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World Cup Story, 2003-2015: New Millennium, New Continents, Old Winners

By: Abhishek Mukherjee

Edited By: Madhav Agarwal

Last Updated: May 29, 2019, 18:52 IST



Things used to competitive in the 20th century. The first six editions featured five different champions; and it had taken Australia a remarkable comeback (including a heart-stopping semi-final) to win the seventh.

Things used to competitive in the 20th century. The first six editions featured five different champions; and it had taken Australia a remarkable comeback (including a heart-stopping semi-final) to win the seventh.

Little did anyone know that Australia would not lose another World Cup match till 2011. They won 25 matches in a row including all 11 in each of 2003 and 2007; and stayed unbeaten for 34.

Even more remarkable were their victory margins in 2003 and 2007. They were pushed only by England in 2003, where they won by 2 wickets; otherwise their lowest margin of victory was 4 (by wickets) and 48 (by runs).

And after getting knocked out in the 2011 quarter-final, they won again in 2015, winning 7 matches and losing 1, that too by 1 wicket.


In other words, they have utterly dominated the new millennium.

“H and I have written a statement”

South Africa hosted the 2003 edition, with Zimbabwe and Kenya sharing 8 of the 46 matches. Fourteen teams participated, including Canada (after 24 years) and Namibia (for the first time).

“H and I have written a statement, if you want to read it,” informed Andy Flower to his teammates before their first match, at Harare. He and Henry Olonga had already read out their statement to the media: they would be donning black armbands to make “a silent plea to those responsible to stop the abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe”.

When Vince Hogg of ZCU had tried to warn them of the consequences, they responded with “do you know the consequences of us not doing anything?”

Flower batted magnificently in the tournament, his last international assignment. Olonga did not get away as easily. Charged with treason, he would probably have been executed – had Zimbabwe not qualified for the Super Sixes in South Africa. He escaped.

Concessions and Super Sixes

But let us return to the cricket. England refused to tour Zimbabwe on political grounds, and New Zealand cited security reasons to not travel to Kenya, where they had won their first ICC Trophy less than three years ago. Kenya and Zimbabwe were awarded points as a result; these turned out to be significant.

Not only did Kenya qualify for the Super Sixes, they went through with full points, having also felled Sri Lanka. Zimbabwe went through as well: they were at par with England on points but behind on net run rate before their last match, which was washed out.

Undisputed champions


But as mentioned above, England were the only side that challenged Australia. England were restricted to 204/8 by Andy Bichel (7/20), but they had Australia reeling at 135/8. Then Michael Bevan (74*) and Bichel saw Australia through.

Australia were under pressure of any sort only twice more, both in the Super Sixes. Shane Bond (6/23) had them at 84/7 before Bevan (56) and Bichel (64*) revived them to 208/9, and Brett Lee (5/42) bowled out New Zealand for 112. And Aasif Karim (8.2-6-7-3) reduced them to 117/5, but Kenya’s 174/8 was never going to challenge them. Lee took a hat-trick in the second match.

While Australia won all 11 matches, India won 9 – their only defeats coming against Australia. With 673 runs, Sachin Tendulkar was the batsman of the tournament by a considerable margin: Sourav Ganguly (465) was next, but all three of his hundreds came against Associate Nations. The chasm was humongous.

India’s most memorable match came against Pakistan, a high-octane contest where they had to chase 274. Tendulkar’s 75-ball 98 during that chase, which included an iconic six over Shoaib Akhtar over third man, became part of Indian cricket folklore. The chase was completed by Rahul Dravid (44*) and Yuvraj Singh (50*).

India’s pace trio – Javagal Srinath (in his last tournament), Zaheer Khan, and Ashish Nehra – combined to take 49 wickets at 21.06. While these are phenomenal numbers, they paled in front of the Australians: Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie (who left midway), Lee, and Bichel took 67, at 14.91.

Even the fact they had lost Shane Warne, who, in an astonishing burst of obedience to his mother, tested positive for Moduretic and was sent home before the tournament, did not matter. Brad Hogg’s 13 wickets came at 24.76 apiece.

