Shane Warne celebrates the wicket of Ian Bishop

Hello destiny: Shane Warne took 4 for 36 while defending a total of 207

© Getty Images

20 Greatest ODIs: No. 8

Where Australia began their domination of the world

A win from out of nowhere in Mohali signalled what an unstoppable one-day force they were going to become

Andrew Miller  |  

Australia vs West Indies, World Cup semi-final, Mohali 1996

Australia won by five runs

Two mighty epochs on converging paths, bent through a prism that might as well have been a crystal ball, given how startlingly it would reveal their future trajectories.

The former global overlords, West Indies - victors of the first two World Cups, but at the start of a downward curve in the tournament that will culminate this winter in their absence altogether from the 2023 event. And Australia, surprise champions in 1987 but the game's coming force almost from that moment forward.

To all intents and purposes, Australia had already announced to West Indies that they were the new sheriffs in town, via a blood-and-thunder victory in the Caribbean in 1994-95 that might as well have been the World Test Championship final of its time.

This contest, however, was something else entirely. A World Cup semi-final in Mohali, after which Australia's captain, Mark Taylor, would admit that West Indies had won "95% of the game, and we won the last 5%".

But what a 5%. The 5% that resides entirely in the mind, that transcends the vagaries of form and fortune, and boils down to a pair of simple but devastatingly pointed questions. Do you believe you can win this? And if not, why not?

Superficially, West Indies believed they could win. They looked like they believed when Curtly Ambrose and Ian Bishop ran roughshod over Australia's top order - 15 for 4 in 9.1 overs all told, triggered by Ambrose's second-ball shin-thumper that pinned Mark Waugh, Australia's star of the tournament, lbw for a duck.

They looked like they believed when, in spite of a dour and painstaking fifth-wicket stand of 138 between Michael Bevan and Stuart Law, Brian Lara sauntered out in the seventh over to take control of a 208-run chase with a transcendently fluent run-a-ball 45.

With seven overs left up his sleeve, Glenn McGrath embarked on the spell that would split West Indies' resolve like an over-whisked mayonnaise

But at every step of the journey, the doubts just could not be quashed. This was an era for West Indies cricket that, we now know from hindsight, was still rich with promise and achievement - certainly compared with the bleak fare that would follow. A core of champion cricketers still had the wherewithal to dominate when the mood swept them along. But the fragility of their off days was something that no West Indian line-up had encountered since the birth of Clive Lloyd's mean machine 20 years earlier. And on this particular day, they couldn't quite believe how dominant they were being. Why not? That was entirely down to the calibre of their opponents.

Two months earlier in Sydney, for example, Bevan had snatched a quite extraordinary one-wicket win from right under West Indies' noses, so while he was once again measuring every nurdle while ignoring the oppressive scoreline in his vital 69 from 110 alongside Law, he was concurrently sending a message to his opponents: This capricious surface will take every ounce of your mettle. Are you sure you've got it?

The early evidence was promising enough. Despite the early loss of Courtney Browne, Shivnarine Chanderpaul's obdurate qualities seemed tailor-made for a run rate of barely four an over, particularly while Lara was exuding a confidence that no other player on either side could have feigned.

But all along, a chirp of disquiet had accompanied their efforts. This was, after all, the team that had lost, shockingly, to Kenya during the group stages - all out for 93 in a slow-motion surrender in Pune, triggered inevitably by the early extraction of Lara. And so when, on that same forbidding scoreline, Lara's apparent cruise was ended by a seaming, snaking, bail-clipping zinger from Steve Waugh that would not be bettered by any bowler for the rest of the tournament, the collective gasp across Mohali was palpable.

Initially, the setback did not seem to have changed the course of the game. Richie Richardson emerged to partner Chanderpaul in a 72-run stand for the third wicket that spanned the next 110 deliveries. But the anxiety in their body language could not be buried so easily. It was the shots that did not come off that telegraphed the doubt most clearly. A succession of flat-footed air shots, from Richardson in particular, the gasps of a man drowning in a slowly rising run rate, and desperate for the sweet release of a four ball.

It ends when I say it does: Damien Fleming bowls Courtney Walsh to give Australia a five-run win

It ends when I say it does: Damien Fleming bowls Courtney Walsh to give Australia a five-run win © Getty Images

Taylor sensed the mood more keenly than anyone, and in the 34th over, he unleashed the most frugal man in his arsenal. With seven overs left up his sleeve, Glenn McGrath embarked on the spell that would split West Indies' resolve like an over-whisked mayonnaise.

After turning off the tap for three overs straight, McGrath's 40th-over maiden to Richardson finally caused Chanderpaul's resolve to snap, and with it, West Indies' game sense. A miscued hack to mid-on, and off he trooped for 80 - only to be replaced by the allrounder Roger Harper, a promotion that smacked of an ill-conceived attempt at pinch-hitting.

It did not work. McGrath pinned him fifth ball with a bail-trimming lbw, but when West Indies rolled the dice once more by sending Ottis Gibson in at No. 6 in a further bid for cheap runs, the time was nigh for Australia to turn to their trump card.

Shane Warne's final four overs had been preserved for the squeakiest moments of the chase. And now he needed a solitary delivery to detonate Gibson's ambitions with the flipper. Finally, West Indies recognised that the situation called for proper batters, as Jimmy Adams arrived to join a catatonic Richardson, but by the time McGrath had bowled out for figures of 2 for 30, the asking rate was suddenly north of six.

On this pitch, the gig was up and West Indies knew it. Adams hacked across the line to be pinned lbw by Warne. He was replaced by Keith Arthurton, whose four-ball duck would complete one of the most iconically awful World Cup campaigns of all time - five innings, three zeroes, two runs.

Richardson slammed back-to-back boundaries off Damien Fleming to hint at a pulse, but with six runs needed from the last five balls, he ran-out Ambrose in a misguided bid for a single. Courtney Walsh was then bowled first ball as Australia sealed a bafflingly comprehensive victory by five runs.

As fate would have it, Australia would be denied their ultimate glory in the final in Lahore, where they succumbed to a Sri Lanka team powered by an even more unstoppable sense of destiny. However, the next three titles (and four in five all told) would all fall their way, and little wonder. If they could bend this, the most impossible scenario of all time, to their will, nothing could ever again seem beyond them.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket