The World Cup. The pinnacle of all limited overs cricket. Despite the endless cricket we see all year round, the World Cup is still one of the prized possessions in the entire game.
Win the final and you’re one of the immortals. Like Kirti Azad. (His ODI career spanned just five years.)
The next World Cup, the 12th edition, will be held in England, over May, June and July of 2019. The last one in 2015 was won by hosts Australia, who defeated their neighbors New Zealand. 2011 was, of course, India’s World Cup. Who can ever forget MS Dhoni’s six that won the final? That moment will go down in the annals of cricket as the most emphatic winning blow in a world cup final.
The World Cup gained importance in India after Kapil’s Devils won the trophy in 1983. Indeed, cricket itself rose to prominence following that seminal victory. Prior to that, cricket, while a very popular sport in India was not quite as religiously followed as it is these days. Similarly, Sri Lanka’s win in the 1996 world cup against Australia, after decimating India in the semi-finals, also marked a new era in cricket. 1996 onwards, the three subcontinental teams were no more the minnows of world cricket.
Aside from all the hype, what the World Cup provides, every four years, is some of the most exhilarating cricket. The 1983 final; India’s win against Zimbabwe in the same world cup; Pakistan’s run in the 1992 edition; Sri Lanka in 1996; India v Pakistan in 1996; Australia in 1999; India v Pakistan in 2003; Bangladesh beating India in 2007; the India-England tied match in 2011 - all world cups have made for thrilling contests. Inevitably, the semi-finals of every World Cup provide incredible entertainment for lovers of the sport.
In this podcast, we are revisiting the greatest matches that were played at the World Cup over its nearly 45-year history. It is not easy to pick from the fantastic contests that have been played over the last 11 editions, but the following matches have stood the test of time, so to speak.
We begin with what is widely considered the greatest World Cup game played - the semi-final between Australia and South Africa at the 1999 edition.
It was a spectacular tie. It would lead to South Africa being labelled ‘chokers’, a word that makes an appearance in every tour that the Proteas have undertaken since. Again, this only underlines how important the World Cup is when it comes to perceptions.
The 1999 World Cup was held in England. And Wales. A few matches were also held in Scotland, Ireland and Netherlands. We keep forgetting Wales. 1999 was the first of Australia’s three consecutive World Cup triumphs, or what’s become known as the Australian treble. Remember the Chumbawamba song
Tubthumping? “I get knocked down, and I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down…” yeah, that was the official song of the tournament, I think. And Australia seemed to take it to heart.
They had a terrible start to the tournament, winning the first match against Scotland, but losing the next two matches against New Zealand and Pakistan. That meant Australia had to win an improbable 7 matches back to back if they wanted to win the Cup.
Australia being Australia, that’s exactly what they did. Steve Waugh’s side gave no quarter as they fought their way to that famous semi-final by beating South Africa in the Super Six stage.
17 June, 1999, South Africa won the toss and chose to bowl first. And they began well. Allan Donald and Shan Pollock were in great form and took wickets, seemingly at will, to peg Australia back. Mark Waugh was claimed by Pollock for a duck in the very first over. Ricky Ponting, who had a taste for the big occasion, joined Adam Gilchrist to score some quick runs. But he fell in the 14th over to Donald. Darren Lehmann followed in the same over. Out walked Steve Waugh. Was there ever a better man for a difficult situation in cricket? Gilchrist fell a few overs later to the bowling of Kallis. 68/4. Waugh was joined by Michael Bevan. The tenacious middle-order batsmen rescued the Australian innings, adding 90 runs in nearly 23 overs. Waugh’s taunt to Herschelle Gibbs from the previous match was on everyone’s mind. Gibbs had taken a catch off Waugh’s cover drive but dropped it when trying to throw it up in celebration. Result: Waugh was not out. He would go on to score 120 and remain not out at the end of Australia’s innings. Waugh had taunted Gibbs, “You just dropped the World Cup son.”
Typical Steven Waugh mental disintegration.
In the 40th over of the semi-final, Pollock removed Waugh, who scored a dogged 56 runs to get the score to 158. Tom Moody walked in, only to go back with a duck. Bevan was then joined by Shane Warne, who played a useful hand, helping get the score to 207. The Australian tail collapsed completely while Bevan finished with 65 runs.
