SPECIALS – The greatest World Cup matches, Part 1

  With the eleventh ICC World Cup only two weeks away, the excitement for the quadrennial event is rising by the day.

  In a two-part Special post, let us look at ten of the best World Cup matches played over the four-decade history of the tournament, starting with the top five in Part 1.

Australia v South Africa, Semifinal, Edgbaston, 1999

  This classic encounter is widely regarded as the greatest One-Day International match ever. The winner of this match would go on to face Pakistan in the final at Lord’s.

  Australia had defeated South Africa just four days ago in a Super Six match which was a do-or-die contest for them. Steve Waugh’s men had put behind a poor start to their campaign by winning six matches on the trot, and were upbeat coming into the semifinal against the tournament favourites. Hansie Cronje, the South African captain, won the toss and elected to field.

  Shaun Pollock removed Mark Waugh in the first over, but Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting batted positively to add 51 for the second wicket. Ponting’s dismissal to Allan Donald (4/32) led led to a middle-order wobble as Australia slid to 68/4. Michael Bevan (65) joined Steve Waugh (56) at this point, and the duo put on 90 for the fifth wicket.

  Pollock came back to take two quick wickets before Bevan and Warne added a vital 49 for the seventh wicket. The tail subsided quickly and the innings wound up at 213 in 49.2 overs, with Bevan the last man out to Pollock (5/36).

  In reply, South African openers Gary Kirsten and Herschelle Gibbs put their side ahead with a 48-run stand. Man of the Match Warne (4/29) then turned around the game by snaring three wickets in two overs as South Africa collapsed to 61/4 in the 22nd over. Jacques Kallis (53) and Jonty Rhodes (43) steadied the ship by putting on 84 for the fifth wicket. Rhodes’ dismissal gave Australia an opening as South Africa began to lose their way.

zwaugh     Steve Waugh exults after Australia tied the 1999 semifinal with South Africa, a result which was enough for a place in the final (source – foxsports.com.au)

  When the ninth wicket fell at 198, Australia were favourites to finish it off. But one man still remained – Lance Klusener. Klusener, who was ultimately named Player of the Tournament, hit a six and then took a single off the last two balls of the penultimate over. As the last over – to be bowled by Damien Fleming – began, nine runs were required with Klusener on strike.

  ‘Zulu’ made it look ridiculously easy as he crashed the first two balls for four to bring the scores level with four balls still remaining. A tied result would mean Australia would go through, as they had a superior net run rate. With all eleven men in the infield, Australia ensured that South Africa stumbled at the last hurdle. Off the fourth ball, Klusener ran to the non-striker’s end, but to his horror, found Donald unmoved.

  By the time Donald could make it, the throw from mid-off had reached the bowler and on to the wicketkeeper Gilchrist, who took off the bails to break South African hearts. This was the first tied World Cup game, and it was after this result that South Africa were given the unwanted tag of ‘chokers’. Australia thus entered the final by the thinnest of margins – the net run rate – and went on to win the title.

India v Australia, Group Stage, Chennai, 1987

  Defending champions and co-hosts India squared up against Australia – who were to win their first title – in their opening fixture of the 1987 World Cup.

  After Kapil Dev elected to field, David Boon (49) and Geoff Marsh put on 110 for the opening wicket. Marsh added a further 64 for the second wicket with Dean Jones. He went on to score a sublime 110, and his innings helped Australia to a strong total 270-6 in the allotted 50 overs.

  India also made a good start, with openers Sunil Gavaskar and Kris Srikkanth adding 69. Srikkanth (70) and Navjot Sidhu (73) put on 62 for the second wicket. Sidhu was batting very well and he added a further 76 with Dilip Vengsarkar for the third wicket to put India on top. At 207/2 in under 39 overs, the match was India’s to lose. However, Sidhu’s dismissal to Craig McDermott (4/56) led to a procession of wickets. Even with four overs to go, India had the edge as they needed just 15 runs with four wickets in hand.

  But the Indians panicked as three more wickets fell – including two run-outs- and they began the last over with six runs needed and one wicket left. Last man Maninder Singh faced Steve Waugh and managed two twos from the first four balls. But on the fifth ball, Waugh castled him to seal a one-run win for Australia.

