Many of the preliminary games of the 1997 Women’s Cricket World Cup were broadcast on Indian TV station Doordarshan, with former Indian players commentating. It would be the first time many Australians saw themselves playing on TV, but for Clark and Harmer there was a more practical benefit: for the first time, they could analyse teams they’d be facing later in the tournament.
For those preliminary games, Australia was drawn in Pool A, alongside defending champions England, plus Ireland, Denmark, Pakistan, and newcomers South Africa. From the opening ceremony in Delhi, the Australians moved south to Chennai for their opening game against Ireland: an anti-climactic wash-out.
Clark: My first memory of the early games was that the game against Ireland was washed out due to monsoonal rains, and we were trapped in a hotel in Chennai. So, we actually trained in a ballroom underneath the hotel, with glass everywhere—we were throwing cricket balls around and doing all sorts of fun stuff to keep ourselves and the security guards amused. But the big focus was to make sure everyone had appropriate time in the middle with ball and bat. If you got a chance to play, your job was to get used to the conditions quickly and go about your business.
Matthews: We were doing all our preparation in that ballroom. It was this magnificent room with giant mirrors, and we were doing slips catching with real cricket balls.
Two days later came a historic first meeting with South Africa in Bangalore. After a jittery start with the ball, the Australians made light work of their 164-run target: Clark was undefeated on 93 at nearly a run a ball, and her opening partner Broadbent was on 61 when the target was reached in just the 29th over.
Next up for Australia were Pakistan and Denmark, in what proved to be perhaps the most dominant one-two punch by an Australian team. Faced with accurate spells by Bronwyn Calver and Jodi Dannatt, Pakistan capitulated to be all out for 27 in 13.4 shambolic overs in Hyderabad, a batting performance that featured six ducks and guaranteed them the ignominy of being the worst off in the shortest international limited overs game on record; Zoe Goss was run out for a duck in Australia’s reply but Lisa Keightley and Michelle Goszko knocked off the required runs in the seventh over, after just 20 minutes of batting time. Such was Australia’s dominance, the game had occupied a mere 68 minutes, and was done by 11:15am.
Rolton: I remember it well because it was over in no time. I recall an official or someone asking why we couldn’t have bowled a little wider to allow them to hit a few more runs. (laughs) I think they were disappointed that the game was over so quickly.
Clark: It was over quickly. The difficult thing was that we didn’t get a good hit-out, so we used the remaining time to train. I mean, Pakistan were very new to the international scene at that point. It was difficult for them to come up against a team that was young and determined, and pretty much at the top of their game really. We felt a bit sorry for them, but we just focused on making sure everyone was prepped for the next one.
Matthews: When you play games like that, there is always criticism of the winners for not giving the losers more of a chance. To be fair to Pakistan, we’d only played them for the first time earlier that year, and they were like a school team. It’s been great watching them in the current T20 World Cup because they’re so much better now, obviously. They’re well on their way to being a force in the game. But that was their first World Cup.
Harmer: I wanted them not to get carried away by what was going on at that point. We had a theme song: Step by Step. One step at a time. We wanted to progress, and make sure that we were OK. There was a vast difference between some of the teams, and it was no indication of how we’d go. It was a matter of making the players feel good about themselves and as though they were in touch. We didn’t know who’d be playing by the end of the tournament—people get injured and sick. So, every player had to get some experience.
‘The next one’ was against Denmark, and Australia’s formidable batting line-up took centre stage in a staggering 363-run victory. Hours after England’s Charlotte Edwards had blasted her way to an undefeated 173, establishing a new world record, Clark played a flawless, faultless, and record-shattering knock of her own; her 229* from 155 deliveries was an innings of controlled brilliance, featuring ‘just’ 22 boundaries. It made her the first cricketer to hit a double-century in one-day internationals. Writing in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack Australia, journalist Erica Sainsbury summarised it: “It was an innings that demonstrated the heights to which one individual had taken the art of batting.”
Harmer: There were a lot of distractions that day. There were elephants walking around the ground. But Belinda’s placement and control of the ball that day was amazing, and she just scampered between the wickets.
