well ahead of South Africa, who were next best worldwide at 68 per cent.
At home, they lost just two of 23 ODIs.
And then, in the space of 15 days, New Zealand turned everything on its head.
The signs of the end of the Waugh era hadn't really been there. In addition to the team's dominance, Steve Waugh had been the side's biggest improver when it came to strike-rate in the previous 12 months – a marker Buchanan had noted as a new KPI for his batsmen.
"As a batsman," Steve wrote, "I honestly believed the previous 12 months had seen my game develop and improve."
From a captaincy perspective, Waugh was looking towards the 2003 World Cup. During a planning meeting ahead of the home summer, he had posed the difficult question to the team's brains trust.
"Just to make sure we were all on the same track, I asked if I was still the man they had in mind to lead the side at the Cup, as the tournament dates were getting too close for selectors to be making major changes," he wrote in his autobiography, Out of my comfort zone.
"I was assured that I was the guy they wanted to lead the team."
Mark Waugh meanwhile, had been in excellent touch as an opening batsman. Since the end of the '99 World Cup, he had averaged 45 and hit six hundreds in 43 innings – a figure bettered worldwide by only Indian pair Sourav Ganguly (11 in 74) and Sachin Tendulkar (nine in 61).
Australia played six Tests in the 2001-02 summer before the ODI tri-series. Ironically, where South Africa had been their main rivals in the 50-over format, they had been easily accounted for in the Test series, with Waugh's side enjoying a three-nil clean sweep. Opener Matthew Hayden, who had been trialed haphazardly in the ODI side since Australia's World Cup triumph after six years on the outer, made hundreds in all three Tests.
The more intriguing outcome of the summer however, had already taken place, when heavy underdogs New Zealand had managed to draw all three Tests under the canny captaincy of Stephen Fleming. It was a sign of things to come in the ODIs.
Fleming's side had reached the semi-finals of the 1999 World Cup and in Australia that summer the skipper had a new weapon at his disposal.
Shane Bond was raw and incredibly quick. But more than sheer pace, he was accurate and had a happy knack of producing unplayable deliveries.
On January 11, 2002, in the first ODI of the summer, Bond sat in the MCG sheds and watched his team cobble together a barely passable 8-199.
The 26-year-old debutant had dreamt about this moment. As a kid, he had stared starry-eyed at the Benson & Hedges World Series action on the television in his Christchurch loungeroom.
"Some of my earliest cricket memories are watching those games back in the day," Bond told cricket.com.au.
"It was so good. I don't remember New Zealand winning much but I just remember the atmosphere of those games.
"So I got picked for that series and I was hugely excited.
"Then to get over there and get a game, and for things to then go the way they did, it was unbelievable."
Bond nicked off Mark Waugh in his first over and added the wickets of Ricky Ponting and Michael Bevan in the space of six balls midway through the innings to derail Australia's run chase.
New Zealand defended their modest total by 23 runs and six days later they proved it was no fluke, winning by the same margin in Sydney. This time, Bond made it two from two against Ponting (he would go on to at one point make it six from six in ODIs) and added Steve Waugh to his all-star wickets collection against Australia.
The paceman was pushing the speed gun upwards of 150kph and offering the hosts – who by this point had been unleashing Brett Lee for a couple of summers – a taste of their own medicine.
Better still, Bond was backed by the astute captaincy of Fleming. New Zealand had arrived in Australia well aware that better bowling attacks than theirs had been flayed by the home side's high-calibre batting group. To get the better of them, Fleming and his brains trust were as strategic in their planning as any visiting ODI outfit had been in Australia, with captain Waugh later conceding they had "planned well for the series and caught a few of us off guard with unorthodox field placements and well-executed bowling plans".
"I was just trying to bowl quick and consistent, and (Fleming) was massive for me because he gave me a huge amount of confidence to just run in and do my thing," Bond says.
"He'd tell me what fields he was going to set and what he thought would happen, and I'd be 'OK, I can do that' and it just seemed to happen for us.
"I remember trying to hang the ball out to Ricky (Ponting) and getting him to drive. I remember putting about five blokes in the point-gully area for Damien Martyn. We were looking to bowl short balls at Mark Waugh.
"There were a whole lot of things that we were trying to do, and they all just seemed to work.
"Credit for that goes to Flem – he was the big instigator of that and really clear about what he wanted to do. He was such a great captain because he spent a lot of time on that stuff.
"We all bought into it and when you start to have success with those plans, there's a huge amount of confidence that flows on from that."