  Ultimately, Kapil Dev’s generosity made the difference – in Australia’s innings, a six from Jones was signalled as four. In the innings break, Kapil agreed with the Australians that the shot had indeed resulted in a six.

zxmars    Geoff Marsh made 110 against India at Chennai in 1987, enabling Australia to a healthy total (source – icc-cricket.com)

Pakistan v West Indies, Group Stage, Edgbaston, 1975

  This was the first real thriller in the World Cup. For Pakistan, it was a must-win game if they had to enter the semifinals. They were in control of the game for most parts, but ultimately lost out to the West Indies’ last pair.

  After winning the toss, captain Majid Khan scored a composed 60 while opening. Mushtaq Mohammed carried on the good start with an equally assured 55. The second, third and fourth wicket partnerships all yielded more than 50 runs each. But it was Wasim Raja’s 58 at better than run-a-ball that gave the innings an impetus. The collective batting effort helped Pakistan to 266/7 in 60 overs, a very strong total in those days.

  Sarfraz Nawaz (4/44) then broke the back of the West Indian top order, reducing the score to 36/3. Captain Clive Lloyd attempted to put things back on track, but wickets continued to fall around him. When he fell for 53, the score read 151/7 and Pakistan were firmly in charge. Two further wickets fell, and when last man Andy Roberts came out to join wicketkeeper Deryck Murray, the West Indies still required 64 runs to win with more than 14 overs left.

  Murray appeared to be unflustered, and in the company of the determined Roberts, he gradually put the pressure back on Pakistan. The Pakistani bowlers failed to get that elusive last wicket. Off the fourth ball of the final over, a memorable one-wicket victory was secured, with Murray unbeaten on 61 and Roberts – who hit the winning single – on 24. Sarfraz was named as Man of the Match.

Australia v India, Brisbane, 1992

  This was the second instance of a World Cup match decided by one run, and yet again it was Australia who defeated India. Both teams were searching for their first win in the tournament as they came into this match.

  After the hosts decided to bat, Kapil Dev struck twice early to remove the openers. But Dean Jones, batting at number four, shared vital half-century partnerships with David Boon (43) and Steve Waugh for the third and fourth wickets respectively. Jones was eventually dismissed for 90 off 108 balls as Australia finished at 237/9. Kapil and Manoj Prabhakar picked up three wickets apiece.

  India were set a revised target of 236 in 47 overs because of a rain delay. Kris Srikkanth was out for a duck early, but captain Mohammed Azharuddin was looking in great touch. He was joined by Sanjay Manjrekar (47) at 128/4, and the two confidently put on 66 for the fifth wicket. With five overs remaining, Azharuddin was run out for 93 off 102 balls, a dismissal which paved the way for an entertaining climax.

  13 runs were still required off the last over – to be bowled by Tom Moody – with three wickets left. Kiran More hit fours off the first two balls but was bowled off the third. With five needed off three balls, new man Prabhakar took a single.

  He was run out the next ball though, leaving Javagal Srinath to score four off the final delivery. Srinath swung but found Waugh near the boundary, whose throw to the wicketkeeper caught Venkatapathy Raju short of his crease before the third run was completed.

Australia v West Indies, Semifinal, Mohali, 1996

zzclem     Damien Fleming celebrates with his teammates after dismissing last man Courtney Walsh in the 1996 semifinal at Mohali (source – zimbio.com)

  Both the teams were looking to enter the final, for which Sri Lanka – the eventual winners – had already qualified. Australian captain Mark Taylor won the toss and decided that his batsmen would make first use of a pitch offering ample assistance to the fast bowlers.

  The decision seemed awfully wrong as the fiery twosome of Curtly Ambrose and Ian Bishop flattened the top order. Ambrose trapped the in-form Mark Waugh LBW second ball and later did the same to Ricky Ponting. Bishop castled Taylor and Steve Waugh and Australia were left reeling and almost buried at 15/4. At this point, Stuart Law and Michael Bevan joined forces and scripted one of the best partnerships in World Cup history.

  Law and Bevan assuaged the disaster by adding 138 in 32 overs for the fifth wicket. It took a run out – that of Law (72 from 105 balls) – to break the stand. Bevan followed soon after for 69 (110 balls), but Ian Healy’s quick 31 helped Australia go past 200 and eventually 207/8 in 50 overs, a far cry from the horrendous start to the innings.

  Shane Warne removed Courtney Browne early in the chase, but Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Brian Lara put the West Indies in the box seat with a 67-run second-wicket alliance. Lara fell for a run-a-ball 45. Chanderpaul and captain Richie Richardson further dented Australian hopes with a 72-run partnership for the third wicket, and it looked as if the writing was on the wall for Taylor’s men.

  However, for the second time in the match, Australia rose like a phoenix, this time proceeding to deliver the killer blow. Chanderpaul fell for 80 (from 126 balls) to Glenn McGrath to make the score 165/3. From thereon, the West Indies began to panic, and inexplicably collapsed in the face of the moderate target. Man of the Match Warne (4/36) returned to cut through the middle order.

  As the last over – to be bowled by Damien Fleming – began, the West Indies required ten runs to win with two wickets left. Importantly for them, Richardson was on strike. He hit a four off the first ball to bring down the target to six from five balls. But the West Indian captain erred by attempting a single off the next ball, which left Ambrose run out.

  To make it worse, last man Courtney Walsh was now on strike. Fleming duly bowled Walsh first ball to complete a five-run win for his side and spark jubilation among his teammates. Richardson remained unbeaten on 49 as his side lost 8 for 37 in 51 balls.

Watch Australia and South Africa tie their semifinal in 1999https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ugh2D-2MRsM

Watch the West Indies give it away in the 1996 semifinalhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43N6FWvsTHw

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SPECIALS – Top five World Cup performances by Irish batsmen

  Ireland took the cricket world by storm with their giant-killing feats  in the 2007 and 2011 World Cups. Victories over Test nations such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and England made the plucky Irishmen household names in the cricketing fraternity. As the 2015 edition beckons, there are similar expectations from the leading Associate nation to make its presence felt in the tournament.

  There has been at least one memorable individual batting performance in each of Ireland’s four victories in the World Cup so far, not to mention in the tie against Zimbabwe in 2007. These five innings – all played by different batsmen – have played an invaluable role in the rise of the game’s popularity in the Emerald Isle.

  In this post, let us revisit these five batting displays which have been pivotal in establishing Ireland’s credentials on the world stage.

1) 113 by Kevin O’Brien vs England, Bangalore, 2nd March 2011

  In what was arguably the most staggering run chase in the history of ODI cricket, Kevin O’Brien blazed his way into the record books with the fastest World Cup hundred of all time. And the fact that it came against a Test nation – the old enemy England, no less – probably makes it one of the most heroic international innings ever played in coloured clothing.

  After electing to bat, England were given a solid platform from their openers Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen (59), who added 91. Jonathan Trott (92) and Ian Bell (81) piled on the runs in a 167-run alliance for the third wicket. A flurry of late wickets for John Mooney (4/63) pegged things back a bit, but England’s final score was still an imposing 327/8.

  Ireland had the worst possible start in reply as captain William Porterfield was bowled by James Anderson off the very first ball. Ed Joyce and Niall O’Brien guided the score to 103/2, but Graeme Swann grabbed three wickets in as many as overs to reduce Ireland to 111/5 in the 25th over. Even the most optimistic of Irish fans had probably lost hope. But then Kevin O’Brien – who had come in at 106/4 – decided to take things into his own hands.

zzjio     Kevin O’Brien played the most extraordinary World Cup innings to power Ireland to a historic win against England at Bangalore in 2011 (source – the42.ie)

  With the reassuring presence of Alex Cusack at the other end, O’Brien proceeded to inflict a barrage of boundaries and sixes on the Englishmen, who had simply no answer to the hitting spree. He reached his fifty off 31 balls with a six off Anderson in the 33rd over, at which point 136 runs were still required. O’Brien’s second fifty made the first one look sedate in comparison. He lit up the Chinnaswamy Stadium with a scarcely believable effort that stunned and delighted the crowd in equal measure.

  He let out a celebratory roar as he got to his 50-ball hundred with a double off Michael Yardy in the 41st over. The previous fastest World Cup hundred was made by Australia’s Matthew Hayden in 2007, off 66 balls. O’Brien’s sixth-wicket stand with Cusack fetched 162 runs, and it was enough to bury England’s chances. When he was finally run out, O’Brien had brought Ireland to within 12 runs of a famous victory, which was duly achieved by three wickets off the first ball of the final over. His score read a mind-boggling 113 from 63 balls, with 13 fours and sixes.

  The sight of the pink hair-dyed O’Brien powering his side to the highest successful run-chase in the World Cup will be remembered for as long as cricket exists. Besides taking Irish cricket to another level altogether, his innings also gave a fitting riposte to the parochial ICC, who had initially planned to shut out the Associate nations from taking part in the 2015 World Cup.

