1994/95: The Summer of Australia A.

Australian Cricket’s golden age was foreshadowed in 1994/95 wehn Australia played Australia A in the Finals of the World Series Cup.

On January 17th, 1995, Australia completed a 2-0 Final Series victory in the World Series Cup at the SCG. While this itself is not particularly unusual, the fact the losing team on this day contained Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Damien Martyn, Michael Bevan and Greg Blewitt does make it so. For the only time in the 29-year history of the World Series Cup competition, Australia A competed and illustrated the strength of Australian Cricket by qualifying for the final.

That they were brought in to make the traditional tri-series a quadrangle, was an exercise in commercial cynicism by an Australian Cricket Board fearful of the effect the largely unknown minnows Zimbabwe would have on interest in the competition. Instead of finding out it was decided to spice things up, and expose some of Australia’s young talent to international competition, with the addition of another home team to the tournament.

For Zimbabwe, the opportunity to play ODI’s against Australia and England, would now doubt have made their decision to accept Australia A in the competition a no-brainer. However, if Australia’s players reaction is anything to go by, one can only imagine England’s acceptance of the possibility of being shown up by a Second XI might have taken a little more negotiation from the ACB.

The scene is set.

Australia quickly proved their superiority in the competition recording comfortable victories over England and Zimbabawe. Australia A also enjoyed an undefeated start to their campaign. On the back of big innings from Darren Lehmann, Damien Martyn a century from Matthew Hayden, they were able to record two comfortable victories over Zimbabwe. All of which providing added spice to the all ready mouth watering prospect of the first clash between Australia and Australia A.

The Adelaide Oval was the scene for the clash, and while the expected result came to fruition with Australia claiming victory by six runs, it couldn’t be said things went exactly to plan for Mark Taylor and his team. It took a run out, and three late wickets from Glenn McGrath, for Australia to spare themselves the blushes of an ignominious defeat but it was the unusual situation of an Australian crowd cheering against them that Taylor was most uncomfortable about post game.

I didn’t enjoy the game. I don’t like playing against my own players. I don’t like it when the crowd doesn’t support us when we play at home. I can’t blame the crowd; I don’t think they should have been made to choose whether to back Australia or the other Australian team. They are probably more jovial in their rooms than we are in ours, and we’re the winners.

Mark Taylor Post Game – ESPN Cricinfo

The two teams took divergent paths to the final from this point, with the Mark Taylor led team going on their merry way and qualifying for the best of three deciding series with games to spare. For the Damien Martyn led ‘A’ team a pair of comprehensive defeats to England and in the return fixture against Australia put them on the brink of elimination but a surprise result revived their chances.

An upset in Sydney.

Zimbabwe led by a 110 run partnership between Grant Flower (84*) and Dave Houghton (57) set up a thrilling 13 run victory over England at the SCG. Unlike their famous World Cup victory over the same opponent in Albury three years earlier, there was no Eddo Brandes scything through the England batters but a determined team effort in the field. When Graeme Hick was run out for 64 it didn’t just end his one man effort to get the English home but would ultimately prove decisive in Australia qualifying for the final.

Chopping and changing of players between both Australian squads played a part too. For a match against England, Phil Emery was called up to replace an injured Ian Healy and Gavin Robertson to replace an injured Tim May. The most telling squad change however proved to be one in the opposite direction. A misfiring Michael Bevan played the first derby for Australia his omission from that squad saw him play his next match in the second derby for Australia A.

One last chance.

When Australia A met England at the SCG in the final preliminary game of the tournament, a loss would end their campaign while victory alone would not be enough to see them advance to the final. The A-Team would also need to close the net-run rate difference between the two sides which meant, depending on the margin, England could lose and still qualify for the final against Australia.

With this situation in mind, Damien Martyn had no hesitation in batting after winning the toss and it was here that Michael Bevan’s presence in the A-Team paid dividends. Joining Greg Blewett at the crease with the score at 2-46, the left-hander went about taking advantage of the unusual opportunity to continue playing in the tournament despite being dropped from the Australian team. When Blewett was dismissed for 113, the pair had added 161 for the third wicket. Having taken his score to 105, Bevan was dismissed late in the innings trying to add late runs to the A-Teams already imposing total.

With Merv Hughes and Paul Reiffel making early inroads and English wickets falling at consisting intervals, the attention of the visitors turned from the 265 required for victory to the 237 needed to qualify for the final. A masterful spell from Peter McIntyre, helped by a miserly Shane George at the other end, kept Australia A’s hopes alive, while the large Sydney crowd were fixed to the edge of their seats.

Down to the wire.

Chris Lewis looked set to be the hero for England as the game came down to its final overs. An accidental draftee into the England team, Lewis was only in Australia to play sub-district cricket in Melbourne, it was up to him and number 11 Angus Fraser to get the tourists to the consolation total. With two balls remaining, England needed just four runs to eliminate Australia A from the tournament but were able to add just two. To the great delight of the parochial Sydney crowd, it meant that all Australian final series was set.

The final series itself was a thrilling affair but a pair of controversial moments are possibly better recalled than Australia’s 2-0 series victory. Australia A’s hopes of an upset victory weren’t helped when Paul Reiffel was called up from their squad to the Australian team. It would have been particularly galling for the A-Team to watch their second leading wicket taker utilised as nothing more than a drink waiter by their opponents after losing their leading spearhead Merv Hughes to injury against England.

Mate against mate.

More memorable than this was the coming together of Glenn McGrath and Matthew Hayden during the first final. On his way to a well made half century, Hayden dispatched McGrath to the boundary and collided with the less than pleased quick as he watched the ball heading towards the boundary. An infamous exchange followed although cooler heads can see the funny side of it now.

“I hit him through backward point, and as I was turning to see whether I needed to run or whether it was ‘save your legs’, I’ve run straight into the corner of his arm,” Matthew Hayden told cricket.com.au in 2014. continued. “Having not seen it, I was under the impression he’d intentionally stuck his arm out at that time. So the whole ‘eff you’ thing has come out in both of us. It was brilliant,” he recalled.

When the smoke had lifted after the fireworks provided by McGrath and Hayden, Australia A had set Australia a trick 210 for victory. Michael Bevan continued his form from the England match with 73 to compliment Hayden’s 50. With Hughes and Reiffel both spectators though, it would take a good performance from Australia A’s new bowling attack to defend the total.

Michael Slater got the Australia chase off to a good start with a well made 92, but there was still plenty of work to do when Ian Healy joined Steve Waugh at the crease with overs running out. The experienced pair were able to combine to see Australia home but not before making captain Mark Taylor sweat, with the match only secured on the final ball of the allotted 50 overs.

Blushes spared

Steve Waugh was at the crease at the end of the second final too, when Australia completed their 2-0 series victory with the relatively comfortable six balls to spare. His 56no enough to see him named player of the match. A few months later he would be the star in Australia finally dethroning the West Indies as World Cricket’s number one Test Match team. In the years to follow, Australia Cricket’s golden age would be fuelled by the likes of Ponting, Hayden and Langer of the Australia A Class of 1994/95. While we are unlikely to see Australia and Australia A lock horns again, their clashes in the World Series Finals of that summer remain a memorable portent of the dominant era that followed.

Enjoyed our Flashback Friday look at the summer of Australia A? Be sure to check out more of our Flashback Friday collection here. If you really like it, could you do us a favour and like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

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