South Africa’s chase began steadily. They had scored 48 by the 13th over when Warne bowled Gibbs around his legs. Two overs later, the reliable Gary Kirsten is bowled by Warne with a vicious turner that seemed to curl a mile. Two balls later, he produced another magic ball to induce an edge off Hansie Cronje’s second ball that was caught at slip. Against the run of play, South Africa were suddenly 53/3. Geoff Marsh has called it one of the better spells of spin bowling by Shane Warne over his illustrious career. Seven overs later, just 8 runs were added to South Africa’s score. The pressure was building, and it resulted in the run out of Daryl Cullinan. South Africa were 61/4 in the 22nd over, and the semi-final was wide open.
Jacques Kallis and Jonty Rhodes then did for South Africa what Waugh and Bevan had done for Australia: bring some calm to counter the madness. They added 84 runs for the 4th wicket, and when Rhodes’ wicket was taken by Paul Rieffel in the 41st over, the Proteas were pretty comfortably placed at 145/5. Meanwhile, Kallis brought up his half century, a becalming influence on the anxious South African dressing room. Three overs and thirty runs later, he fell to, who else, Shane Warne on 53. Then, it was panic time in the South African ranks. Shaun Pollock chipped in with a useful 20 runs, but he fell with 30 runs left for a Proteas victory. Lance Klusener was still at the crease. Klusener was having a fantastic World Cup with the bat, pummelling bowlers into submission as South Africa built up steam through the league stages. This was a team that had Mark Boucher as its number 9 batsman
Two overs left. Three wickets remaining. And around 20 runs to get. McGrath, accurate as ever, removes Boucher, clean bowled. Two balls later, Steve Elworthy is run out.
The last pair was batting with 16 runs to get from eight balls. And Klusener was just the man to get that done. The man at the other end was Allan Donald.
The next ball, Klusener hits in the air towards the long on boundary, but it isn’t long enough. Paul Reiffel hovers underneath it, but drops it and instead lobs it over the boundary rope behind him to make it a six. A single off the next ball and Klusener has strike in the final over with nine to get.
Damien Fleming’s first ball reaches the cover boundary in double quick time. Klusener was turning up at the right time. Five runs from five balls now. It was a canter. The second ball is smacked to the long off boundary. South Africa required one run from four balls. The fielders all come in to save the single.
Klusener mishits the next ball to mid-on; Donald was backing up too far. Darren Lehmann has a shy at the stumps but missed. Donald survived by a whisker. Right. One run from three balls. No reason to panic. Fleming bowls a similar ball Klusener drives straight and dashes to the non-striker’s end for a quick single. Allan Donald has other ideas. He is watching the ball, which lands in the hands of Waugh at mid-on. Waugh chucks the ball to Fleming who sees that Klusener and Donald are standing next to him. As he flings the ball to wicket keeper Adam Gilchrist, Donald makes a run for the other end but he was too far away. As he’s half way down the pitch, Gilly takes the bails off. Match tied.
Australia have a better net run rate, so they make it qualify for the finals against Pakistan.
An absolutely distraught Hansie Cronje says, “Up to the fall of the 1st wicket, we were looking good.” He has no words to explain why Klusener sprinted for a non-existent single with two balls still remaining in the over. The Proteas would henceforth be labelled chokers. Steve Waugh called it the most exciting match he ever played in. I’d have to concur. The pandemonium of the last two overs made for some of the compelling cricket I have seen.
2) It is difficult to pick one single match that India played at the World Cup, because generally play pretty well in the tournament, except for the odd blemish like in 2007. (Which, in hindsight, they made up for by winning the T20 World Cup later that year. As I said, India generally do well at the World Cup.) There’s the 2011 win, an MS Dhoni masterclass in steering a batting innings and finishing it in emphatic fashion. Then there’s famous Kapil Dev’s legendary rescue act against Zimbabwe during the 1983 World Cup. India were 17/5 batting first when Kapil walked in to bat. India posted 266/8 and Zimbabwe were 235 all out in 57 overs.
But if we had to pick one world cup match that featured India as the very best, that would be the 1983 final. An unfancied India beat a formidable West Indian ODI team that was at the height of its powers. The laconic Mohinder Amarnath recalled in jest, “Prior to 1983, we used to go to England only to see some blondes with their long legs.”
