Part III – It changed the landscape for cricket in Australia.
Fitzpatrick: The Australian High Commissioner (Robert Laurie AM) was at the semi-final with his wife. They were good fun. Because we were in those bloody tents, and the game was delayed, we got talking. So, he knew we were spending Christmas in India, at the hotel, and he said, ‘No, no, you should come over with us.’ He ended up inviting us for Christmas day at the Australian High Commission. So, we had full access to the property. I think Zoe Goss was upstairs having a bath, we’re playing charades in the kitchen, and we had full access to the bar, which certainly added to the night. It was a ripper. We’d been wondering what we’d do for Christmas, but that was just a heap of fun and something everyone on the trip always remembered.
With their spirits lifted, Australia would face New Zealand in the World Cup final, to be played at Eden Garden, Calcutta, on 29 December. The two sides were certainly not strangers; it would be their ninth meeting for the calendar year.
Fitzpatrick: There was a healthy respect between Australia and New Zealand. We knew they were a strong side, and we knew them well which meant they knew us well also. There was certainly a rivalry, but the teams did get on. We’d always catch up at the end of tournaments, but I certainly had a fierce rivalry with (New Zealand captain) Debbie Hockley. I didn’t often get her out, but she didn’t often score heavily off me.
Matthews: It was the early days of video footage. We filmed every game, and looked at the footage and analysed things. It was the start of a new era in cricket. New Zealand and Australia had always played really tough games. You were always looking to make 200, 220. If you only made 180 you had a fight on your hands to defend it. And that’s how the final ended up playing out.
Harmer: New Zealand could always pop up and beat you. They had a few players who, if they got away, you were in a bit of trouble. They had a couple of very good bowlers, and two very good batters, and in a 50-over game, you only need two of them to come off and you’ve got a game on your hands. We weren’t going into it cocksure about winning, but we were absolutely determined to win.
In the years since, estimates of the crowd size in Eden Gardens that day have varied between 50,000 and 80,000, but there is no questioning the mythical status the game has taken on in women’s cricket history, nor the impact that the roaring crowd had on the players.
Harmer: The Mayor of Calcutta had dictated terms and said that only women were allowed to watch that game. And the bus service to Calcutta was only allowed to pick up women who were going to the cricket. And did that cause a ruckus. Nobody could get to Calcutta to work! For women’s cricket. It was amazing.
Clark: I remember doing a lap of the ground the day before the final. We were warming up before training. Karen Rolton said there was a rumour that the ground was going to be full, and that we’d be playing in front of a big crowd. I asked her where she’d heard that. She said the liaison officer had told her it would be a huge crowd, and I thought that was interesting, but Karen was so excited. I wasn’t concerned about the crowd at all, I just wanted to do what we needed to do to win.
Rolton: We had about 20-odd thousand at some of our games in India, but I just remember not really noticing the crowd at the start. Then, as the game went on and our fielding innings went on, more and more people started coming in. I remember the different colours of the saris that all the women were wearing. And it was Australia-New Zealand, so it wasn’t as if they were really supporting either team, they were just enjoying the cricket. But as it started filling up, you couldn’t even talk to your teammate five metres away from you. At the start we could hear each other, but by the end of our fielding innings it was impossible to hear.
Matthews: The noise was amazing that day. It was like birds chirping. It wasn’t like a normal cricket crowd. It was all women. In those days, we just walked around the boundary during our batting innings, watching the game. They’d go nuts as the players did that.
New Zealand won the toss and not only elected to bat, pairing their batting champion Debbie Hockley with their other batting trump card, Emily Drumm. The gamble backfired: Calver bowled Drumm for 6 with a wicked in-swinging yorker, and Hockley continued to lose partners at regular intervals. Although Hockley would battle on to a valiant and undefeated 79, New Zealand’s total of 164 spoke of Australia’s success in gaining the upper hand early and applying relentless pressure throughout the Kiwi innings; Fitzpatrick had 1-22 from her 10 overs, and Calver 2-29 from her full allotment. Their backups, Mason, Magno, Rolton and Fahey were every bit as focused.
Harmer: Hockley was a big worry. She was very consistent, but wouldn’t accelerate. Emily Drumm was more like Warner: all of a sudden, you’d have this explosive over and you’d lost 20 runs on it. Drumm was a class player, and the real danger.
Fitzpatrick: Deb was a great player, but we also knew that it was OK—and this sounds like I’m being disrespectful to her, and I’m certainly not—but if she wasn’t damaging us heavily, that we’d be able to chase or defend a total against them. But she had some younger players around her that probably didn’t quite understand the role they had to play around her at that point.