2) 72 by Niall O’Brien vs Pakistan, Kingston, 17th March 2007

  It was Kevin’s older brother and the team’s wicketkeeper Niall O’Brien who played the innings that led to Ireland’s first ODI win over a Test nation, against Pakistan on St. Patrick’s Day. On a green Sabina Park pitch, he displayed great maturity in shepherding a tricky chase and ensured that the brilliant work of the Irish bowlers was not wasted.

  After being put in to bat, Pakistan were humbled for a paltry 132 in 45.4 overs. Extras with 29 turned out to be the highest score as Ireland’s amateur bowlers exploited the conditions to the fullest. Boyd Rankin picked up 3/32 while Andre Botha returned exceptional figures of 8-4-5-2. Right from the word go, they maintained a tight grip on the match as Pakistan slumped to 15/2 and then to 72/6. A rain delay meant that Ireland’s revised target was 128 from 47 overs.

zxch      Irish wicketkeeper Niall O’Brien plays a shot during his resolute, match-winning innings of 72 against Pakistan at Kingston in 2007 (source – skysports.com)

  Ireland were 15/2 when the left-handed O’Brien walked out to bat. He assumed charge immediately and deftly tackled Pakistan’s experienced bowling attack even as the remaining batsmen failed to stick around. Buoyed by the Blarney Army, Ireland’s enthusiastic legion of fans, he steadily went about cutting down the target. O’Brien reached his fifty from 72 balls and went on to make 72 from 107 balls with six fours and a six. He was stumped by Kamran Akmal off Shoaib Malik, and the score at this point became 113/7.

  After a few nervous moments, captain Trent Johnston swung Azhar Mahmood for six to bring up Ireland’s three-wicket victory with 32 balls to spare. O’Brien’s innings was worth its weight in gold, as testified by the fact that the next highest score was 16. His effort knocked out Pakistan from the tournament and paved the way for Ireland’s entry into the Super Eight round.

3) 115* by Jeremy Bray – vs Zimbabwe, Kingston, 15th March 2007

  Just two days before their historic win over Pakistan, Ireland played their first World Cup game, against Zimbabwe at the same venue. After Ireland were put in to bat, the gritty Sydney-born left-handed opener Jeremy Bray went on to play one of the most important innings in Irish history.

  Bray lost his opening partner William Porterfield in the first over, but he himself never looked like getting out. A middle-order collapse saw Ireland nosedive fro 43/1 to 89/5, but Bray found a willing ally in Andrew White, with whom he added 56 for the sixth wicket. A boundary off Elton Chigumbura led him to his fifty from 64 balls, and his confidence grew by the over.

  At the end of 45 overs, Ireland were still on the back-foot at 182/8, but Bray expertly put on 39 for the ninth wicket with Dave Langford-Smith. He reached his second ODI hundred from 129 balls with a boundary off Chris Mpofu in the 48th over. He batted for the entire 50 overs, scoring an unbeaten 115 from 137 balls with ten fours and two sixes. Ireland posted a competitive 221/9.

  In reply, Zimbabwe lost wickets at regular intervals but they were well on course at 203/5, needing just 19 runs from 39 balls. However, Ireland kept up the pressure with some tight bowling and excellent fielding as Zimbabwe began to panic. The last over began with nine runs required and one wicket left. The scores were level before the final delivery, which resulted in Ed Rainsford being run out in a thrilling finish. The match was tied and Ireland owed a lot to Bray for helping them put up a decent total.Jeremy Bray 15/3/2007      Jeremy Bray scored Ireland’s first World Cup century – 115* – in a thriling tied game against Zimbabwe in 2007 (source – cricketireland.ie)

4) 101 by Paul Stirling – vs Netherlands, Kolkata, 18th March 2011

  Ireland were already out of reckoning for a quarterfinal berth, but a lot of pride was at stake going into this match against fellow Associates Netherlands at the Eden Gardens. The Dutch were reduced to 53/3 after being put in, but Ryan ten Doeschate (106) and captain Peter Borren (84) turned the tide. Their efforts led Netherlands to a strong total of 306 in 50 overs.

  The target of 307 however did not make a difference to the dashing Paul Stirling, who attacked the Dutch bowlers in typical fashion. Along with captain Porterfield (68), he shared a galloping 177-run opening partnership. Ireland still needed 128 to win when he was out for 101 from 72 balls (14 fours and two sixes), but the rate at which he scored enabled the middle order to comfortably achieve the target.