The Kenyan rush

Kenya made the most of those two points from the New Zealand match. They beat Canada and Bangladesh, but the most remarkable win came against Sri Lanka, at Nairobi. Sri Lanka were on course at 71/2 after Kennedy Otieno (60) had taken Kenya to 210/9 before Otieno’s brother Collins Obuya (5/24) bowled them out for 157.

Since they had qualified with full points, a Super Sixes win against Zimbabwe were enough to see Kenya through to the semi-finals. Then they were drowned by Tendulkar and Ganguly.

Australia beat Sri Lanka in the other semi-final by 48 runs, a match remembered for Adam Gilchrist’s decision to walk after being given not out off Aravinda de Silva.

Records and a choke


Shoaib Akhtar became the first bowler to officially breach the 100-mile barrier. Later in the day he became the first (and only, till date) No. 11 to top score for a side in a World Cup.

Scott Styris slammed 141 against Sri Lanka out of his team’s 225. This was 62.7% of the total – the second-highest percentage in World Cup cricket.

Canada won their first match on return to World Cup, defeating Bangladesh by 60 runs. Their opener John Davison later scored the fastest hundred in World Cup history (in 67 balls). Brian Lara responded with a 23-ball fifty in the same match – also the fastest. Davison also got a 25-ball fifty against New Zealand.

McGrath registered the best World Cup figures (7/15) against Namibia. Bichel ran him close with 7/20 against England. Wasim Akram became the first to take 500 ODI wickets. Chaminda Vaas took a hat-trick with the first three balls of the match against Bangladesh (and got another with the fifth ball). And Feiko Kloppenburg became the first to score a hundred (121) and take 4 wickets (for 42) in a World Cup match to help Netherlands pull off their first ever win in the tournament.

South Africa beat Kenya, Canada, and Bangladesh, and stayed in the hunt despite losing to West Indies and New Zealand. All they needed was to chase 269 against Sri Lanka in their last league match.

It started raining towards the end, but they had calculated the Duckworth-Lewis par score – or so they thought. Thus, Mark Boucher punched the air to celebrate after hitting the fifth ball of the 45th over for six – for he thought his job was done – and played out the last ball. And the rain came.

But they had missed out on one crucial thing: the six was what they needed for a tie, not a win. They had found a new way to knock themselves out.

Ponting puts India to sword


Ganguly perhaps had the one-sided defeat in the league match in mind (India were bowled out for 125 batting first). He opted to bowl in the final – in contrast with Imran Khan’s decision to bat in 1992 despite Pakistan being bowled out for 74 against England in the league match.

Zaheer’s first over set the tone; he started with a no-ball, bowled another, was hit for a four, and sent down one for five wides. He went for 15.

India were never in the match. Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden first added 105 in 84 balls. And things only got worse once when they got out, for Ricky Ponting (140* in 121) and Damien Martyn (88* in 84) took Australia to 359/2.

Tendulkar uncharacteristically took first strike, mistiming one for four and getting out caught and bowled off the other, all in the first over. Virender Sehwag (82) and Dravid (47) provided some valiant resistance as India collapsed to 234.

How dominant were Australia? In their two matches, India – the second-best team – scored 359 for 20 wickets. Australia scored 359/2 in the final alone.

The flaw in the plan

The tournament moved to West Indies. Unfortunately, high ticket prices, overpriced food and beverages at the venues, and too many restrictions on the spectators led to pitifully empty stands in a land renowned for perennially cheering crowds. So disgusted were the locals that they booed Malcolm Speed and Percy Sonn after the final.

But that was not all.

By this time ICC had decided upon 16 teams, inducting Ireland and Bermuda. They split them into four groups followed by Super Eights. The idea was to maximise the number of matches between the top eight.

England and New Zealand comfortably qualified ahead of Kenya and Canada, while Australia and South Africa knocked out Netherlands and Scotland.