Clark: It was a great bowling performance. Their dangerous player up the top was Emily Drumm. She was a little bit unorthodox and could get away from you, and it was probably worth a gamble putting her up the order, whereas Debbie Hockley ended up batting very well and holding them together, but she probably wasn’t going to hurt you over a 5- to 10-over period. For Bronwyn Calver to get the wicket of Drumm early was a big boost. And we went through the middle order. Debbie batted really well, but my memory of the day was that pace attack of Fitzpatrick, Calver and Mason just all bowling really well and controlling it beautifully. The spinners were good as well, but those three just set the tone. We’d played them a lot and we knew them pretty well.
When crunch time arrived in the chase, the brilliance of Clark again shone, as did Australia’s batting depth. Underpinned by the skipper’s 52 from 81 deliveries, and a neat 37 from Goszko, the Australians kept their heads to reach their target with 2.2 overs to spare. Having done so much with the ball to set up Australia’s success, Calver was left to hit the winning runs.
Clark: I was really annoyed at myself for getting out. I can still see exactly what I did, and I was so disappointed. I was hitting them well, and I thought we were in control of the match, and we all got starts. To get out at the point I did, when we still had 50 runs to get, I was really cranky. My intent was to bat through the innings and steer us home. But people came in afterwards and did a great job. Michelle Goszko came in and was terrific. Karen Rolton was excellent, although she was upset too about getting out with only a few runs to get.
Rolton: We’d played New Zealand so often, and had some close games against them, so all of us wanted to stay there until the job was done and not rely on anyone else to do it. So, Belinda would always try to be there. Nothing was certain, especially against New Zealand. It was nerve wracking counting down the runs until we got over the line.
Fitzpatrick: I remember that as the chase got towards its end, Johnny Harmer had a camera and was sitting by the boundary videoing the game. We knew from a little way out that we were probably going to win the game, and I just remember looking into the camera and saying, ‘Can I bat now?’ And John just goes, ‘No!’. So, we were nice and relaxed, and felt like we were in control of the match, which made it a lovely experience. We always had confidence. For me, having such a strong batting line-up and strong teammates right throughout my career, there were a lot of times in matches that I felt quite comfortable back their abilities, and that was one of those days.
Harmer: We thought we’d get the runs, no doubt. But I was still nervous. The closer you get, the more you just want to get past. Belinda was such a good opener. She rarely scored under 10. She was always scoring runs. In the end, we had overs to spare. Belinda would have loved to have carried her bat through. I remember that genuine feeling from her: she was bitterly disappointed that she wasn’t out there to celebrate.
Clark: We were in control of the batting innings most of the way, but I couldn’t watch it. I was in the change rooms with my head in my hands, watching the TV and away from everyone. I would have made the next players in too nervous, so I just removed myself from the group. I remember standing in there with John Harmer as the final runs were hit and just being so relieved that we’d finally done it.
If you play against a team a lot, as we had with New Zealand, you’re aware that games of cricket can turn quickly. When you’re six or seven down, things can go haywire. We were only five down, so we were in control of the match, but we took almost 48 overs to get the runs and really paced ourselves. That probably shows how much it meant to us, and the respect we had for our opposition. No-one was losing their head. As a group, we were very committed to finishing the job.
In the madness of the game’s aftermath, Clark lifted the World Cup and led her team around the ground for its surreal, now iconic lap of honour—a moment frozen in time for many in the Australian camp.
Harmer: It was a feeling of absolute elation. I was determined to make that team the best they could be, and I thought I’d achieved it on that day. We set ourselves a goal, and achieved it.
Clark: It was one of the most amazing experiences. Looking back on it, I probably didn’t realise that it was going to be a very clear highlight, winning in front of that many people, with that team, having experienced India for the first time. It was quite phenomenal.
Rolton: You look at that photo now, of us running around the ground, in front of a massive crowd, and it’s just something you never forget.
Clark: The lap of honour was pretty special. While you’re playing, you’re just so focused. The crowd had been building up slowly, but I was so focused on what we were doing. The whole hour, two hours, day, five days afterwards was just this feeling of... you don’t believe that you’ve managed to do it. Relief is the word that comes to mind, and just happy that we’d been able to achieve it together.
Matthews: It was an unbelievable atmosphere, winning and then doing a lap with all those people there. It was an amazing day, and the three days following were something we hadn’t experienced before as far the attention from Australia. We’d been in a bubble over in India, but it had broken through in Australia and become something big.