Krishnamachari Srikanth, the dashing opener, recalled, “...in a ‘meeting’ when Kapil Dev said we must win, we all thought he had gone mad! Beat the West Indies? With their batsmen and four fast bowlers whose names we don’t want to remember? And this idiot says we will win?”
Just to list out the names in the West Indies team - Clive Lloyd, Desmond Haynes, Gordon Greenidge, Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts, Joel garner and Mr Whispering Death himself, Michael Holding.
West Indies were two time champions, winning in 1975 and 1979, and were favourites in 1983 as well, while India had beaten only East & Central Africa, in the two previous world cups. Not dissimilar to Bangladesh today, in terms of stature. Minus the nagin dance, of course. But India had a pretty good world cup in 1983. In a great turn of fortunes, they had also beaten the Windies during the league stages in 1983 at Old Trafford. That was the opening match of the tournament, so the team developed some confidence. A little later, Kapil’s 175 happened, and the team started to believe in its ‘mad’ captain. Kapil Dev said, “Half-way through the tour, we realized we had a team.” Next thing you know, India had beaten hosts England in the semi-final and were up against Clive Lloyd’s team for the title.
The final was played on June 25 1983 in London. India were never really in the hunt for the cup when the match got underway. The four fast bowlers from the sunny Caribbean gave nothing away while chipping away at the wickets. Sunil Gavaskar, the player most equipped to deal with a pace battery that read Roberts, Garner, Marshall, Holding, was caught behind for a paltry two runs. However, Srikanth, never one to be overly fazed by the situation or the opposition, played in his trademark style that borders on the cavalier. The only modern equivalent would be Sehwag, I suppose. See ball, hit ball. Only, Srikanth was carting Garner and Roberts around the park. His partner at the other end was Amarnath, a man Kapil Dev jokes is the quintessential nice guy whom opposition players didn’t want to get out. Jimmy played a steady hand, giving Srikanth company as the opener hit seven boundaries and one six. Srikanth was out lbw to a Marshall in swinger on 38. That was the highest individual score of the match. The score was 59/2.
Yashpal Sharma joined Amarnath, and they added 31 runs for the 3rd wicket before Holding bowled Amarnath. Sharma was removed by Larry Gomes two runs later. Sandeep Patil made 27 runs while Kapil Dev smacked three quick boundaries and was back in the hut after facing eight balls, scoring just 15. With the captain also dismissed, India were in trouble. The scoreboard read 110/5. Kirti Azad was out without scoring and it was 111/6. India lost wickets at regular intervals and were skittled out for a mere 183 in 54.4 overs. It was another terrific bowling performance by the fearsome foursome from the West Indies. Joel Garner, in particular was unplayable, conceding just 24 runs from 12 overs. Andy Roberts picked up three wickets.
What followed next would change cricket itself. Michael Holding, looking back at that final, says, “We were too complacent. It was fine for the bowlers to be walkin’ off the field and thinkin’...okay, we have done our job...183, we will not lose. But the batsmen, I don’t think should have been thinkin’ that way...perhaps they were.”
Indian medium pacer Balwinder Singh Sandhu, bowled Gordon Greenidge with the score on five. Greenidge was trying to leave the ball but misread the out swinger. That ball is legendary now. Sandhu’s long strides up to the pitch and the ball crashing into the stumps is our first mental when we recall India’s bowling that day. That brought Viv Richards to the crease. He played a trademark punishing innings, putting India’s bowlers to the sword, taking seven boundaries off them. Desmond Haynes held down the other end, scoring 13 from 33 balls before Madan Lall had him caught in the covers. With Richards in that form, everyone expected the match to end soon. But Viv Richards fell just seven runs later, thanks to a fantastic catch by skipper Kapil Dev. Richards had pulled a short pitched ball by Lall but Kapil ran nearly 30 meters towards the boundary on the leg side to pouch the ball. With Richards gone, it fell on captain Clive Lloyd to see his side through to the target of 184.