  Earlier, Stirling had also been the pick of the bowlers with a tidy spell of 2/51 in ten overs. Ireland eventually reached 307/4 in 47.4 overs, ending the tournament with two wins (the other coming against England, mentioned above) from their six matches. Both of the wins were chases in excess of 300 – the only such instances in the entire tournament.

5) 85 by William Porterfield – vs Bangladesh, Bridgetown, 15th April 2007

  Ireland were winless in the Super Eight round, and this match against Bangladesh presented a great opportunity to scalp another full member nation. As it happened, William Porterfield’s solid 85 ensured not only a convincing 74-run victory, but also a place in the ICC ODI rankings table for his team.

  After electing to bat, Ireland started confidently through openers Porterfield and Bray, who put on 92. Porterfield was at the crease for more than 41 overs before being dismissed for 85 from 136 balls (three fours). Productive run-scoring in the slog overs led Ireland to a total of 243/7. Bangladesh slipped to 48/3 and could not really recover, as they folded for 169 in 41.2 overs.

Record Book – Adam Gilchrist, the most prolific World Cup finalist

  Australia are the only team to have won the ICC World Cup three times in a row, and three players – Ricky Ponting, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist – have had the privilege of being part of each of the three winning sides.

  Ponting of course was the captain in 2003 – when he creamed an unbeaten 140 in the final – and 2007. McGrath has taken a combined total of six wickets in the three finals – most notably the catch off his own bowling to dismiss Sachin Tendulkar in the very first over in 2003. But the most successful player in World Cup finals is Gilchrist, arguably the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman to have played the game.

  In the 1999 final at Lord’s, Australia bowled out Pakistan for a paltry 132. Gilchrist pouched two catches behind the wicket – Inzamam ul Haq off the bowling of Paul Reiffel and Moin Khan off Shane Warne. He then ensured that this would be the shortest World Cup final ever, as he proceeded to hammer the demoralised Pakistani bowlers in typical fashion.

  Opening the innings with Mark Waugh, Gilchrist began by cracking two boundaries off Wasim Akram in the third over. Shoaib Akhtar, who was in top form in the semifinal against New Zealand, bore the brunt as well as Gilchrist cut a quick, short ball over the ropes for six and followed it with another boundary the next ball in his third over. The introduction of Abdul Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood made no difference, as Gilchrist continued his boundary spree.

zmilly     Adam Gilchrist during his innings of 54 in the 1999 World Cup final against Pakistan (source – india-forums.com)

  In the tenth over, he brought up his fifty from just 33 balls with a boundary over mid wicket off Razzaq. The score galloped to 75/0 in the first ten overs itself, and it looked as if only one team had turned up to play the match. Saqlain Mushtaq’s first ball brought an end to Gilchrist’s breezy knock, as the batsman miscued one to mid off. But the damage had been done – his 54 coming from only 36 balls with eight fours and a six. Victory was only a formality, and Australia needed only 20.1 overs to seal a thumping eight-wicket win.

  Four years later, Australia found themselves in the final again, this time against India at the Wanderers in Johannesburg. Ponting’s world-class bunch had been unbeaten throughout the tournament and were overwhelming favourites to successfully defend their title. Buoyed by the excellent performance of his pace bowlers in the tournament thus far, Indian captain Sourav Ganguly elected to field first. But Gilchrist put paid to any hopes India had of gaining the upper hand early on.

  This time having Matthew Hayden as his opening partner, Gilchrist faced Zaheer Khan in the first over. Zaheer’s nerves got the better of him as he gave away two no-balls and six wides in what turned out to be a ten-ball over. Against Gilchrist, this was criminal. Australia got the start they wanted, and Gilchrist and Hayden gave a perfect launchpad to the innings. Both Zaheer and Javagal Srinath were tonked around the park by the left-handed duo, with Gilchrist being the more dominating batsman.

  Srinath, who had given away just eight runs in his first two overs, came in for special treatment from Gilchrist. In the bowler’s third over, he hit two boundaries and followed it up with two boundaries and a six in his next over. In eight overs, the score read 66/0, with Gilchrist getting 43 runs of those in just 30 balls. He reached his fifty with a double off Ashish Nehra in the 13th over of the innings. He drove Harbhajan Singh for another four to bring up Australia’s hundred in a mere 13.4 overs.