Although the players wanted nothing more than to kick off the party back at the team hotel, the tournament organisers had other ideas.
Clark: We had to go to a function. We got back to the hotel, shower, put on our walking-out kit, and then all the teams had to get on buses and we were police escorted more than an hour away to this function. Then the function went for three hours, and it was another hour back before we could celebrate. We were staying at a beautiful hotel in Calcutta and it was a very long night.
Matthews: I reckon it was more like an hour and a half to get to that function. We had to stop so people could go to the toilet on the side of the road. One player unfortunately chose the only place that had an automatic spotlight when you walked in front of it, and she was squatting there in her full dress uniform, and everyone could see her. Those sorts of things happened all the time. And then we got there and thought, ‘why do we have to be here?’
Rolton: I remember the bus having to stop a few times for people to go to the toilet, and it was interesting trying to find places to go to the toilet in India. We thought someone was having us on that the function was an hour away, and everyone just wanted to be back at the hotel celebrating the win.
Fitzpatrick: Something weird happened the next morning: I felt like Belinda and I had been kidnapped. An Indian journalist said he had a live satellite feed and was going to interview us, beaming it around the world. We get in this bloody rickety car, driving through heavy traffic with nausea, feeling absolutely terrible, and we ended up running so late that they lost the feed. We did it for nothing! But Belinda and I had been sitting in the back of this car, looking at each other and wondering: have we just been kidnapped? It was just us, none of the support staff. I don’t know how she was feeling. I don’t think she’d celebrated quite as hard as I did. But I remember being in that car and thinking I’d much rather be in bed. But of course that happened! You’ve just got to giggle.
Clark: It was just chaos. But those sorts of things didn’t even seem weird at that stage of the tournament.
Matthews: I had two or three phones going at the hotel and they were just ringing non-stop, from news outlets all over Australia. We did a live cross to A Current Affair with Ray Martin. The players were a little worse for wear by the morning, and I was trying to find them to do all these interviews, which just didn’t happen back then.
With the Indian component of the celebrations done, the returning champions were greeted at Sydney airport by acting Prime Minister Tim Fisher and Cheryl Kernot, and women’s cricket had suddenly been thrust into the spotlight; days later the squad would be paraded around the SCG for a lap of honour during the Sydney Test.
Rolton: The main thing I remember was the lap of honour at the Test. I was nervous doing the lap of honour in front of a lot of people. Hansie Cronje was captain of South Africa, and he came down and shook our hands along with the other South African guys, and we went into the change rooms with them and the Australians at the end of the day. Being able to hang out with and chat to those players you’d been watching on TV was great, because we rarely crossed paths at that point. It was great rubbing shoulders with Allan Donald and Hansie Cronje.
Clark: We had a great day at the SCG. John Howard came in. Cheryl Kernot was there as well, and she’d been a big supporter of ours. The South African players came down the race and clapped, and shook our hands as we went down the race, which was a lovely gesture on their behalf. It was a great day and good that we could celebrate it with a cricket crowd. There was the airport media scrum too, but the best part was being able to recognise the support we’d received from home, and be recognised by Australian cricket. It’s something I’ll never forget.
Soon, Belinda Clark and her team would come to recognise the impression their World Cup victory had made on the Australian public, if not the legacy of their moment in the sun. Recognition and support also came from unlikely sources.
Rolton: After the lap of honour, it came out that as World Champions we were going to have to pay for our trip.
Fitzpatrick: We were supposed to pay for that trip. I’ve got invoices from back in 1991, when I first started playing, where I had to pay for my culottes, my socks, uniform levies.
There was a levy that we were supposed to pay after the 1997 World Cup, around about $1800 each. But because of all the media around what we’d done, a Bendigo publican stepped forward and said, ‘Nope, that’s not good enough’, and said he’d pay it. So, this guy we’d never met wiped the debt for all of us. It was fantastic.
Clark: I’ve never met him, but this guy clearly said ‘this isn’t right’ and paid all our invoices, which we thought was awesome. But because we’d been away during Christmas and we had a cell phone with us for emergency calls, and made calls home on Christmas day, we all received an invoice for our calls home as well!
After that was when the Commonwealth Bank became a sponsor of the women’s game, and they’re still supporting the women’s game. So, that’s where we were at the beginning—someone picking up the tab for us. After that, life was very different due to the Commonwealth Bank and other sponsors coming in.