Clark: I was in the zone by the end of that innings, but I wasn’t at the beginning of it. I was actually finding it very difficult to move around. I’ve still got the scorecard because they framed it for me. It’s at my Dad’s place and has been bundled up and moved around with him over the years. There’s a lot of ones and twos early on, and it doesn’t really get expansive with boundaries until later on. I distinctly remember not hitting the ball particularly well early on and just trying to stick at it so I could spend as much time as possible in the middle. It was a hot day. I remember coming off and being cooked. I didn’t think much of it at the time. The opposition was a fledgling side, so it wasn’t until I came off and the Indians started making a fuss that I realised that no-one had scored that many before.
Rolton: It was amazing to watch from the stands, and also to be out there in the middle with her. I mostly remember how hot and humid it was that day. After she made that score, I remember she had to sit off for the fielding innings and I took over as captain. I was stuffed just from batting for 50-odd balls (Rolton made 64 from 52 deliveries). I took a few wickets, but I’d had some time to recover when I was sitting up in the stands watching her bat on! To bat for the full 50... she was running as hard in the 50th over as she was in the first. It was an amazing performance, and an amazing thing to be part of. I’ll never forget it. The conditions were very tough, especially to bat for that period of time. She was extremely fit, she ran hard from start to finish, and it was just one of those amazing innings. She could have just stopped at 150 and only batted for 35 overs, because we were always going to win that game quite easily. But her fighting spirit kept her going till the end.
Matthews: That Denmark game really stands out for what Belinda did. Everything that went with that was unheard of. Physically, it was an amazing feat in that weather. Amazing that she didn’t break down with dehydration. She did it without boundaries, too. As soon as she came off the doctor and physio were putting wet towels on her. She always says, ‘Come on, it was against Denmark’. I think she underplays her effort.
Harmer: Technically, she was the best player in Australia in those days. To have seen Belinda play Shane Warne would have been a real treat for a cricket enthusiast, because the way she used her feet, her control of the bat, the speed she hit the ball, her placement of where she wanted to hit it, was just amazing. She was physically talented and mentally very tough.
Clark’s knock also reignited the traditional rivalry between Australia and England, most of whose players had not had the opportunity to play each other in the years following the 1993 tournament, but would now face off two days after the twin records, in both teams’ final pool game at Nagpur.
Fitzpatrick: It’s the one everyone talks about. It was a big moment for the sport. The thing I remember most about it was that Charlotte Edwards had just made her 173. We crossed paths with England at an airport at one point and it was certainly a talking point. Charlotte only held the record for a few hours. It was like, someone had thrown the game into another stratosphere and then within a day it had gone again.
Clark: I didn’t know Charlotte then. She was 17 at the time, I think. We obviously went on to play each other a lot and I’ve become quite good friends with her. I do remember thinking that it was a shame she only held the record for a few hours, but I was quite gleeful about that, probably more because it was an English player I’d beaten, not that it was Charlotte in particular. It’s funny that we ended up becoming such good friends through so many tussles over the years, because the first I’d ever heard of Charlotte was in those hours after she’d broken the record. To beat it hours later was good!
Matthews: You can imagine the glee that gave us.
To say Australia arrived in Nagpur on a mission would be a significant understatement, and Clark’s side made short work of the task, skittling the defending champions for 95 thanks in large part to the brilliance of Fitzpatrick (3-25) and Magno (4-10) With Clark (40) and Goszko (53) leading the way, Australia sprinted to an eight-wicket win inside 27 overs. For Clark’s players, the first meeting with Charlotte Edwards would be a joyful anticlimax, and the nature of the England young gun’s dismissal would resonate in the minds of players for years afterwards.
Rolton: There was a lot of talk about Charlotte Edwards being so young, and making that 173. We knew it was going to be a tough game, and there was what happened in ’93 as well. We were a pretty good team, and we were ready for anything. But there was extra motivation playing against England. Everything went right for us and we played some very good cricket.
Matthews: We were really fired up about ensuring they didn’t get off to a good start, and Cathryn Fitzpatrick just absolutely cleaned up Charlotte Edwards. A duck. The stump just went tumbling out of the ground. It was so exciting. And to be honest, we really never looked back from there.
