“You just dropped the World Cup,” Steve Waugh’s apocryphal statement to Herschelle Gibbs after a catch-drop is one of the most chilling sayings in World Cup history. A confidence like that in a do-or-a-die match to keep hopes alive in a World Cup; would have taken some guts though. But that is what Australia are known all about. They could frighten an opponent just by looking at themselves from a far sight and come out on top despite the chips being down. The 1999 Super Six win reflected just that. Cut to 2023, and you find a different version of it completely.
The 1999 Australia lost to New Zealand and Pakistan in the group stage and the then 1987 champions needed a win at any cost going into the last game of the Super Six to stay alive in the tournament. Gibbs and the rest of the Proteas players though put question marks on the Aussies’ dreams. The swashbuckling right-hander smashed a hundred and set a tricky 273-run target ahead of former champions and the Aussies were under the pump in the chase with the scoreline reading 48/3. Australian captain Waugh came in, raced to a fifty but when he was on 56, he made Aussie hearts stop with a flick to Gibbs at mid-wicket. An overjoyed Proteas star, a safe hand otherwise, dropped the easy chance in a bid to celebrate early. It was then that an apocryphal comment came from Waugh, “You just dropped the World Cup mate.” Australia went on to win the match by 5 wickets and the skipper scored 120.
While the saying was widely circulated and believed to be the same, Waugh wrote in his autobiography that his actual words were, “Do you realise you’ve just cost your team the match?” However, this oozes the similar brutal confidence of an Aussie captain announcing that there is no way for you to win this match now. The 2023 Australian team looks otherwise.
Australia are now in uncharted territory in the ODI World Cup 2023. Playing two ODI series in India in 2023 apart from Test matches, would have or should have meant Australia showing their prowess. But the fate changed after 24 years. That one catch surely cost South Africa that match and then the semifinal (a tie game) and ultimately the world cup, but what can be imagined of those six drops we saw on October 12 in Lucknow?
Pat Cummins’ side dropped six chances of relatively different difficulty levels but a few were to be caught. The Marcus Stoinis drop was one that he could have taken with one hand, but he could not with even two. This was the first time that they put down half a dozen chances in a World Cup match. This resulted in Proteas keeping the momentum and Aussies looked embarrassed. South Africa piled up a huge 312-run target and it became a challenge for them to chase this down. Then came in the Proteas bowlers, picking wickets at ease, a couple with some luck, but it was all going South Africa’s way. A rare sight between the two rivals. Let’s not jump the gun, this is still the start of the tournament but two losses to begin the campaign have put the champion team into an alien place.
Australia have now lost 4 ODI World Cup matches in a row, two a piece in 2019 and 2023. This is the first time since 1992 that five-time champions have lost two opening matches of the World Cup. They know how to bounce back but would first need to pick themselves up as Cummins highlighted. “If we want to be challenging for this tournament you’ve got to adapt to all conditions. Not much needs to be said tonight, everyone’s hurting. We have a few days until the next one here, so we’ll try to make amends. A few things to tidy up,” a hurt Australian captain signed off after the loss.
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