Former Australia pacer Andy Bichel believes that the game of cricket is evolving by the day, but at that particular time, his side was the best in the history of the game.
“When I look back on the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003 in South Africa, it was an amazing period for me and a very special place to be in,” Bichel wrote in his exclusive ICC column.
One of the most successful all-rounders at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003, Andy Bichel scored 117 runs in three innings and took 16 wickets in 8 matches, including a career-best seven for 20 against England in Port Elizabeth. In the same match, he scored 35 not out and put on 73 runs for the unfinished ninth wicket with Michael Bevan (74 not out) to snatch victory for Australia from the jaws of defeat. The 44-year-old Queenslander played 67 ODIs in which he scored 471 runs and took 78 wickets.
“Everything was going to plan; I was bowling well in all the lead up games and my body was feeling the best it had in a while. I had been playing lots of county cricket and first-class cricket in Australia as well, in between the Australia international tours. I was as fit as I could be and on top of my game,” he added.
“But there was one serious problem – breaking into this Australia team. There were very limited opportunities, and no-one was getting injured to give me more chances at the top level.
“Once selected for the tournament, there still wasn’t a lot of chance for me if everyone stayed fit. I knew that I would get a chance to play it would be against the qualifying teams, and I really wanted to try and get a Man of the Match performance to push my claim for selection in more matches. I knew that I would have to make a massive impression to get the selector on duty excited, as well as the selectors back in Australia in the early hours of the morning. I knew it was going to be hard.
“For me, the tournament started with a real bang. Shane Warne was ruled out of the tournament because he failed a drug test, and the harsh reality was that we had lost our world-class spinner. As a group, it was hard to deal with it the night before our first game.
“Going into the first match, we just needed to find a win against Pakistan, and somehow we did. Well, Andrew Symonds smashed 143 and the rest is history. The win was welcome, and it gave this group the power to say “whatever you throw at us, we can overcome it.” The team faced quite a few more challenges along the way after this too – Michael Bevan out with a hamstring injury, Darren Lehmann’s suspension and Jason Gillespie’s injury that ended his World Cup campaign.”
“I finally got my chance against England in Port Elizabeth after Jason Gillespie was ruled out because of injury. I had taken the final two Namibia wickets in Australia’s previous match, and I was pumped to face England next. After only finding out about 10.00pm the night before that I was selected, I was as ready as I could be.
“Things didn’t start off well for as England raced to 75-0 off 11 overs. But then … everything I did turned to gold. I took seven wickets and contributed 34 not out in an unbroken 73-run ninth wicket partnership with Michael Bevan (74 not out). An amazing day really for me, and England was knocked out of the tournament.
“Even though we kept on winning, we hadn’t batted the house down at any stage, in reality. In the last Super Six match against Kenya, we struggled a little with the bat against left arm spin. We returned to Port Elizabeth for our semi-final against Sri Lanka, and again as a team, we didn’t really nail it down after winning the toss and scoring 212-7 from our 50 overs. It turned out to be enough in this game, as Sri Lanka only got to 123-7 before the rain came, and we won on D-L method.”
“I remember seeing everyone’s face after that game, and the relief the win gave. Finally, something that we had worked so hard for over the last 18 months! We were there, we had made it to a World Cup final. Everyone grew six inches overnight.
“We had a week before the big day at Wanderers. We were ready, and the day before the final we were like kids in a lolly shop. The support staff didn’t want us doing too much before the big day, and I found out why! Glenn (McGrath) and I were playing with some tennis racquets on the outfield when I pinched something in my right shoulder. All of a sudden, things weren’t so funny anymore! We worked around the clock on it, and Errol Alcott our physiotherapist got me ready for the game.
“In the final, our batters were on fire and put on the perfect batting display. Ricky Ponting led that charge, playing an amazing innings. If it hadn’t been a 50-over match, he would still be batting today! His brilliant 140 not out gave us too many runs for India to chase down.
“As a team, we felt there was one wicket we had to target, because he had batted beautifully for India throughout the tournament. That was the wicket of Sachin (Tendulkar), and once Glenn removed him (caught and bowled), we were well on our way to victory. It was a huge win for us, and I think we played the perfect match.
“This team always managed to win from any position. Someone would always stand up to win a match with the bat or ball, and we had so much self-belief and belief in each other. We had some of the most aggressive batsmen the game has ever seen, bowlers that have records as long as my arm, and fielders that changed the game – in any situation.
“The game is evolving by the day, but at that particular time, our side was the best in the history of the game,” Bichel concluded. Courtesy ICC