Clark: I think England had a reporter with them (British writer Pete Davies, author of the classic football book All Played Out), who was documenting their trip. They were obviously playing well. We hadn’t played them for four years, so we had no yardstick of how we were going at that point relative to them. And, obviously, we were always keen to perform well against England. I can see it in my head now. We had a good day. I remember thinking: ‘I wonder how the reporter who is writing about it is going to analyse this’. The book was called Mad Dogs and Englishwomen. I remember thinking, ‘Geez, that’s put a whole in his story’, which again, I found amusing in a similar way to the Charlotte Edwards situation. They were full of confidence, and more well-known and more settled than we were. We were a younger team. We’d been together for a little while but hadn’t had the chance to test ourselves against England, so we were very determined on that day and the result was very pleasing.
Matthews: On a tour like that you tick the games off. You know the games that you absolutely should win, and you get through them, but then there are the ones you’re not really sure of, like England, India and New Zealand. England at that time were the World Cup champions and the team to beat. And we destroyed them in that pool game. Moments like that with Charlotte Edwards, that’s what you do all the training for, because it comes together without even thinking about it.
Fitzpatrick: That was a substantial win and very rewarding, because from ’93 to ’97 our group had changed and our skills were better, but we hadn’t had a platform or a stage to show them on. I think we knew what we were capable of, which meant we particularly enjoyed that win. That England match and Belinda’s double-hundred were really the standout moments when I look back.
Although Clark’s batting efforts would receive more attention, Fitzpatrick was on her way to a tournament analysis of 12 wickets at 8.83, with an economy rate of 2.27. Magno’s 11 at 8.18 and Charmaine Mason’s 9 at 12.88 told the story of a potent attack.
Clark: Our bowling attack was outstanding. If you look back now and you think about having a balanced attack with three genuine pace bowlers who all bowl differently, we had that. We had an off-spinner and we had a leg-spinner. We had a left-arm medium pacer in Karen Rolton. So, I was absolutely blessed with an attack that could force the issue no matter what situation we found ourselves in. As a captain, that is just gold. The three quicks were between 28 and 30, at the peak of their powers. We had Zoe Goss in the team as well and Joanne Broadbent, so we just had options and I could call on anyone to do a job.
Fitzpatrick: I was probably at my peak, pace-wise, but probably not with my control. Certainly, from a pace point of view. In the England game, I picked up a couple of wickets, and that’s the one I always think about. Being a pace bowler, I think the mentality of a lot of other sides was to play it out (and survive Fitzpatrick’s spells). ‘If the weapon is the pace, how do we negate it?’ For me, that England game, I probably had a bit of extra effort in there. Something to prove.
Rolton: Cathryn was obviously our spearhead, but we had people who Belinda could rely on. Everyone in the team worked hard at their game, and we didn’t want to let each other down when we went over that line. We wanted to do well for each other and we’d do anything it took to get a win for the team.
Fitzpatrick’s tournament haul is all the more amazing for a fact previously undisclosed.
Harmer: Cathryn was a fierce competitor, and she could bowl really quick in those days. She was touching 130, and she could sustain it. But I can now reveal a secret: she had injured her back at the last training session before the pool games began. She hurt her back. I thought, ‘Oh no, what are we going to do?’ We had a magnificent physio, Meg McIntyre, and we sat Fitzy down and said she could bowl if she didn’t rotate her trunk. This is at the start of the tour. And she did it. She kept her trunk dead straight and just used her arms and kept front on. She bowled the whole tournament carrying that injury. She wasn’t allowed to play pull shots or do anything that gave her rotation. It was amazing discipline. It meant something to her to be on the ground. To get fit for that trip, she was running behind a garbage truck. That’s how dedicated she was.
Two days after the England game in Lucknow, Australia faced The Netherlands in the quarter-final. Having been stuck down the order without batting practice, Bronwyn Calver was promoted to an opening slot and responded with a career-best 76. Australia’s total of 4-223 was not as imposing as previous performances, but it was enough for a 115-run win.