Lloyd and Gomes scored just nine runs together before Gomes fell to Lall. Then Binny took Lloyd’s wicket almost immediately to leave the defending champions 66/5. Faoud Bacchus fell 10 runs later. 76/6. India began to suspect they really could win the final, but this was West Indies they were facing. One didn’t just assume they were done and dusted. And they were right. Jeff Dujon and Malcolm Marshall dug in and ground their way out of trouble, taking the score past 100. Then, Dujon chopped a ball from Amarnath onto his stumps. 119/7. Three tail enders stood between India and a famous win. The Windies needed 65 runs to stave off a humiliating loss in a world cup final to minnows India.
Marshall fell to Amarnath’s bowling five runs later. Then Kapil Dev had Andy Roberts lbw two runs later. 126/9. Last man Michael Holding walked to the pitch. It says a lot about the West Indian team that they believed they could get those 58 runs. Garner and Holding scratched around for a bit, scoring 14 runs. But there was to be no rear guard action. Holding played across the line to an Amarnath in swinger and was declared lbw. India had beaten West Indies to win the 1983 World Cup!
The team was welcomed at home with a victory parade and became overnight celebrities. A newly married Kris Srikanth had to reschedule his honeymoon to attend the celebrations, and jokes that Kapil still owes him the 10,000 rupees he lost due to cancellations.
The Indian public’s interest in ODI cricket grew into a full-blown passion. Jimmy Amarnath told Star Sports in a retrospective on the ‘83 win, “Cricket was always popular in India. After the world cup win, it became huge!”
It sure did. Holding recalled thinking that once India took to ODI cricket, money would come into the game and change it. India’s 1983 win did for ODI cricket what the 2007 title win did for T20 cricket - it exploded in popularity. Kapil’s Devils had pulled off the impossible and, for a brief while, India were the kings of world cricket. The 1983 win scores over the 2011 win for the sheer impact it had on the entire sport.
3) Number three on this list is the final of the first ever world cup. ODI cricket was a new thing, and only 18 international ODIs had been played between 1971 and 1975.
Australia and the West Indies dominated cricket. It was a contest of two styles - the swashbuckling, incredibly talented West Indians versus the street smart, competitive Australians who spat, cursed and fought their way to victory. Those were the buccaneering years in cricket - long moustaches and long sideburns; shirts half open, chest on display; no protective gear to speak of, aside from the abdomen guard and the odd forearm gauntlet. Wisden even joked that Aussie bowlers Lillee and Thompson looked like wannabe seventies porn stars. Cricket was quite different then, not as sanitized as it is today.
In 1975, Australia under Ian Chappell were the side to beat. But the West Indies were captained by Clive Lloyd, an astute cricketer and a captain who embraced everyone in his team. Unlike previous West Indian captains, he didn’t care which island the player came from. In Michael Holding’s words, all he cared about was if you could play cricket. West Indies bested New Zealand in the semi-finals while Australia beat England. None of the Asian teams made it to the semis.
Ian Chappell won the toss and chose to bowl first, given the firepower he had at his disposal - Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thompson, Australia’s own terrifying fast bowlers. Chappell wanted a crack at the West Indian batting.
Opener Roy Fredericks hooked a vicious bouncer from Lillee for a six over the leg side boundary, but lost his balance and kicked the stumps. Hooking a fast bouncer that’s in front of your face and sending it over a boundary 70 metres away! Unfortunately, despite that incredible shot, Fredericks had to leave. Soon, Gordon Greenidge and Alvin Kallicharan were also sent back, and the Windies were 50/3. A grey haired, 40-year old Rohan Kanhai and captain Clive Lloyd came together to take control of the match. Kanhai played a measured innings, providing support as a bespectacled Lloyd took the fight to the Aussies.
He made 102 runs from just 85 balls, striking 12 boundaries and 2 sixes. When he finally fell to a great one-handed catch down the leg side by wicket keeper Rod Marsh, West Indies were 199/4. Kanhai was out soon after, as was Viv RIchards. It fell to the bowlers to salvage the West Indian score. Keith Boyce and Bernard Julien took the score from 209/6 to 261/7. The Windies finished with 291/8 from their 60 overs.
Australia began the chase strongly. Captain Ian Chappell scored an assertive half century, taking Australia to 162/4 before being run out by Viv Richards. Australia had a torrid time with the running between the wickets. Five of their batsmen were run out, three by just one man, Richards, who made up for his batting failure with some great fielding. He got both the Chappell brothers run out.
