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When David Toppled Goliath at the Grandest Stage

Let us examine some famous World Cup matches in which an associate team famously beat a Test team, upsetting the applecart to various degrees.

PaajivsPunter |May 24, 2019, 9:51 AM IST
When David Toppled Goliath at the Grandest Stage

There is something captivating about following the fortunes of and rooting for an underdog, especially against a heavyweight opponent. Think Goran Ivanisevic vs rest of the world at Wimbledon; or the Miracle on Ice in the 1980 Olympics; and most famously, Leicester City winning the 38-game long 2016 English Premier League—not just a deep run into a cup-based tournament, mind you. And sometimes, underdog victories can create seismic events that can change the landscape of a sport.

India, comfortably the poorest ODI team (only 12 wins in 40 matches and 1 win in the World Cup prior to 1983) among the teams back then, won against the almighty West Indies and shifted the centre of cricketing gravity eastwards.

Similarly, Bangladesh’s and Ireland’s victories against much-fancied India and Pakistan respectively in 2007, leading to the exits of the crowd-puller teams, made the authorities reconsider the format of the World Cup itself.

In the 2019 World Cup, there will be one such team that every neutral will be cheering for - Afghanistan. They almost didn’t make it and it was a combination of last-minute heroics and other favourable results that helped them qualify.

No doubt, this plucky team’s rise from the ICC World Cricket League Division 5 in 2008, with minimal resources and no proper first-class structure, is inspirational to one and all. Fans will be counting on Afghanistan to make a couple of high-profile scalps in the tournament and add the element of surprise.

But what makes these teams perform against the more established teams and deliver a telling blow? No doubt passion and self-belief is essential; but does this happen due to great individual performance? Or due to significant contributions from the entire team? Or is it something else? In order to answer this question, let us proceed to examine some famous World Cup matches in which an associate team famously beat a Test team, upsetting the applecart to various degrees.

England vs Ireland, World Cup 2011


It is an understatement to say that England and Ireland have some history—much like how it is to say that Leonardo da Vinci was a painter. Brexit may have exposed the thorny question about Northern Ireland-Republic of Ireland border, but cricket has already achieved what politics couldn’t—the Ireland cricket team represents all of Ireland. Ireland got their ODI status only in 2007 and lean heavily on English cricketing infrastructure; so no one expected them to defeat “big brother”.

Batting first, England amassed a lofty (for the time) 328 at the Chinnaswamy stadium; hardly anyone gave Ireland a chance against England, leave alone that this would have been the highest ever successful World Cup chase. The game seemed to be going to script around the halfway stage of the chase when Ireland were tottering at 111/ 5. Then in the batting powerplay, a pink-haired Kevin O’Brien took centre stage along with Alex Cusack and ransacked 162 runs, changing the complexion of the match.

Going into the final 10 overs, Ireland needed 65 runs with 5 wickets in hand. Incredibly, O’Brien ended up scoring the-then fastest World Cup hundred; last minute-drama was averted by the 4-wicket hero John Mooney scoring the winning boundary. This defeat derailed England’s momentum, who started limping thereafter—with close matches against South Africa, Bangladesh, and West Indies—and would be put out of their misery by Sri Lanka in the quarterfinal.

Bangladesh vs Pakistan, World Cup 1999


The Bangla tigers were the new boys on the block after they had qualified through the ICC Qualifier in 1997. And it looked like they would struggle in the tournament—they hadn’t crossed the 200 barrier even against the fellow associate team, Scotland. Pakistan was the form team in the group stage which had won all its matches.

Facing a bowling lineup of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, Saqlain Mushtaq, Azhar Mahmood and Shahid Afridi, Bangladesh slumped to 223/9. Chasing this modest score, Pakistan were incredibly 42/5—some of this damage self-inflicted. The lower order provided some resistance but the Bangladesh bowlers kept chipping away and the final wicket (run-out) encapsulated the Pakistani performance.

However, Pakistan didn’t lose much as they had already taken maximum points to the Super 6 stage and would make the final. The Bangladesh team exited the tournament with their head held high, having pressed the case for Test status, which would be granted to them the following year.

Kenya vs West Indies, World Cup 1996


First-timers Kenya had one professional cricketer in Steve Tikolo (the rest were all amateurs). So when they took on two-time former champions West Indies in the group stage, the consensus was that this match would finish early. It did, but not in the way the experts had envisioned. Batting first, Kenya struggled to post a competitive total; the highest scorer for the Kenyans was not one among the eleven—extras. A target of 167 looked like a walk in the park—or at least, that was the way Brian Lara batted.

At 22 for 2, there was no cause for alarm but after several near misses, Lara edged the ball to the normally butter-fingered, portly wicket-keeper Tariq Iqbal, who miraculously hung on to the ball. Bowling gentle off-spin, Maurice Odumbe then broke the back of the West Indies middle order, returning figures of 10-3-15-3. After the West Indies were bowled out for 93, Kenya had famously won their first official ODI match (4th time an associate team had beaten a Test team in ODIs).

The West Indies picked themselves up, and after dusting themselves, recovered to beat Australia to qualify, and then fell to the same team in the semis. The Kenyans regressed to the mean in their next match—they conceded a world-record 398 against Sri Lanka and exited the tournament.

Zimbabwe vs Australia, World Cup 1983


The Zimbabwe team had reached English shores through rather unconventional means—they not only borrowed training methods from other sports, but also raised money to reach the event through side hustles and sales—and were facing an Australian team on the way down. Still, they were struggling at 94/5 when Duncan Fletcher (yes, the same person who coached India a few years ago) came in and stitched a couple of big partnerships to post a competitive 239. He wasn’t done yet—with the ball, he took the first four wickets to fall. The match got closer at the end but Zimbabwe’s athletic fielding kicked in and closed the game out. The Zimbabweans were not done yet—in a later match, they reduced India to 17/5 before Kapil Dev famously scored 175 at Tunbridge Wells to turn the side. As for the Australians, they struggled in the group stage and crashed out of the tournament.

Viewing these famous matches through the lens of hindsight, it is a combination of a couple of brilliant performances and good fortunes that bridged the gap and enabled the underdog team to overcome their much-fancied rival in the tournament. In some cases, it was merely a slap on the wrist team but in others, it ended up derailing the tournament for the Test team. In either case, it was a much deserved day in the sun for the underdog, who went on to achieve greater things in the days to come.

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Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 5046 120
2 Australia 4320 108
3 England 5253 105
4 New Zealand 3449 105
5 South Africa 3537 98
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Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6967 124
2 India 7939 118
3 New Zealand 5347 116
4 South Africa 5442 111
5 Australia 5854 110
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Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 8926 270
2 Australia 6986 269
3 England 6095 265
4 India 12141 264
5 South Africa 5248 262
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