As Mel Jones stood at the non-striker's end with her batting partner on the cusp of history, all she could think about was how she would celebrate Belinda Clark becoming the first cricketer to score an ODI double-ton. The self-confessed "non-hugger" eventually decided that the "hug" was the best way to go. But when she went for it as the two crossed for the second run at the MIG Ground in Mumbai's western-suburb of Bandra, all Jones received was a "dead-arm handshake" from the woman who'd just reached a milestone that few thought possible in cricket before then. Clark's reaction, or lack thereof, if anything sums up Australia's World Cup encounter against Denmark on December 16, 1997 as Jones recalls it anyway.
"Even though Belinda was this stoic kind of person, inside even she might have been thinking about it. I didn't want to go out and create something around it. I just wanted to make sure that it was nice and easy. And then I started thinking, what do I do? I have never hit a hundred. What do you do? I don't know what Belinda is going to do. In my head, I'm getting ready for the big celebration. And we were coming back for the second run, and I've gone for the big hug, and she stuck out the dead arm handshake saying, 'come on, we have a long way to go'," Jones, the former Australian batter turned commentator and administrator, tells Cricbuzz.
While Clark's teammates acknowledged the enormity of the ultimate achievement, their focus for a major part of her innings that day was not so much on the double-hundred. Instead they were counting down to 174. For coincidentally, on the same day, a 17-year-old from England, Charlotte Edwards, had surpassed the previous record for the highest individual score in women's ODIs set by Clark's teammate, Lisa Keightley, with an unbeaten 173 versus Ireland. And all Jones & Co wanted their captain to do was get one better and bring the record back home to Australia.
"We were counting that one down while Belinda was in the middle. So, when she went past that is when we were almost like 'Ohhh she is getting close to 200'. There was a bit of banter going on about it. Then I went out," she says.
"When she came off the ground, everyone was applauding her. We took the picture next to the scorecard and spoke about it for the rest of the tournament. But at the moment it was more about -- and apologies to Charlotte Edwards, I didn't know her as well as I do now -- but it was more about here's England getting excited about this young kid who's just 17 hitting the highest-ever score in a women's World Cup and Clarkey comes out and smashes 229 not out," adds Jones.
The 47-year-old, who now is a Cricket Australia (CA) board member, believes that the fact that the record came against Denmark shouldn't take away from the magnitude of it but admits that the hapless Danes had little to offer in terms of resistance against the mighty Aussies and their unrelenting skipper that day at the MIG ground. The Denmark side was mainly comprised of sisters - the Christensens and the Nielsens. To make matters worse, Janni Jonsson, their top wicket-taker in the 1993 World Cup, didn't play that game. The Aussies were aware that they wouldn't get tested to any great extent but their tournament hadn't exactly started on the right note, with a few encounters including their opening fixture of the tournament against Ireland being called off due to rain.
"I remember they were in maroon. We were based in Chennai for a long time during the early part of the tournament. We had the warm-up games and they were washed out and it was just that really heavy, thick rain. We were just confined to the hotel for a majority of time. When we did get out, we were just dripping with sweat. I remember the Irish team, they got crook too and our doctor had to inject them and going 'we can't get everyone getting sick, we don't have enough medicines'. So, Belinda as the captain as well and John Harmer as the coach just really had us in a really good frame of mind, where we weren't really getting too ahead of ourselves. We just knew that Denmark wasn't going to create a whole lot of headaches, but we knew that it was going to play a really important role in getting us ready for the next games," she says.
Jones also admits that Clark wouldn't have been the first choice for many experts back then to become the one who could surpass the seemingly unassailable at that stage. Though the opener did have centuries to her name, they hadn't always come at a high strike-rate and it was fellow Australian, the hard-hitting Karen Rolton, who Jones believes would have been a better bet to go make a record of that sort. She reveals that despite the big score, Clark went about her knock in very trademark fashion on that day as well, running the opposition ragged by tailoring the gaps with timing and placement.
"For me, like with any Belinda Clark innings really, it was all about placement. She wasn't an overly powerful player, but she was a beautiful timer of the ball. And her and Keighters (Keightley) put on a big opening partnership. They were up and down the wicket, really busy, and what happened was, the pressure they kept applying, even a nicely struck ball to the boundary sweeper, sometimes because of the ground and sometimes because of the fielding, and you couldn't dive on this ground either, so there would be times where you'd be expecting a single and it would end up as a four. But most of it was just the energy between the wickets. It reminded me a little bit of David Warner innings when he would just run the opposition ragged, like with Pakistan during the summer. She did not stop and the intensity was just the same for the first ball as it was for the last," she explains.
It so happened that a few days later, Australia went head-to-head against their arch-rivals, England. To add significance to the encounter, Edwards, who was in prime form against Ireland, was dismissed for no score. The rivalry between Australia and England was also spiced up by the fact that the latter had won the previous World Cup at home, with Australia not qualifying for the final.
"This is back in the day when England and Australia did not speak to each other. It was a fierce rivalry and we didn't see each other. We sort of fed off that men's Ashes kind of rivalry in a lot of ways. Some of us newbies, we had no idea what was going on. We just fed off what the senior players did. They didn't like them. They didn't like us so we're all like at each other. So coming off that Denmark game, where it was all relaxed, to then shifting complete 180 to the other end of the spectrum, where we are switched on, fired-up and ready to rock and roll, we did not give them a sniff. And everyone did something that shifted the game and we were all over them from Ball One," she says.
Australia had a great run in the 1997 World Cup that culminated with the side defeating New Zealand in the final at the iconic Eden Gardens. Clark herself played a key role in the win with a measured 52 before she nudged an off-break that kept a tad low from Catherine Campbell back to the bowler. Jones recalls fond memories of Australian players hoisting the trophy in front of a sizeable crowd.
"It reminds me a lot of the recent T20 WC final because so much of the memory is about the moment, and the day and the event more so than the game. We talk about March 8, and everyone talks about the crowd and Katy Perry and how emotional it was, and it was fantastic seeing women on the world stage but not many people say, Oh remember that first ball and Alyssa Healy hit it over mid-wicket for four. No one really talks about the game itself and that was a little bit about the 1997 final."
"We had supposedly 80,000 people at the Eden Gardens, and the visual for me, two things stood out for me. The sound and the visual. 80,000 women in the most beautifully-coloured saris. So visually it was stunning, this sea of colour and then the sound because they all knew their cricket so well, and thankfully we weren't playing India. So they knew the ebbs and flows of the game. They rolled with the flow of the game. They were trying to get one team back into it when they were dipping a little bit just to keep it even. We couldn't hear each other on the ground. I was at cover-point and could not hear a thing from the slips cordon and we were yelling at each other," she recalls.
Jones has never been back at the MIG ground despite making numerous visits to Mumbai as a commentator. But she does still have vivid memories of the unusual international cricket setting.
"I remember that sort of flat-fronted building and it was enclosed. It was a minefield of a ground too, balls were bouncing everywhere and bouncing off walls. What I loved about it was this really old club scoreboard, where the guys were just hanging numbers on a frame at the side of the ground," she says.
As for the Danish women that were at the receiving end of Clark's epic essay? "We rolled them out for 49. Only extras got to double figures. Speaking to them, they were there to thoroughly enjoy playing a World Cup in India for one. They obviously wanted to do as well as they could. But when you are coming up against a team like Australia. There were smiles at the start, but I'm pretty sure midway through our batting innings, I don't think there was a smile. I never saw those Danish girls again."