The Game Changers: An Oral History of Australia’s 1997 Women’s World Cup Winners

4 March, 2020
As the Women’s T20 World Cup reaches its conclusion, we look back at Australia’s 1997 World Cup Champions, a unique and brilliant group of players who blazed a trail for future generations, and helped reshape the women’s game.

It’s one of the enduring images of Australian women’s cricket: Eden Gardens, 29 December, 1997, the aftermath of the World Cup Final. At the centre of the frame, batting wunderkind Belinda Clark glides serenely around the boundary, a stump held towards the twilight sky of Calcutta, a victorious captain parading her brilliant squad past heaving stands. Some say 80,000 people are crammed into the ground. And more than any other victory by Australia’s national side, it is the one that catapults the game forward in an instant, and forever; within that World Champion line-up is a who’s who of the players, coaches, administrators and media figures who will later turn women’s cricket into a mainstream sport.

Before that future, there was the present: Clark’s side arrived in India determined not to experience its fate at the 1993 World Cup, when it failed to reach the final and sat glumly in the stands at Lord’s, watching arch-rival England lift the trophy. Between times, the overhaul of the side had been comprehensive: gone from the fold were the core group of champions of the previous generation, like Lyn Larsen, Denise Annetts, Belinda Haggett and Christina Matthews.

Australia’s 1997 squad would be a youthful one, containing only a handful of survivors from the ’93 campaign. Among them, skipper Clark was fiercely motivated that she wouldn’t be watching from the sidelines again come final day. Her squad would be coached by John Harmer, a biomechanics lecturer who, in a few short years, had set about re-shaping the national squad in his image, pushing women’s cricket into uncharted territory in the process. This is the story of that team.

PART I – I want the three fastest bowlers, the three best batters and the best wicket keeper in Australia and I’ll do the rest

Belinda Clark (captain): There were some changes made in the year after the World Cup loss in 1993. The team was evolving, and it probably wasn’t until 1995-ish that the team started to become a little more settled as part of that transition. We had a number of younger players in the 1997 squad who’d been to India previously on a youth tour. The senior players, or the middle-aged group, including myself, hadn’t been to India before. But the younger ones—Olivia Magno, Mel Jones, Julia Price, Karen Rolton—that crew had been on a youth tour in 1994, so they had some understanding of the conditions. Also, around that time the national league was starting, so there were a lot of things going on at that time that were about getting in more cricket, and preparing for 1997.

Karen Rolton (vice-captain): I remember coming into the squad when they’d made quite a few changes from the last World Cup, when they didn’t do so well. I’d played Under-23s for Australia after my first senior state tournament. It was something new for me, playing with people like Belinda Clark and Cathryn Fitzpatrick, Christina Matthews. I’d only been in the Australian system for a couple of years, but I’d been to India before. So, those of us who’d gone on that Under-23s tour were lucky. That had been my first trip overseas, and it was a real eye-opener, but it got those of us who went ready for it, if we were to make the team in 1997. We knew what the conditions would be like, and the crowds. And we’d also played against the full senior Indian team on that Under-23 tour.

Cathryn Fitzpatrick (opening bowler): There were a few things that came together, because there was a younger group of players coming through, but we had a change in the coaching structure as well.

Having replaced Peter Bakker following the 1993 campaign, Australian coach John Harmer immediately set about the work of re-booting the national team as a fit, attacking and mentally agile cricket side.

Fitzpatrick: It was a different feeling and a different direction with the new coach. John was a biomechanics lecturer. He brought certain things from a technical point of view. There was a big shift, I believe. I’m not saying the way John did it was better than Peter, it was just that John was a bit more technical, and our game plan also shifted.

Clark: John Harmer had a massive impact on that whole group of players. That was the other thing that really changed. As well as his biomechanics background, he had a strong background in education, teaching and coaching. All those things together meant he was very good with people, and a very good teacher, which meant he was not only teaching that group as players, but teaching people who’d go on to be coaches themselves, or commentators, or doing something in the game. A lot of that springs from the confidence he gave the group from a technical and strategy perspective.

