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Cricket news - World Cup 2003: When the Aussie juggernaut rolled on

In 2003, Australia had what Bichel described as the perfect World Cup

In the build-up to the 2019 World Cup, Cricbuzz is publishing an eleven-part series to reminisce every bygone edition. In this eighth instalment, Andy Bichel talks about Australia's tough start but smooth finish to another World Cup victory.

On the eve of Australia's tournament-opener against Pakistan at the World Cup in 2003, Shane Warne was sent home for having tested positive for a banned substance. The tournament was slated to be his ODI swansong, but instead, a tearful Warne offered explanation to his stunned teammates. Skipper Ricky Ponting famously had said then: "Go and talk amongst yourselves, get over it. Come back at 9 pm and erase it from your memory because we've got a game to win."

Andy Bichel: There were quite a few distractions. Michael Bevan was injured, nursing his hamstring. Darren Lehmann was on suspension for the first two games; he wasn't even allowed at the game. Obviously the shock of Shane. Our squad of 15 was down to 12 and we were turning up to play Pakistan. There was quite a bit of soul-searching going on in that room. We met that night, there were a few good conversations around where we were going from there. Everyone handled it pretty well. The game was pretty close so everyone was focussed on that Pakistan game.

Deemed favourites, Australia were under the pump even before the tournament began, and Pakistan didn't relent, reducing Australia to 52 for 3 after a rare top-order failure. Finding himself in the middle with ample time, and Australia under pressure, the stage was set for Andrew Symonds to repay Ponting's faith in him, who had insisted on the all-rounder's inclusion in the squad.

Bichel: I think the turning point for us was that first game when Andrew Symonds did what he did and played an amazing innings that took Pakistan out of the game. To get that first win gave the group some real strong belief. The win relaxed everyone; we were able to sit back and enjoy the tournament and we did so because Andrew set that up from the first game. Sometimes you need someone to spark something and he did that very well by probably playing the innings of his life to that point.

Bichel himself was a dark horse of sorts for Australia. Initially picked as a back-up for Australia's mighty pace trio, an injury to Gillespie gave him a chance to prove his worth. And against England, he returned with a record 7-20 before an unbeaten 34 en route a match-winning stand of 73 with Bevan to take Australia home.

Bichel: The game was going really quickly; we were going for runs. I played Nick Knight earlier in the year in County cricket and I had him caught in that same position where Damien Martyn caught him (lone, wide slip). Sometimes you do away with the slips because the ball is going around but Nick was a really good deflector, getting the ball down to third man, especially in one-day cricket. I came in at 0 for 60-odd or something, and to have a fielder in that position didn't fit that well in the program because we would've been trying to save a few runs because we were taken all over the park.

Nasser came in next... and I have always wanted to get the best player, captain, or the most important player out. I took his wicket and it got me going pretty quickly. I had done my homework and playing against all those guys before helped me.

Australia trounced India, Netherlands, Zimbabwe and Namibia with ease before Jason Gillespie was ruled out of the tournament. It paved the way for Bichel to finally get the chances he was seeking.

Bichel: I was the fittest I had been for a while, but there was the frustrating part of how many opportunities I was going to get. I was doing really well in County cricket, I was getting wickets in first-class cricket in Australia, but I just couldn't get an international opportunity. That was frustrating, but with the injury to Jason Gillespie, I ended up with plenty opportunity and made the most of it. It was a really good turnaround.

Bichel's batting association with Bevan grew from strength to strength through the tournament. Australia once again needed rescuing after Shane Bond's 6-23 had blown away the top and middle order. At 84 for 7, the pair staged another fightback with a 97-run stand.

Bichel: Shane Bond had five balls in the over to go and he was going to be bowled out. He had 6 for 23, so it was a matter of just getting through his spell. He was bowling quite quick. That was the first part, and the other was playing Daniel Vettori. He was a weapon in those conditions. I got through Bondy's last over and we were pretty circumspect against Dan.

We didn't take too many risks and tried to score from the other end. I managed to get myself in, Bevo was playing it nicely and giving me the strike. My job was to give it back to him as soon as I could. That got us going. He was pretty surprised when I started to hit boundaries. And then he clicked into his role of finishing off games.

Although Bichel had created history with his spell against England with the second-best figures in World Cups, his fondest moment, apart from the final win, was running Aravinda de Silva out in the semifinal. De Silva, who had scored a 92 against Australia in their clash earlier, was a key wicket. And being dismissed for just 11 in a rain-affected encounter, arguably, was the game right there.

Bichel: I had been training that particular movement for ages and I don't think I had ever hit the stumps. To pick a ball up, spin, and throw it down at the batter's end to run de Silva out was amazing. He was dangerous. I trained on that piece for a long, long time with Mike Young, and to run de Silva out by two inches with the pick-and-spin sort of movement, was special for me.

I think I tried it 3-4 times after that in other games, but never hit the stumps (laughs). It could've been a match-winning turn in the end. It was also his swansong.

India trumped Kenya in their semifinal and set up a finals date with Australia. Ricky Ponting's 121-ball 140 took Australia to a whopping 359/2. There was a storm that threatened proceedings, but in the end, Australia finished the World Cup unbeaten to lift their third title.

Bichel: It was the perfect tournament. We didn't win every game by 150 runs but we won every game. As a playing group, we'd always seen ourselves in that final. We had visions of playing the perfect game. A good, flat wicket, to score what we scored.. and that storm midway which flew over pretty quickly, thank god, because there were talks of playing the game again if it got rained off!

Sachin Tendulkar was awarded the Man of the Series for his 673 runs. But for Bichel, it was his skipper, who led from the front in what was an emotional time for Australians back home. And it's little wonder that the playing group of 2003, not just left with the silverware, but "mateship for the rest of our lives" as Bichel puts it.

Bichel: The way that he played in that tournament...He had been hitting the ball in one-day cricket well for five or six years. But to finish it off the way that he did in the final... He was one of those captains that led by doing and then people just got behind him. That's one of the greatest things about Ricky Ponting. He was very easy to play for because he was always wearing his heart on his sleeve.

It was a special win for Australia. There was lots of emotion. Everyone was just so pumped to go into a World Cup and do what we had done. The Bali incident [bombings in 2002 that killed a lot of Australian tourists] had just happened as well so Australia was grieving back home. There was a fair bit of emotion and for us, it was a huge weight off our shoulders. We had set out to do this and we did it with the highest distinction in the final. That strong bond that we'll have for the rest of our lives is because of what we did and how.

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