The Australian middle order got decent starts but never quite got going. They kept losing wickets regularly, and found themselves 233/9. With the last pair, Thompson and Lillee, at the crease, it seemed like the match was done. Not for the Aussie quicks. The two men ran quick singles and struck a few boundaries, briskly adding 40 runs to the score. Suddenly, Australia were within striking distance of the world cup. At one point, the crowd thought the last wicket had been taken, and stormed the field. However, the umpire had called a no ball. No one heard or saw it initially. As the crowd rushed the pitch and were sent back, Thompson and Lillee ran three.
Just a bit later, with 18 runs to get from 14 balls, Thomson was run out by Deryck Murray. Australia had fought back and come agonizingly close to winning, only to be denied the victory by a great fielding unit. It was fantastic contest befitting a world cup final.
Keith Boyce, who had rescued the Windies batting with 34 from 37 balls, picked up four wickets in a scorecard that had five runouts. Clive Lloyd was declared man of the match for his 102 that set up a brilliant final.
Chappell recalls, “If you’re gonna get beaten, you wanna be beaten by a good side...and certainly the West Indies were a very good side and they played attacking cricket...not only did the two best sides make it to the final, the two most attacking teams made it to the final...Such a great spectacle in the final. You knew the World Cup was here to stay.”
4) Australia's Maiden Title (1987)
Another great match in World Cup history is Australia’s first title win in 1987.
The tournament was hosted by India and Pakistan in October, and the final was played at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Mike Gatting was captain of England while the redoubtable Allan Border was leading Australia. England had qualified for the final after defeating defending champs India in a somewhat one sided semi-final. Australia had beaten Pakistan by 19 runs to make it to the final.
The old rivals were facing off for the first time in a world cup final. Border won the toss and elected to batted first. David Boon and Geoff Marsh saw off the new ball bowlers and settled into a rhythm, adding 75 runs together before Neil Foster uprooted Marsh’s middle stump. Dean Jones, one of the great ODI batsman of his generation, came in at number three. He and Boon added 76 for the second wicket and looked good for more, but Jones fell on 33. Border sent bowler Craig McDermott as a pinch hitter but the move did not pay off for Australia. He managed just 14 runs from eight balls before being bowled by Graham Gooch, of all people. Two runs later, Boon was dismissed by Eddie Hemmings for a well-made 75 from 125 balls. With the score at 168/4, the doughty Aussie captain came to the crease and scored an even-time 31 runs. He had Mike Veletta for company. Veletta smacked six boundaries in order to get Australia to a fighting total of 253/5.
For all the heroics of the Australian middle order, England were chasing a middling target. A couple of good innings by the batsmen and they should be home fairly easy. But they received a jolt early on. Tim Robinson was trapped lbw by McDermott, and the scoreboard read 1/1. Then, Graham Gooch played a good hand at the top of the order, making 37 from 57 balls, with Bill Athey providing good company. Mc Dermott had Gooch lbw, and England skipper Gatting walked in at 66/2. He was in good form through the tournament. Why he chose to greet Allan Border’s first delivery with a reverse-sweep is something we’ll never fully know. Some trivia on the reverse-sweep: Peter May, English cricket chairman at the time, wanted it outlawed. Because, cricket puritanism was a thing back in the day, and ODIs were the opiate to keep capricious audiences interested in the gentleman’s sport. Or something along those lines.
Anyway, back to the final. Bill Athey was going steady, a little too steady. So Gatting has to seize the initiative if England wanted to win the final. Out came the reverse sweep. In it went ball to the point fieldsman’s waiting hands. Gatting was out on out 41, caught dyer, bowled Border. England were 135/3. Allan Lamb played a valiant hand, pushing for the win but kept running out of partners. Athey fell after making 58 from 103 balls. Lamb fell with the score on 220. With three wickets left, the tail enders tried their best to keep up with the run rate. Credit to them for taking it close. 17 runs were required off the last over, but it was a bridge too far. England fell short by seven runs. 246/8. Tantalizingly close. Another epic World Cup final.
For the second time in eight years, England had reached the final and lost.