In the process, Herschelle Gibbs smashed six sixes in an over of Daan van Bunge (mid-wicket, straight, long-off, mid-wicket, straight, mid-wicket) to immortalise his name in the record books

and win a million dollars from Johnnie Walker.

But things took a different turn in the other groups. Zimbabwe needed just 19 in 39 balls with 5 wickets in hand against Ireland but lost 4 for 11 before somehow getting away with a tie.

Then Ireland bowled out Pakistan for 132. They kept losing wickets during the chase, but Niall O’Brien (72) played a magnificent innings. Fittingly, captain Trent Johnston, the grand old man of Irish cricket, hit the ball out of the ground to pull off a historic win – on St Patrick’s Day. Having also lost to West Indies in their tournament, Pakistan were knocked out.

(Getty Images)

But worse lay in store for Pakistan. Bob Woolmer, their coach, was found dead in his hotel room. Pathology reports suspected asphyxia using manual strangulation, but the jury declared death due to natural causes.

Mashrafe Mortaza (4/38) ran through the Indian top order on the same day, bowling them out for 191. India’s hopes were crushed by a young Tamim Iqbal, whose 53-ball 51 included an outrageous six off Zaheer over mid-wicket. Bangladesh won by 5 wickets.

India piled up 412/5 – then the highest World Cup score – against Bermuda, but still needed to beat Sri Lanka. And this was where they failed miserably, collapsing against Muttiah Muralitharan (3/41).

ICC had organised the tournament in a way that the date for the probable India-Pakistan clash (the one that did not happen) in the Super Eights had been pre-decided and tickets sold, mostly to expatriates in the United States. Bangladesh played Ireland that day.

The next stage

Ireland and Bangladesh played the best to their potential. Bangladesh later beat South Africa, while Ireland got Bangladesh. Unfortunately, the Super Eights matches, whether involving these two teams or otherwise, were mostly too drab to keep people hooked.

The most amazing performance came from Lasith Malinga. South Africa had the match sealed, requiring 4 in 32 balls with 5 wickets in hand. Then Malinga got Shaun Pollock, Andrew Hall, Jacques Kallis, and Makhaya Ntini across two overs, becoming the first to take four wickets in four balls in international cricket. South Africa somehow scampered home.


Sri Lanka did defend 3 off the last ball against England when Dilhara Fernando bowled Ravi Bopara, (though Ranjit Fernando screamed “it’s a four!” on air).

AB de Villiers, who got four ducks in the tournament, slammed a remarkable hundred on one leg against West Indies.

And Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen helped England chase 301 to win the last Super Eights match against West Indies, but that was after both sides had been eliminated. The winning runs were scored by Stuart Broad and James Anderson with one ball to spare. The match also marked the farewell for Brian Lara, who signed off with a simple “did I entertain?” at the crowd.

An artist and a failed mission

As in the 2007 final, Mahela Jayawardene decided to take control in first semi-final, with an unbeaten 115 that was as sublime as it was efficient. Sri Lanka posted 289/5. New Zealand reached 105/2 in response before Muralitharan (4/31) took over. New Zealand were bowled out for 208 – and even that was due to a 59-run last-wicket stand.

South Africa decided that all-out aggression was the only way to get the better of Australia. It would have been spectacular had it not backfired; but they became 27/5, conceding the match by the 10th over. Kallis’ dismissal – stepping out to slog and getting yorked by McGrath – was the most representative evidence of their approach.

Australia won by 7 wickets. The finalists were the same as the 1996 edition; these remain the only instances of “repeat finalists”.

Disgrace in moonlight

The final, reduced to 40 overs a side, can be split into two parts. The first half was entirely dominated by Gilchrist, whose 104-ball 149 – still the highest score in a World Cup final – propelled Australia to 281/4. With a squash ball concealed inside his glove, Gilchrist hit 13 fours and 8 sixes; every Sri Lankan bowler conceded over 6 an over.

Sri Lanka were in it at 123/1 in the 20th over before they lost wickets to keep up with the asking rate. It started getting dark, and the umpires offered Vaas and Malinga light when they needed 74 in 24 balls; they accepted.