Matthews: From there, everything changed completely. It was the last time players had to go away thinking they’d pay for their trip. It was also a catalyst for change as far as Cricket Australia’s approach to women’s cricket. They’d always been supportive because they had to, not because they wanted to. It’s probably a bit politically incorrect to say that, but public support and the Commonwealth Bank really changed that. That’s where their association started. And it started because David Murray was CEO at the time. He was a guest in the Cricket Australia hospitality room. I went down and spoke to him, and he relayed a story that he wanted to help because Belinda Clark had coached at a clinic at his daughter’s school, and his daughter had not stopped talking about Belinda and the team.
Clark: Beyond the tournament itself, what that World Cup win did was provide us a profile that brought some commercial support, and made life very different for the players from that moment forward as far as not having to pay for trips. And then, decades later, being paid to play. So much hard work went into keeping the game alive and keeping teams on the field, way back when. The support was government funding and some bits and pieces. But, from ’97 forward, it certainly changed and has continued to change rapidly. It was a moment in time when the team got a profile. We’d won World Cups before, but never in front of 70,000 or 80,000 people. That captured the imagination of people, and at the height of summer we were able to come back and do that lap of the SCG. The game moved forward more quickly after that moment.
Rolton: It changed the landscape for cricket in Australia.
Fitzpatrick: It was the start, I think, of a really good era—a good nucleus of players that were going to stay together for a long time to come, and play a more attractive brand of the game. It got people excited about women’s cricket. For me, personally, it was righting a wrong. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Not righting a wrong as far as the failure in 1993. We were a different team then. But we hadn’t got to play England in between those two World Cups. So, it was our chance to say, ‘We’ve learned our lessons from ’93, and look at us now—we’re athletic, we’re skilful, and we play the game in a different way’.
I think it was a big change in the way the game moved forward. I think John Harmer saw where the game could go. If you look at the players he coached, and what they came, you’d say he was able to get a group of talented players together and he knew what to do with that talent. And the better we played, the more interested people became in the sport.
Clark: We were a young team that was very hungry for success. We enjoyed each other’s company, and we were on a mission together. It felt very clear, what our task was, and we did everything possible to make sure we’d be successful. We had the right players, we had the right coaches, we had the right mindset, and the right environment. There was a general ability to just deal with stuff. We’d take the Mickey out of each other, and had fun—and the memories of how much fun we had on that tour are quite vivid—and it all culminated in the team’s success.
Rolton: All of us worked full-time as well, and some were studying. I look back and think they were a fantastic group of people—hard-working cricketers who did their best for the team, to get the win. It didn’t matter how hard it was, we had each other’s backs. All we wanted to do was win that trophy. That’s what we prepared for, and we came away with the trophy.
Harmer: Belinda Clark was a tough captain, and we had a very classy team. Go through that squad and look where they all are today. They were talented players who were really committed to making women’s cricket meaningful, and I think that is very important. They wanted to put women’s cricket on the map. And they’ve continued to do that. To me, that’s very fulfilling.
Matthews: One of the really interesting things out of that group is the impact they now have on the game. Cathryn Fitzpatrick has coached Australia. I’m the CEO of the WACA. Mel Jones is one of the leading cricket broadcasters in the world. Julia Price is commentating. Belinda speaks for herself as far as what she’s done for the game. Joanne Broadbent has coached Queensland, New South Wales and is now coaching in New Zealand. Zoe Goss is coaching in Western Australia. Lisa Keightley is coaching England. So, that was the first group of players who moved into a life in cricket, either in administration, coaching or the media. They really set the tone for what is happening today. So many people in that team clearly had an ambition to stay in the game and contribute to the success of the game.
Harmer: It was the pinnacle of my coaching career, there’s no doubt about that. The team itself, I’ll never forget the harmony that the team had within itself. There wasn’t a player who wasn’t pumped up to be there. It was a joy, the rapport it gave everybody. It was so nice. That’s the memory I’ve got, just the happiness we had as a group. People ask: how do you make a team happy? Well, you get them happy by making them good.
Australia’s 1997 World Cup-winning squad: Belinda Clark (Captain), Karen Rolton (Vice-Captain), Michelle Goszko, Bronwyn Calver, Lisa Keightley, Joanne Broadbent, Zoe Goss, Mel Jones, Olivia Magno, Charmaine Mason, Julia Price, Jodi Dannatt, Avril Fahey, Cathryn Fitzpatrick. Coach: John Harmer. Team Manager: Christina Matthews