  In the same over, Gilchrist misjudged one from the off-spinner and skied it to Virender Sehwag, getting out for 57 off 48 balls with eight fours and a six. Hayden followed soon after, but the Indians were already sapped and it was to only get tougher for them as Ponting and Damien Martyn put on unbeaten 234 for the third to propel Australia to 359/2 and eventually a 125-run win. Gilchrist took one catch, off Glenn McGrath, to dismiss Mohammed Kaif.

zpillu   Gilchrist gave Australia yet another flying start in the 2003 World Cup final against India (source – alchetron.com)

  More than his batting, Gilchrist in the 2003 World Cup will be forever remembered for his sportsman spirit – he famously walked after being given not out, as he was aware that he had edged Aravinda de Silva’s delivery to wicketkeeper Kumar Sangakkara. He finished the tournament with 408 runs from ten matches, the fourth highest tally. His highest score was 99 – run out – against Sri Lanka in the Super Six round. A World Cup century still eluded him.

  This was to change in the final of the 2007 World Cup. Prior to the game, his performance in the tournament was a middling one – 304 runs from ten innings, with half-centuries against Netherlands and Bangladesh. As in 2003, Australia had been unbeaten in the tournament, and had swept aside every team they countered. At the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, the two-time defending champions faced Sri Lanka, their third different Asian opposition in a World Cup final.

  A rain delay meant that the match was reduced to 38 overs a side. Ponting won the toss and had no hesitation to bat first. The start was sedate, as Gilchrist and Hayden – who was the tournament’s leading run scorer – took only four runs off the first two overs. In the third over, Gilchrist took off as he crunched a boundary followed by a six over mid-on in successive balls from Chaminda Vaas. Two more fours followed in the next Vaas over, and it was already evident that Gilchrist was going to make his last World Cup match special.

  Lasith Malinga was bowling tightly at the other end – his first four overs went for just six runs – and the score after ten overs was 46/0. Gilchrist, who was on 31 off 30 balls, launched into Dilhara Fernando in the eleventh over. He began by clouting a full toss to mid-wicket for four, then another four off a half-volley past long-on and followed it with a huge six over long-on. This was vintage Gilchrist, and just like 2003, he had succeeded in firmly putting the pressure on the opposition in the first ten overs.

  Hayden, who had bludgeoned bowling attacks in the tournament, was happy to play second fiddle this time. When Gilchrist reached his fifty from 43 balls with a single off Muttiah Muralitharan in the 14th over, Hayden was on 18 from 37 balls. Tillekaratne Dilshan’s too failed to have an effect on Gilchrist, as he was hit for two massive sixes straight over his head. As Australia reached 95/0 in 15 overs, Sri Lankan shoulders began to droop. Gilchrist was in his element, and nothing looked like stopping him.

zzilly      Gilchrist’s best World Cup innings – a blitzing 149 – came against Sri Lanka in the final of the 2007 World Cup (source – cricket.com.au)

  Fernando returned for another spell looking to break the stand, but instead Gilchrist greeted him by thumping a six over long-off followed by four straight down the ground. Similar treatment awaited Fernando in his next over, and his figures read a sorry 5-0-56-0. At the end of 20 overs, Australia were cruising at 137/0 – Gilchrist 96, Hayden 31. Malinga came back in the 21st over, and he too was not spared.

  Off the third ball of the 21st over, Gilchrist brought up his first World Cup hundred off 72 balls by smashing a boundary over mid-off. But he was hungry for more as he lashed another flurry of boundaries off Vaas and Malinga in the next two overs. Malinga finally broke the partnership – which fetched 172 – by dismissing Hayden for 38. After a quiet couple of overs, Gilchrist resumed his charge, now collecting two sixes off Sanath Jayasuriya. With eight overs to go, the score was 222/1 and Sri Lanka were down for the count.

  It was Fernando who eventually got his man, as he skied the third ball of the 31st over straight to Chamara Silva at mid-wicket. His astounding innings – 149 off 104 balls, with 13 fours and 8 sixes – created a new record for the highest score in a World Cup final, going past the 140* scored in 2003 by Ponting, who was the man at the other end. His eight sixes also equalled Ponting’s effort in that same innings. He later said that a squash ball inside his glove helped his cause.