The officials insisted resumption of the incomplete match next day, which meant that the cricketers would have to return. Thankfully, good sense prevailed, and Jayawardene agreed to play on in the dark as long as Ponting bowled only spinners. All four officials were suspended.

Australia lifted the trophy under moonlight after winning by 203 runs, 229 runs, 83 runs, 103 runs, 10 wickets, 7 wickets, 9 wickets, 7 wickets, 215 runs, 7 wickets, and 53 runs. So much for competition.

Return of the quarter-finals

In an (unofficial but evident) effort to ensure India’s qualification for the business end, ICC brought the quarter-finals back in the tenth edition, co-hosted by India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. This meant 42 matches to decide the top eight (which turned out to be the favourite eight) – and just 7 more to decide the champions.

2011 turned out to be the most keenly contested edition in new millennium (though anything would have been an improvement after the 2007 disaster). Let us see why:

Australia lost a league match, came third in the group, and were knocked out in the quarter-finals. Neither finalist topped their respective groups. And New Zealand, fourth in Group A, knocked out Group A topper South Africa.

But none of these compared to England’s six league matches. They chased 293 against Netherlands after requiring 53 in 42 balls at one stage. They tied with a topsy-turvy match against India.

They lost to Ireland by 3 wickets despite scoring 327/8 as Kevin O’Brien slammed a 50-ball hundred, the fastest in World Cup history.

They needed to defend 48 in 115 balls against South Africa at one point, but they got 7 wickets to bowl them out. Bangladesh added an unbeaten 57 for the ninth wicket to beat them by 2 wickets. And requiring to prevent West Indies to score 22 in 53 balls to qualify, they picked up 4 wickets for 3 runs.

Almost anticlimactically, they lost the quarter-final to Sri Lanka by 10 wickets – the same margin by which Pakistan beat West Indies in another quarter-final.

In other news, the Bangladesh fans were left fuming after their home team were bowled out for 58 against West Indies and lost before lunch. They stoned the team bus – but got the wrong bus: the poor West Indians took the toll.

DRS was introduced as well, and Aleem Dar demonstrated why he has been rated highly throughout his career. They questioned his decision 15 times; and not a single time was his decision overturned.

DRS made news during the India-England tied match, when MS Dhoni reviewed an LBW against Ian Bell. Replays revealed the ball hitting the stumps, but Bell was ruled not out, for his pad was more than 2.5 metres away from the stumps during the point of impact.

Tendulkar did magnificently in his last tournament, with hundreds against England and South Africa. He finished 18 runs behind Tillakaratne Dilshan, whose 500 runs were the most in the tournament.

Shahid Afridi led the wickets chart with 21 wickets (at 12.85), though Zaheer caught up with him in the final. Ryan ten Doeschate scored two hundreds. Sehwag got 380 runs at a strike rate of 123, hitting a four off the first ball of the innings in every single of his first 5 matches.

But there was little doubt regarding the Player of the Tournament.

The malignant tumour was already in Yuvraj’s left lung when the tournament began. He coughed blood at various stages during the World Cup, and had to leave for the USA for treatment of lung cancer shortly afterwards.

None of that could prevent him from scoring 362 runs (at 90.50, strike rate 86) or picking up 15 wickets (at 25.13, economy 5.02) in the tournament. As we had seen earlier, only Lance Klusener (in 1999) had done better in a single edition.

End of an era, that c-word, and an India-Pakistan semi

Pakistan brought the Australian juggernaut to a halt. Umar Gul took 3/30 to bowl out Australia for 176. But Lee (4/28) did not make things easy for Pakistan, taking the first four wickets to reduce them to 98/4, but Umar Akmal (44 not out) stayed till the end to see them through.

Australia still made it to the top eight, where Ponting got 104 and they posted 260/6 against India. Then, after Tendulkar (53) and Gautam Gambhir (50) put India on course, a collapse left India requiring 74 in 75 balls with 5 men standing. Suresh Raina, who had replaced Yusuf Pathan in the XI a match ago, walked out to join Yuvraj. India won with 14 balls to spare; they did not lose another wicket.

