As joyous fans waved inflatable kangaroos and roared "Waltzing Matilda" in the stands, Australia waltzed to the world championship of cricket today with a crushing defeat of Pakistan in the finals of the World Cup.
The Aussies took advantage of their dominating spin bowlers and some spectacular work in the outfield to hold Pakistan to a dismal 132 runs, with all out in the 39th over -- the worst batting performance in any World Cup final. That's roughly the equivalent of the New York Knicks holding the San Antonio Spurs to 35 points in an NBA Finals game.
The bleak offensive output put enormous pressure on Pakistan's bowlers, and they promptly folded. Four Australian batters needed just 20 overs to reach the 133rd run and claim the title. Australia won by a shocking eight wickets.
Among those perplexed by the outcome were London's bookmakers, who couldn't predict which team would win and sent both sides off at easy money. The match was considered so tight that scalpers were asking -- and getting -- $600 per ticket outside Lord's Cricket Ground this morning, more than 10 times face value. An estimated 2 billion TV viewers, about half of them on the Indian subcontinent, tuned in worldwide.
This World Cup final offered yet another chapter in the never-ending confrontation between the fastball and the curve -- or, to use cricket terminology, between fast bowling and spin bowling.
Representing the "fast" camp was the Nolan Ryan of world cricket: Shoaib Akhtar ("the Rawalpindi Express"), who runs 30 yards at the start of his windup so that he is romping toward the batter at full speed when he unleases his 100 mph fireballs.
In opposition, the Aussies featured cricket's version of Greg Maddux: Shane [Warney] Warne, with his deadly arsenal of leg-breakers, top-spinners, flippers and googlies, each of which curves one way before the bounce and then veers off somewhere else just before reaching the batter.
Trickery won out over speed today as Warne repeatedly stunned the Pakistani bombers. He personally accounted for four of the 10 Pakistani batters put out and was named most valuable player, or "Man of the Match." Akhtar bowled well for Pakistan, but didn't approach Warne's heroics.
Today's runaway made for an anticlimactic finish to the six-week World Cup tournament. Twelve teams -- England, Scotland and 10 former British colonies -- battled each other in Britain, Ireland and Holland.
As it has been for the past decade or so, the theme of this global cricket championship was "the empire strikes back." England and Scotland were outclassed by the commonwealth teams, and both home squads washed out in the first round of the tournament.
That led to predictable wails from British fans, but it made a lot of seats available for the South Africans, Bangladeshis, West Indians and others who traveled around the world to watch their favorite game.
In England, cricket is a genteel pastime largely for the upper classes. Cricket's version of Babe Ruth, the turn-of-the-century hero W.G. Grace, was a practicing physician throughout his career before the wickets. British fans tend to be gentle as well, wearing neat blue blazers, pressed khaki trousers or skirts, and regimental ties to the matches. They cheer politely -- "Well bowled, old chap" -- for both sides.
But the fans who trooped into ivy-covered cricket grounds this spring to scream their support of teams from Africa, South Asia and Down Under were bawdy, boisterous and bombastic. Their hair dyed national colors, their shoulders draped in national flags, they sang and they chanted; they blew air horns and police whistles; they hurled firecrackers in the air.
It was simply too uncouth for the British, who kept trying to make their rambunctious visitors behave. When New Zealand just scraped past India by five runs in a breathtaking match on June 12, the public address announcer kept complaining that "the enjoyment of spectators is being spoiled by excessive amounts of noise."
Actually, the excessive amounts of noise were coming from the spectators, who had a wonderful time at this World Cup. None had greater enjoyment than the Australians. They waved their flags and their kangaroos and chanted their national cheer -- "Aussies! Aussies! Aussies! Oi! Oi! Oi!" without stopping today as their heroes took home the nation's first World Cup trophy since 1987.