  Gilchrist chose the perfect platform to produce one of the great World Cup innings, and his assault led Australia to 281/4 from their 38 overs. Sri Lanka ultimately fell 53 runs short on the D/L method as the match ended in a farce in near-darkness, much to the embarrassment of the organisers and umpires. Gilchrist added two catches – to dismiss Upul Tharanga off Nathan Bracken and Russel Arnold off McGrath – and a stumping to dismiss Malinga off Andrew Symonds to go with his match-winning knock, and was the obvious choice for Man of the Match.

  Three finals, 260 runs at an average of 86.66 and a strike rate of 138.29, with two fifties and a scintillating hundred. Not to mention six dismissals behind the wicket. Numbers that establish Adam Gilchrist’s standing as the most productive World Cup finalist. On the all-time World Cup run charts, he sits sixth with 1085 runs at 36.16, while his 52 dismissals are the most by a wicketkeeper. 

  Clearly, Gilchrist loved the big occasion like few others, and his cumulative achievements in the summit clashes of the World Cup will be highly difficult to surpass.

Watch Gilchrist’s 149 in the 2007 finalhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egxEfBI3hyk

IN FOCUS – Scotland look to impress on World Cup return

  After two winless tournaments in 1999 and 2007, a much-improved Scotland have their best chance to register a maiden win in the World Cup in the 2015 edition. Here is a look at the World Cup history and prospects of the current third-best Associate nation in the upcoming World Cup.

World Cup history

  Scotland have lost all eight matches they have played in the World Cup so far. They first played in the 1999 edition, where they qualified by virtue of finishing third in the 1997 ICC trophy. Moreover, they also got the privilege of playing two of their five group matches at their home ground, the Grange Cricket Club Ground in Edinburgh. Scotland were placed in Group B along with Australia, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Pakistan and the West Indies.

  In their first match against Australia at Worcester, Scotland competed decently and defending 181,  stretched their much-vaunted opponents into the 45th over before losing by six wickets. Then at Chester-le-Street, they had Pakistan on the mat at 92/5 before allowing them to recover to 261/6 – of which 59 were extras. The target proved to be 94 runs too many for the Scots against the Pakistani pace attack.

  Scotland’s third match – against Bangladesh – was their first at Edinburgh, and presented them with a golden opportunity to score a win in front of their home crowd. After captain George Salmond elected to field, the pace duo of John Blain and Asim Butt reduced the ICC Trophy winners to 26/5. The score later became 96/7, but Minhajul Abedin’s gritty 68* helped propel the total to 185/9. In reply, Scotland slumped to 8/3 and 49/5, from which they could not recover. They folded for 163 with 3.4 overs still to go.

  Up next were the West Indies at Leicester, and it turned out to be an embarrassingly one-sided match. Scotland were rolled over for a paltry 68 in 31.3 overs, which the West Indies chased down in just 10.1 overs to gallop home by eight wickets. Their final game, against New Zealand at Edinburgh, was equally disappointing as they lost by six wickets after being bowled out for 121. Gavin Hamilton (217 runs at 54.25) and Blain (ten wickets at 21) were the silver linings of the tournament.

Cricket World Cup 1999     Gavin Hamilton pulls one from Shane Warne during Scotland’s first ever World Cup match, against Australia at Worcester in 1999 (source – cricketscotland.com)

  Scotland’s second World Cup appearance was in 2007 in the West Indies. They defeated Ireland in the final of the 2005 ICC Trophy to qualify for the sixteen-team tournament. This time, Scotland, led by Craig Wright, found themselves in a tough Group A, along with defending champions Australia, South Africa and Netherlands. All three matches were played at Basseterre. In their opening encounter, Scotland ran into Australia, who secured a thumping 203-run win after posting 334/6.

  Against South Africa, Scotland mustered a modest 186/8, which was easily chased down by the Proteas, who reached the target with seven wickets and more than half the number of overs still remaining. The final encounter against fellow Associates Netherlands was possibly the biggest dampener. After being put in, Scotland lasted just 34.1 overs as they were bundled out for 136. The Dutchmen overhauled the total in 23.1 overs to win convincingly by eight wickets.

Road to the 2015 World Cup and recent form

  Scotland were the third Associate team after Ireland and Afghanistan to secure qualification for the 2015 World Cup. In the World Cricket League which concluded in 2013-14, the Scots had an average performance overall and finished fifth out of eight teams. However, they ensured that the second opportunity to qualify – at the World Cup Qualifiers in New Zealand in early 2014 – was not wasted. In this tournament, ten Associate nations took part with two World Cup spots up for grabs.