South Africa lived up to their reputation in the other quarter-final. They had already imploded against England in the league stage; now, with 114 needed in 156 balls with 8 wickets in hand, they added just 64 against the unlikely duo of Jacob Oram (4/39) and Nathan McCullum (3/24), and Faf du Plessis ran out de Villiers.

New Zealand themselves choked in a near-identical fashion in the semi-final against Sri Lanka, losing 6 for 25 in 33 balls. Sri Lanka won by 5 wickets.

Tendulkar survived many a dropped chance en route his 85 in the other semi-final against Pakistan, a match played under after Shiv Sena’s threat that they might disrupt the final at Mumbai if Pakistan qualified.

Perhaps infuriated at missing out on the first ball, Sehwag blazed away to hit 9 fours in a 25-ball 38 before Wahab Riaz (5/46) pegged India back. Then Raina (36* in 39) played his second innings of significance to boost India’s score to 260/9.

Pakistan were never in the hunt. They kept losing wickets at regular intervals and lost by 29 runs. For whatever reason, Misbah-ul-Haq left things till it was ridiculously late. For the first time in history did a side employ five bowlers – and all of them picked up 2 wickets apiece.

Dhoniiiii… World Cup for India!

Image: Twitter

The first World Cup final between two Asian countries began with some confusion. Dhoni and Kumar Sangakkara had both thought they had won the toss, which led to a second toss.

Mahela got an unbeaten 103, off just 88 balls. India were asked to chase 275 and set a record for a World Cup final. Then Malinga whisked out Sehwag and Tendulkar by the time they reached 31.

But Gambhir (97) stayed put, not letting the asking rate get out of hand. And Dhoni, who had not scored a single fifty in the tournament till then, promoted himself to five, above Yuvraj.

Sri Lanka never regained control, not even after Gambhir’s dismissal. Dhoni (91* in 79) signed off in style, with a humongous six off Nuwan Kulasekara. And India became the third team to win a second World Cup.

A three-way contest

The 2015 World Cup, in Australia and New Zealand, retained the 2011 format. Australia won their fifth title, but they were not the clear winners. Australia, New Zealand, and India went through the tournament losing only once each; it was just that the last two lost in the knockout phase.

It can be debated whether this was India’s best ever World Cup performance. Not only did they win their first 7 matches, they also bowled out their opposition in every single one of these.

Their pacers – Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, and Mohit Sharma – shared 48 wickets at 19.35, despite often bowling on flat tracks. And five of their batsmen averaged over 47 and struck at over 81.

Riding on Virat Kohli’s 107, they also made it 6-0 against Pakistan in World Cup cricket.

New Zealand played everything at home till the final, and had the men for the conditions. With 22 wickets at 16.86, Trent Boult finished as the joint-leading wicket-taker; and Tim Southee, Corey Anderson, and Daniel Vettori all had 14 or more wickets.

Martin Guptill scored 547 runs, the most in the tournament, including a World Cup record of 237 not out. And Grant Elliott batted spiritedly, the crown jewel being his gem in the semi-final.

But it was Brendon McCullum who shaped New Zealand’s tournament. He defied coaching manuals by stepping out against swing, playing cross-batted, and yet somehow middling everything. He hit a four off every 4 balls he faced and a six every 10 and finished with a strike rate of 189.

His 49-ball 65 against Sri Lanka seemed sluggish compared to some others: 77 in 25 (England), 50 in 24 (Australia), 42 in 19 (Afghanistan), and 59 in 26 (South Africa).

Australia’s only defeat came in their league match against New Zealand after they crashed to 151 against Boult (5/27). McCullum played a blinder, and at one stage New Zealand needed 21 with 6 wickets in hand, but they collapsed against Mitchell Starc (6/28), leaving the last pair to score 6. Kane Williamson then lofted Pat Cummins to clear the ground.

