The early 21st Century was a golden age for Australian cricket with the national men’s team dominating the game like few had before them. Yet when they entered their Test series with Pakistan in the home summer of 1999/2000, the extent to which they would rule the game was little more than a pipe dream. In a period of transition, alongside a new coach, the selected XI contained two debutants, and a captain still yet to lead his team to a Test Series victory.
Steve Waugh might have led the ODI team to World Cup glory in the lead up to the home summer but his bonafides as leader of the Test team were still up for debate. Taking over the reigns from Mark Taylor after the successful defence of The Ashes in 1998/99, Waugh had a shaky start to his time in the top job with a pair of difficult overseas tours. Unable to curb a rampant Brian Lara, he and his team went perilously close to surrendering the Frank Worrell Trophy in the Caribbean before becoming the first Aussie team to lose a series to Sri Lanka.
Another player to feel more heat than that generated by the Queensland sun was Adam Gilchrist, who was playing his first Test after a 76 ODI game apprenticeship. Given his much loved place in the hearts of Australian cricket fans today, it is hard to believe that there were a ripple of boos that accompanied his arrival at the crease at the Gabba in his debut Test.
Unfortunately for the man who would arguably become this country’s greatest wicket-keeper batter, his debut came at the expense of a farewell appearance for home town hero Ian Healy. This meant that just five years after being similarly denied the chance to see-off adopted son Allan Border, the Queensland crowd were hellbent on ensuring their displeasure was heard and directed most of it at Gilchrist.
The short Test Match career of Queensland paceman Scott Muller also began in this match as did the coaching tenure of John Buchanan. While Muller would unfortunately be more remembered for the ‘cant bowl, can’t throw’ controversy, Buchanan captain-coach partnership with Waugh would leave an indelible mark on Australian cricket.
Heartened by a workmanlike victory over Zimbabwe in Harare, in ‘Out of My Comfort Zone’ Waugh would write of his intention to build from this base into something much bigger. “I wanted my attitude to be infectious and decided to issue the team a challenge internally and on the public record by saying there was no reason we couldn’t win all six home Tests,” he wrote. It was a sentiment shared by the new coach who had a message waiting for the players when they arrived in the dressing room on Day One of the Test.
Today is the first Test of our journey to the Invincibles.
Let's make the ride enjoyable and attainable.
While the intention might have been to make the ride enjoyable for themselves, the desire to make their opponents as uncomfortable as possible was on show when Waugh won the toss and elected to bowl. When his team removed Mohammad Wasim and Ijaz Ahmed in the first session it looked a master stroke with Damien Fleming and Shane Warne causing the visitors all manner of problems. Yet a magnificent 153-run partnership between Mohammad Yousuf (95) and Inzamam-Ul-Haq (88) followed by a stubborn 61 from Moin Khan meant Pakistan posted a sizable first innings total of 367. Fleming was the pick of the Aussie bowlers claiming 4/65 from his 31 overs while Muller and Gilchrist took their first Test Wickets and Dismissals respectively.
Rather than chastened by conceding such a total after affording their opponent first use of the wicket, the Australians went about posting and even bigger total. Unawed by the prospect of facing the likes of Shoaib Akhtar, Wasim Akram and Saqlain Musthtaq, Aussie openers Michael Slater and Greg Blewett did their best to eradicate the Pakistan lead on their own.
Scoring at run rate just shy of four an over, the pair put on 269 for the first wicket in a devastating display to give their team the ascendancy in the match. Blewett fell for 89, just short of his fifth Test Century and was quickly followed by Justin Langer for one. Slater’s incredible knock ended on 169, and when his captain and Ricky Ponting quickly followed for one and nought respectively their was an opening for Pakistan with the hosts 5/342.
Enter Adam Gilchrist to quickly slam it shut. Joining Mark Waugh at the crease, he provided a portent of things to come for international bowling attacks the world over with a two hour display of clean hitting. By the time he was dismissed he had seen Waugh to his century, added 123-runs for the sixth wicket with him and scored an almost run a ball 81. With Pakistan completely demoralised a free hitting Shane Warne hit an entertaining 86 to put the exclamation mark on the Australian innings of 575.
With their foot on their opponents throat, Fleming and Glenn McGrath devastated the visitors top order leaving them 3/37 after 10 overs of their second innings. Saeed Anwar and Mohammad Yousuf provided stern resistance with 119 and 75 respectively to flag some hope of a fighting draw but the end came soon after they were both dismissed within three overs of each other. A swashbuckling 28 from skipper Wasim Akram did mean that Australia would bat again but would chase just 74 for victory, thanks in large part to Fleming’s 5/59.
Fresh from their 269 run first innings partnership, Slater and Blewett made light work of the target needing just 15 overs to complete Australia’s comprehensive victory. As the players celebrated their five days of effort, they weren’t to know that they were in the midst of a winning streak that would bring Waugh and Buchanan’s ambitions into reality. Nor were they to know that their debutant wicket keeper was just one Test match away from silencing any dissenting voices forever with a starring role in an Australian victory for the ages.
Australia’s era of domination had begun.