Thus, Clark’s side would face host nation India in the semi-final, to be held on Christmas eve. It would prove Australia’s toughest challenge of the tournament, but one for which the away side received an unexpected boost when civil unrest in Guwahati forced tournament organisers to shift the game to Harbaksh Stadium in Delhi. Situated in the precincts of the Indian Army, the ground was not open to fans: the home crowd would not be a factor.
The plot thickened even further when fog reduced the game to a 32-over contest, then again when India’s four-pronged pace attack somehow conspired to dawdle between overs; penalised for their over rate, the Indians would have only 30 overs to chase Australia’s 7-123.
Fitzpatrick: It was some sort of military compound. Our changing rooms were these jungle green tents. Then we didn’t start on time because there was fog. It was just an amazing game. Again, it really stands out. Any time I see photos of it, it brings the memories back straight away.
Rolton: The main thing I remember from the semi-final was the fog. And there were lots of military people sitting right on the rope. It was a tough game—India in a semi-final in their home World Cup.
Matthews: Again, it was one of those things where, because of the preparation we’d done for disruptions, we coped with the situation quite well. But the question was always, ‘What’s going on now?’ and then adjusting to that. But we were also really lucky, because the Australian High Commissioner to India had brought us an Esky full of all the things we liked, so we had a few home comforts. But mainly I remember the fog and the dew.
Clark: What we were focused on was that it was a semi-final, and they’re difficult to win. India were at home. Obviously there was only military people watching, but I remember the tents and I remember that the High Commissioner was there. It really was a makeshift ground. And the Indians bowled so slowly that they lost two overs.
With India sailing along at 2-70, Australia’s campaign seemed doomed, but a telling intervention had come in the form of a brilliant catch by Jones off the bowling of Fitzpatrick. It foretold of two trump cards for Australia: their fielding, and their ability to keep their heads while the Indians lost theirs. To the astonishment of onlookers, three Indian batters hit the ball straight to Olivia Magno and darted off for crazy singles; each time Magno ran them out. As the home side dissolved into a state of panic, Charmaine Mason produced one of the spells of the tournament, conceding just six runs from three telling overs at the death. India’s two lost overs proved crucial in the 19-run loss. Australia was through to the final.
Clark: Mel Jones took an amazing catch at backward point or cover to get Anjum Chopra, who was one of their star players. She generally batted sensibly, so she was a big wicket. Chasing a low target, I was really worried she’d just steer the innings home in a methodical way. It was really hit out of the screws and that catch was just an absolute cracker.
Rolton: The other thing I remember was the run out of Purnima Rau. She was at the non-striker’s end and there was a collision mid-pitch, and we ran her out. We all thought there might be a riot. That incident is my clearest memory.
Fitzpatrick: It was one of those run outs where the ball is hit not far from the bowler, the bowler scrambles to get it and the runner runs, and there is a collision. It was an awkward moment but both umpires were clear that she was going for the ball and there was nothing untoward. But it was an awkward moment considering the circumstances of the game.
Clark: We scrambled, scrambled and scrambled in a really tight, low-scoring contest, and we probably had no right to win that game if I’m honest. We were in all sorts of trouble defending a low total. But the two-over deduction went our way, there were four run outs. Olivia was such a great competitor. But to get ourselves out of trouble, it was one game I captained ... Having watched the World Cup final from the grandstands in 1993, I was thinking: ‘If I have to watch another World Cup final from the grandstands I’m going to be filthy, so what do we need to do here?’ It sharpened my focus as a captain, but there were times in that match where I thought we were in big trouble. But, in the end, we found a way to win, which was quite remarkable given the circumstances.
Matthews: One of the things we knew about India in those days was that if you kept applying pressure, there would be a point at which they’ll break. We knew that. Often they got off to good starts, and they did that day, but it was a matter of holding our nerve. We had a brilliant team. In the field, Olivia Magno and Mel Jones were outstanding. We had the best bowling attack in the world. It was really about holding your nerve and waiting for the moment. I remember walking around the ground thinking, ‘Keep going, keep going’. And then the breakthrough comes.
With Australia’s World Cup final berth secured, players faced a nervous four-day wait for the final—a period that included what, for many in the team, was a first Christmas Day away from home, but an unexpected benefit had come from the semi-final win.