Australia raised their standards as the tournament went on, with Steven Smith finding form he carries till this day. His three gems in the knockout stage virtually eliminated the opposition.

And amidst all this, Sangakkara became the first to score hundreds in four consecutive ODI innings.

The underdogs

Ireland chased 305 against West Indies with 25 balls in hand, thanks to Paul Stirling (92 in 84), Ed Joyce (84 in 67), and Niall O’Brien (79* in 60). The same Ireland had to fight to win by 2 wickets with 4 balls to spare against the UAE. And then they beat Zimbabwe by 5 runs while defending 332.

Bangladesh made it to the knockouts for the first time, largely due to a 15-run win against England. Mahmudullah (103) scored their first ever World Cup hundred, taking them to 275/7. England, reduced to 163/6, recovered to 238/6 and then to 260/8 before losing by 15 runs as Rubel Hossain took 4/53.

Scotland took 7 wickets as New Zealand chased 143. Afghanistan were generally ordinary despite playing bright cricket; their remarkable rise from nothingness culminated in a 1-wicket win against Scotland.

They were 132/8 in pursuit of 211 when Samiullah Shinwari (96) played the greatest innings of his career before Hamid Hassan and Shapoor Zadran added 19 for the last wicket. The celebrations back home were remarkable (BBC mentioned involvement of AK-47s) – to the extent that six were wounded in gunfire.

Chris Gayle’s 215 against Zimbabwe (off 147 balls) was the first World Cup double-hundred. The record passed on to Guptill 25 days later. And de Villiers scored the fastest 150 in ODI history (off 64 balls), against West Indies.

End of the c-tag, an umpiring decision, a spell from hell, a record

The first quarter-final marked the first instance of South Africa winning a World Cup knockout match. Imran Tahir took 4/26 (and JP Duminy got a hat-trick!) to bowl out Sri Lanka for 133.

Quinton de Kock ensured an easy win.

India’s 109-run win against Bangladesh was largely due to Rohit Sharma’s 137, an innings marred by a controversy. He was given not out after being caught off a full toss from Rubel, a decision Dave Richardson later declared that “belonged to the umpire”.

This caused a major uproar back home. Mustafa Kamal, the Bangladeshi President of ICC, resigned in protest, while Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina cited umpiring errors as the reason behind Bangladesh’s defeat.

Chasing 214, Australia quickly became 59/3 against Pakistan. Having dismissed both David Warner and Michael Clarke with short-pitched deliveries, Wahab now peppered Shane Watson with bouncers that often exceeded 150 kph. But Rahat Ali dropped Watson at long-leg, and the tension wore off as Wahab was through with his spell. Australia won by 6 wickets.

And New Zealand won by 143 runs thanks to Guptill’s unbeaten 237.

A semi-final for the semi-finalists


Despite making several semi-final appearances, a spot in the top two had always eluded New Zealand and South Africa. Set to chase 298 in 43 overs, New Zealand were revived from 149/4 by Elliott (84* in 73) and Anderson (58 in 57).

Dale Steyn had to defend 12 off the last over, then 10 off 4 balls, but Vettori somehow guided a yorker for four past third man with a horizontal bat. And Elliott lofted Steyn into the stands off the penultimate ball.

The Indian openers added 76 in 77 balls after Smith (105) and Aaron Finch (81) took Australia to 328/7 in the other semi-final. But Dhoni (65) did not promote himself this time, and in the end he ran out of partners.

Anticlimax at The G

The final was almost as one-sided as Australia’s wins in 1999, 2003, and 2007. McCullum fell for a duck to Starc, and Elliott’s 83 got New Zealand to 183. Mitchell Johnson took 3/30 and Corey Anderson 3/36, while Starc (2/20) finished with joint-most wickets and was named Player of the Series.

Some fans excitedly pointed out that India had defended the same score in the 1983 final, a suspicion that increased manifold when Finch fell for a duck. But Australia ruthlessly pushed all that aside to win by 7 wickets.

first published:May 29, 2019, 07:30 IST
last updated:May 29, 2019, 18:52 IST