Rolton: He always had different ways of preparing you—different training techniques. You were never bored, and always wanted to keep learning and get better. And he just kept teaching.

John Harmer (coach): I see being skilful has very important. The major reason is that skilful teams usually win. It doesn’t matter what sport you play. If you’ve got the most skilful set of players, you will win. That was my focus: to make the team as skilful as I could. When I went in, I said, ‘I want the three fastest bowlers in Australia and I’ll do the rest. I want the three best batters in Australia and I’ll do the rest. And I want the best wicket keeper. If you give me those players, I’ll develop the team around them. It’s no good giving me medium pace players with no sting, so to speak’. The approach had (previously) been: medium pace at the stumps, pull the pace off the ball, all this sort of thing. That wasn’t for me. After my first tour of New Zealand, I took them aside and said, ‘This is so boring, sitting here, watching you lot play. You’re scoring at 1.5 an over. That’s not cricket. Make runs, take wickets, make the play and do it with a smile on your face.’

Fitzpatrick: I actually think that back then, even though we were playing for Australia, our game sense needed some framework to build our games around. There was a little more accountability and structure within the game plan with John—stuff that we really responded to. He was also about: ‘How do we not only make the game more attractive, but how do we enjoy it more?’ We were playing 50-over cricket and scoring 150-180 runs. John’s game plan allowed us to execute our skills and have fun. You were picked for a reason, and he allowed you to explore those reasons and show off your skills. Let’s go at five or six an over, rather than settling for 150-180. It was a different mindset and a different feel in those groups. John was certainly very good for me. He wanted me to bowl quick and play my role. Previously I’d been worried about control, and always being nicked down to the third man boundary, but John wanted that.

Harmer: That’s exactly what I was after. Cathryn’s picked it in one: make yourself as good as you can be and don’t look backwards. For a team to be happy, the focus is around (1) How skilful you feel you are, and (2) How well the team is going and whether it’s winning. Once you’ve got a happy team, you don’t have to worry about peripheral things to create harmony. The players make their own harmony. Coaches are there, but you can only manage what you’ve got. I always thought that if the players were not singing in the bus, I had trouble. The ’97 team was a team that sang in the bus, and Belinda Clark led the way with her guitar.

As well as the leadership of Clark, Harmer’s preparations for the 1997 team benefitted from the expertise of a star of Australia’s previous generation. Now WACA CEO, Christine Matthews was then running the national team and youth programs for Women’s Cricket Australia, managing the day-to-day preparations of the squad, its training camps, and working with Harmer on his masterplan. When Lyn Larsen had to pull out of her role as team manager for the ’97 trip due to a family illness, Matthews was the natural replacement. And between them, Harmer and Matthews devised inventive ways of physically and mentally testing the squad.

In a lot of ways they were in front of the men of that time. Because they didn’t have the physical strength of men, we had to really work on fitness on a way to bridge the gap and establish a point of difference.

Christina Matthews

Fitzpatrick: There was a particular thing that John did before we went away that sticks with me. We met in Sydney before the World Cup and played some games against New Zealand. We came together as a team at that point, and one night we went out for dinner at an Indian restaurant. The whole team was dropped off at the restaurant on a bus. The bus dropped us off, we had dinner, and then the bus was to pick us up again. But it didn’t come. We’re standing around for about an hour waiting for this bus to arrive. Everyone is getting agitated and complaining, saying, ‘This is ridiculous, where is he?’.

But John had done that deliberately, and made the driver come an hour late. He pulled us together and said, ‘Listen girls, if we get to India and these sorts of things distract us, you’re going to be nowhere. These things are going to happen all the time.’ I think once we were over there, we didn’t sweat the small stuff. We didn’t need to. Plenty of crazy things happened, but I think we shrugged our shoulders and adapted. We embraced it rather than whingeing and making things more difficult. You just laugh about it later.

