Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Which Is Australia’s Best Cricket World Cup (Winning) Team?

Last Sunday Australia won its fifth Cricket World Cup final, having won the tournament previously in 1987, 1999, 2003, and 2007. This Australian team was clearly very good – losing only one match out of nine, and by a close margin. But is it the best of Australia’s cup winners? Let’s consider each winning eleven in turn.


Record: 7 wins, 1 loss.

Team: David Boon, Geoff Marsh, Dean Jones, Allan Border, Mike Veletta, Steve Waugh, Simon O’Donnell, Greg Dyer, Craig McDermott, Tim May, Bruce Reid.

Australia’s triumph in the 1987 World Cup was a bit unexpected, and so I was surprised to discover that their record for the tournament was seven wins and only one loss. However, several of those wins were very close results, including the final against England. Also, while several of these players were very good I would say better versions of them came along later – Boon and Marsh were eclipsed by Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden, Border was eclipsed by Ricky Ponting, O’Donnell by Andrew Symonds, and McDermott by Glenn McGrath. In the end then, while this side took an important step for Australia on their way to becoming the world’s best one-day cricket side, I would rate it at the lower end of Australia’s World Cup champions.


Record: 7 wins, 2 losses, 1 tie.

Team:  Adam Gilchrist, Mark Waugh, Ricky Ponting, Darren Lehmann, Steve Waugh, Michael Bevan, Tom Moody, Shane Warne, Paul Reiffel, Damien Fleming, Glenn McGrath.

This team looks pretty strong, and is the only World Cup winning team to feature both Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. Ultimately though, their record in the tournament, while still very good, is a step below other Australian squads. They lost a couple of early group matches, which resulted in them having to win – or not lose – seven matches in a row to lift the trophy (they won six, and their famous tie in the semi-final was enough to get them through). Also they could easily have lost either one of their two dramatic matches against South Africa and not reached the final at all. This squad is great on paper, but the hiccups along the way mean I cannot put them at the top.


Record: 11 wins, 0 losses.

Team: Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn, Darren Lehmann, Michael Bevan, Andrew Symonds, Brad Hogg, Andy Bichel, Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath.

Now this team has a strong case to be considered the best. It won all eleven of its matches in the tournament, and barely looked in danger of losing. If you were to pick a best ever Australian one-day cricket side seven members of this team would be strong contenders for selection: Gilchrist, Hayden, Ponting, Bevan, Symonds, Lee, and McGrath. If Shane Warne had not famously had to withdraw after testing positive to a banned substance I think this team would be clearly the best (though Brad Hogg was a capable replacement). Any side that can make over 350 and dismiss Sachin Tendulkar for single figures in a World Cup final has to be pretty special.


Record: 9 wins, 0 losses.

Team: Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds, Michael Hussey, Shane Watson, Brad Hogg, Nathan Bracken, Shaun Tait, Glenn McGrath.

There is not much difference between this and the 2003 side. Like the 2003 team it went through the tournament undefeated, and had some mammoth wins, including smashing the number one ranked team South Africa in the semi-final. The imposing top order was the same as the 2003 team, and the middle order had a comparable level of talent. McGrath, though at the end of his career, bagged a record 26 wickets for the tournament. But if I had to split hairs I would say the opening bowling partnership of McGrath and Lee in the 2003 team would be a more frightening prospect than the 2007 team’s combination of Bracken and Tait. (Did you remember they opened the bowling for Australia in this tournament? I didn't; I assumed it was McGrath and Lee.) It’s a close one though.


Record: 7 wins, 1 loss, 1 no result.

Team: David Warner, Aaron Finch, Steve Smith, Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Glenn Maxwell, James Faulkner, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood.

The personnel in the 2015 team may be considerably different from the 2003 and 2007 teams, but the level of talent is pretty close. Starc bowled as well as McGrath ever did in a World Cup. Maxwell and Faulkner were not the stayers that Bevan or Lehmann were, but they made up for it in explosiveness. I think where it falls just short of the 2003 and 2007 squads is that the opening partnership of Warner and Finch are just a level below Gilchrist and Hayden, and the changes to the middle order during the tournament made it a bit less imposing than those other teams. Let’s put them in the middle then.

Final order: 2003, 2007, 2015, 1999, 1987.  

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