The rumblings of discontent across the nation grew when Steve Waugh's side was skittled for 165 in Adelaide on Australia Day. Bond was again the destroyer, hitting 151kph and taking five wickets, including castling Adam Gilchrist with a memorable yorker.
"We were aware of the pressure they were under," Bond recalls. "We wanted to use that to our advantage – to keep that pressure on them – and we managed to do that."
The result marked a fourth-straight ODI defeat to New Zealand for the first time in their 28-year rivalry and brought into sharp focus the prospect of Australia missing the finals of their own tournament.
In the eyes of a public and media that had come to feel entitled to success, the sudden lean streak – on home soil, no less – put the winning run that came before it in the shade; Australia had not played an ODI series for six months, and even then it had been in the UK, with only the diehards staying up through the night to catch the action on Pay TV. What mattered was what was happening in front of them. Waugh's side had failed to beat New Zealand in any of the three Tests earlier in the summer, and now the world champions were being handed a series of ODI lessons by their 'little brothers' from across the Tasman.
It was galling, and the consensus soon became that something had to change. The previously outstanding opening partnership of Gilchrist and Mark Waugh came in for heavy criticism, with scribes suggesting a swinging ball and a new one-bouncer-per-over rule had been the reasons behind their disappointing output.
The backlash hit Steve Waugh hard, with former Australia player David Hookes labelling him "the worst player in the team", while the skipper had also received mixed messages from selectors about team line-ups as the concept of a rotation policy divided opinion – a telling sign that all was not well.
"(Waugh's) idea was to give everyone in the squad a game, and at the same time give the team's stars an occasional day off," Ponting wrote in his autobiography, at the close of play.
"When the selectors u-turned on this plan, it was impossible not to think that (Waugh) was losing their support.
"And as we started wondering whether our skipper was for the chop, bit by bit his words lost some authority as we experienced our worst run in one-day cricket since Steve's first season as ODI captain."
Making matters worse for Steve Waugh was the way a pre-match conversation between he and selector Trevor Hohns on the SCG outfield had been misconstrued as an argument by sections of the media. The notion that Waugh had lost the faith of the selectors began bubbling away in the background.
"I never thought Trevor and I were feuding, but I found it increasingly hard to convince the various (on-duty) selectors at each venue that things were on the improve and a little bit of patience was all that was needed," Waugh wrote.
"Before the third-last game before the finals, in Adelaide, (selector) Andrew Hilditch was on duty. He reinforced the doubts they had about Brett (Lee) and Mark (Waugh's) continued selection.
"I really thought they were overreacting and just needed to relax and let the team settle into its work."
Three days after the loss in Adelaide, Australia slumped to 6-82 against New Zealand at the MCG when a Bevan special saved the day. It was a first – and only – win over Fleming's side for the summer, and it had taken one of the classic ODI innings to achieve it.
The respite for Waugh was short-lived. Australia needed a bonus-point win over South Africa in Perth in their final match to reach the tri-series finals.
Complicating the issue for the captain were a couple of pre-match conversations with then-selector Allan Border and coach Buchanan.
Australia had opted for a batting-heavy line-up which meant the part-time spin of Bevan and Darren Lehmann would be utilised. Border and Buchanan both intimated to Waugh that it would be prudent to bowl a few overs himself, just as he had done in the previous match. It was also suggested to Waugh that he shuffle himself down the order – from his customary number five position, to number seven.
Typically, Waugh was having none of the latter, and promptly went in to bat at the fall of the third wicket, making 42. He bowled four overs (0-26) and while Australia won the game, it wasn't enough; they missed the tri-series finals for just the third time in 22 years.
He didn't know it at the time, but it was the last ODI that Steve and his brother Mark would play.
As it happened, New Zealand had caused all the damage they would for the summer; they were beaten two-nil in the finals by the Proteas.
A few days later, as Australia's Test squad prepared to fly to South Africa for a three-match series, the bombshell was dropped at a Hohns press conference: Waugh had been axed as ODI captain.
Waugh had found out two days prior, during an afternoon conversation in Melbourne with Hohns ahead of that evening's Allan Border Medal presentation.
"I was in total shock and didn't show any real animation," he wrote. "Instead, I sat calmly while Trevor explained that he didn't see me as one of Australia's top six one-day batsmen.
"There wasn't really a lot to say … the decision had been made."
Coming Wednesday: Part II of this series, which details Australia's road to the 2003 World Cup under new ODI captain Ricky Ponting
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.