Clark: It was a good strategy, because we certainly did spend a lot of time waiting. John was very clever with the ways he tried to make sure that people were open-minded and adaptable.

Matthews: We did a lot of stuff like that leading up to the tournament. I remember we were training at the SCG indoor nets, and while the players were warming up we got rid of bits and pieces of their gear from their bags. Again, just to see how they’d react. We really thought about how we prepared the players. And once we were over there, things happened all the time. We were watching the opening ceremony in the stands, and sewerage started leaking out of the toilets into where we were sitting, which was hilarious.

Clark: Christina was our team manager. So, we had very good people around the group from a coaching perspective, from a physical performance and physio perspective, and we also worked with a psychologist beforehand. In some respects, we were probably ahead of where other teams were, and sometimes even where the men’s game was at that point.

Harmer: I hate to say it, but yes, that’s right. We were miles in front. I’d coached men’s teams, and they hated looking at themselves on video. With the women, we used to film every training session, and we’d analyse their film in a four-stage rotation, making improvements. They’d see themselves and then having a crack at re-doing it and improving their skills. Those women were highly skilful. One day at the SCG indoor nets we spent three hours just on cover drives. From a skill analysis point of view, and a game analysis point of view, we were probably leading the field. I think we were also one of the first teams analysing the players via computers.

Matthews: In a lot of ways they were in front of the men of that time. Because they didn’t have the physical strength of men, we had to really work on fitness on a way to bridge the gap and establish a point of difference. When you consider that everyone in that group was working full-time as well as training, their commitment to being the best they could be was unbelievable.

Karen Rolton (left) and Belinda Clark (right)

Once in India, Australia would be confronted with an expanded tournament structure of 12 teams (which became 11 once newcomers Japan pulled out at the eleventh hour) and a chaotic fixture that took in 22 venues for 32 games. Worse, teams departed for India without so much as a tournament schedule.

Rolton: It was quite different because we were playing against so many teams we’d never played against before. I’d played quite a lot of my international cricket against New Zealand, so I hadn’t really experienced many other countries other than on youth tours. The whole atmosphere was something different, but it was an advantage that some of us had already been there.

Clark: We were just going about our business, and Christina and John had crafted a really good support team. So, when we got to the tournament, I remember it just being one big adventure. That was the theme that was underlying the whole thing. We were in a place many of us had never been before, it was cricket-mad, it was interesting, it was different, and it was an opportunity for us to do our best. But I did feel like I’d been to every city of India once it was done. We stayed in some great places, and we stayed in some places you probably wouldn’t want to stay in again.

Matthews: We had such good people on the trip in John Harmer, Jock Harry as team doctor, Meg McIntyre as physio and myself. It was a good off-field crew and a really great bunch of emerging players. We saw it as a really great opportunity to reset from where we’d been in 1993. It had been thought through really well as far as what we needed to make the journey as comfortable as possible.

But some really interesting things happened. There were great contrasts as far as the places we stayed, where we trained and played. A lot of the time the team luggage was on top of the buses. One time we pulled into a hotel surrounded by a lot of trees, and one of the trees pierced one of the bags and dragged it off the roof, spilling all the clothing out. It was Michelle Goszko, who was the youngest player on the team, and she was a bit ‘woe is me’ and that became a bit of a joke of the tour as her undies were spread all over this driveway.

Part II - That’s what you do all the training for, because it comes together without even thinking about it.

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.

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.

Karen Rolton

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!

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.

Cathryn Fitzpatrick

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.

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.

Karen Rolton

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.

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.

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.

Belinda Clark

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.

After the lap of honour, it came out that as World Champions we were going to have to pay for our trip.

Karen Rolton

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.

1997/1998 Cricket Women's World Cup Team Return

News footage of the victorious World Cup Winning team returning to Australia with their 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

© Australian Cricket Players Limited
Photos courtesy of Getty Images
The Australian Cricketers’ Association acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders both past and present.