5) Sri Lanka v Australia - 1996 final
India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan co-hosted the 1996 edition of the world cup. 1996 would prove to be a precursor for 21st century cricket. Swashbuckling openers who could pulverise bowlers into submission, stun crowds into silence and dominate the opposition. A middle order that was an assembly line of run machines who could keep scoring at a brisk pace. And a lower order comprising bowlers who could bat enough to see the team through in difficult situations. Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga was clear - he did not expect his top order to score daddy hundreds, quick 40s and half centuries so the team could post high scores upwards of 250 would suffice. A middle order led by the maverick Aravinda DeSilva would then take over. This formula reaped rich dividends as the Lankans bossed the 1996 world cup, thumping co-hosts India in Kolkata so badly that humiliated fans rioted and did not allow the match to continue.
The final itself was a great reckoning. Muttiah Muralitharan had previously been at the receiving end of the notorious no-ball controversy during Lanka’s tour of Australia that blew up into full-on crisis with various cricket boards even taking sides, and allegations of racism thrown about. In the 1996 world cup, Sri Lanka and Australia were in the same group in the league stages. A few weeks before the start of the World Cup, a bomb went off in Colombo, killing 91 people and injuring more than a thousand. Australia refused to play in Colombo citing safety concerns and forfeited the match. It was a time when the LTTE insurgency was still going strong in the island nation. West Indies also forfeited their match, but the two snubs became a sensitive issue for the country. Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka team dispensed with all opposition, brushing aside England in the quarterfinals. Jayasuriya failed against India in the semi-finals but the Indian batting had another of its infamous 1990s collapses, going from 98/1 to 120/8, which led to the meltdown from the packed house. “Had India just lost to whipping boys Sri Lanka in a crucial match?!” The sight of a distraught Vinod Kambli, walking off the field crying, knowing the match was lost, is burned into the minds of 90s Indian cricket fans, as is the memory of one lakh Indian fans at the ground stunned into silence and disbelief. It was one of the lowest moments in Indian cricket - abject surrender and complete hopelessness.
That dramatic walkover in the semi-final meant Sri Lanka would meet their nemesis Australia in the final at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore. The most underrated team of the tournament looked on the verge of an improbable world cup victory, thanks in large part to the ruthless and relentless early overs assault of Sanath Jayasuriya. And fate seemed to favour Ranatunga’s men as they came into the final against the very side that had “humiliated” their star bowler.
Ranatunga won the toss and put Mark Taylor’s men in to bat. Taylor scored 74 and a young Ricky Ponting, always a player for the big occasion as we have noted before, scored 45. The rest of Australia’s batting put up a mediocre performance as Sri Lanka’s bowlers spun a web around the Aussies, who finished with 241/7 in 50 overs. Aravinda de Silva was claimed three wickets.
Sri Lanka’s openers failed once again. Jayasuriya was back in the hut with the score on 12. Asanka Gurusinha and Aravinda de Silva, Australia’s tormentor-in-chief for the evening, combined to wrest the final away from the men in yellow. Gurusinha made 65 from 99 balls while de Silva scored a match-winning 107 from 124 balls. Fittingly, Sri Lanka’s captain, Ranatunga saw his side through with an assertive 47 from 37 balls as the Lankans won the match by seven wickets and 3.4 overs to spare. De Silva was declared man of the match.
It was the kind of David and Goliath moment that only sport could produce.
As The Guardian noted, until this win, Sri Lanka was not seen as a serious cricketing nation. It wrote, “They numbered an assortment of part-time salesmen and clerical workers, many who could not afford more than one pair of shoes each, and whose cricket board was so broke it had to rely on desperate pleas for donations to keep the whole thing from going under.”
Cricket writer Telford Vice paid rich tribute to that epoch-making win: “It marks the spot on the map of cricket’s journey through history where East looked West in the eye and did not blink. Instead, East winked and said: ‘Try to keep up.’”
These, then, are the matches that stand out in World Cup history. Epoch-making moments that determined the future course of cricket. And, in the case of South Africa, became a self-fulfilling prophecy that still plays out. Watch the highlights of these matches and, even today, tension and excitement grip the cricket fan and have him/her on the edge of the seat. We can empathise with the losing side even as we share the jubilation of the winners. Cricket at its finest.
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