  In the group stage, Scotland bounced back from a narrow defeat to Hong Kong by notching successive wins over Nepal, UAE and Canada. They followed this by three more wins in the Super Sixes, against Namibia, Papua New Guinea and Kenya. The final game against Kenya was a must-win for Scotland – in the event of a loss, Hong Kong would have gone through to the World Cup at their expense.

  Chasing Kenya’s 260, Scotland recovered from 169/6 to post a tense three-wicket win and gain passage to the World Cup. In the final against UAE at Lincoln, then stand-in captain Preston Mommsen scored a brilliant, unbeaten 139 to power Scotland to 285/5, a total which proved to be 41 runs too many for UAE, who too qualified for the World Cup.

zpreston     Preston Mommsen, who was a star performer in the World Cup Qualifiers in New Zealand, will be leading Scotland in the 2015 World Cup (source – alloutcricket.com)

  Since that success, Scotland have played only seven completed ODIs, including a one-off home game against England, a three-match series in Ireland and the recently-concluded tri-series with Afghanistan and Ireland in the UAE. They lost the rain-shortened game to England by 39 runs, and managed to keep the margin of defeat to 2-1 in Ireland. In the UAE tri-series, they lost once each to Afghanistan and Ireland, and their sole win was a built around a sensational bowling display which saw the Afghans get bowled out for 63.

  In late September last year, Scotland toured Australia and New Zealand to play seven matches against state sides with a view to get acclimatised to the conditions. The Scots won two and lost five of these games. Their best display came in a one-run defeat to a ‘New Zealand XI’ – an international side in all but name – at Lincoln. Kyle Coetzer, who was the regular captain until the start of this tour, scored 333 runs in six matches at 55.50.

Squad and key players

  There are no surprises in the 15-man squad for the World Cup as Scotland have stuck to the tried and tested group of players who have been behind the team’s recent development. The squad is as follows – Preston Mommsen (captain), Richie Berrington, Kyle Coetzer (vice-captain), Freddie Coleman, Matthew Cross (WK), Josh Davey, Alasdair Evans, Hamish Gardiner, Majid Haq, Michael Leask, Matt Machan, Calum MacLeod, Safyaan Sharif, Rob Taylor, Iain Wardlaw.

  South Africa-born Mommsen was Scotland’s leading batsman in the World Cup Qualifiers, scoring 520 runs at 86.66, including the above-mentioned 139* in the final and a crucial 78 in the must-win game against Kenya. He is a vital cog in the middle order and will be supported by county regular Coetzer, Calum McLeod – who hit a record 175 against Canada in the Qualifiers and then 116* against Ireland – and Matt Machan, as well as Richie Berrington and Michael Leask. Leask, one of the most exciting Associate talents, gave England a scare in the ODI last year with a 16-ball 42.

  On the bowling front, off-spinner Majid Haq is the most experienced – he is the only player in the squad to have played the 2007 World Cup. The pace attack looks promising, with Josh Davey, Rob Taylor, Alasdair Evans and Iain Wardlaw forming an effective quartet. 24 year-old Davey will be the one to be watch out for, especially after his all-round show of 53* and 6/28 against Afghanistan in Scotland’s 150-run victory in the tri-series match. He also took 3/28 in the ODI against England.

zdavey      Josh Davey’s all-round skills will be of immense value to Scotland as they look to make an impact at the World Cup (source – cricketeurope/roney smythe)

Who will they face Down Under?

  Scotland are placed in a challenging Group A in the 2015 World Cup, along with co-hosts Australia and New Zealand, Sri Lanka, England, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. They open their campaign on 17th February against New Zealand at the University Oval in Dunedin. While they can take heart from their one-run defeat to the New Zealand XI last year, Scotland will find it tough first up against a side brimming with hard-hitting batsmen on a ground with small dimensions.

  On 23rd February, Scotland meet England at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch. They can be expected to raise their game against the English, just as Ireland did in 2011. Three days later, they will be back in Dunedin to face Afghanistan, a match gives them the best opportunity to secure their first win in the World Cup. The Afghans may be ranked higher in the ODI rankings, but that will amount to nothing in what promises to be an interesting tussle between the two Associates.

  Scotland’s fourth fixture will be against Bangladesh at Nelson’s Saxton Oval, and they will look at this game as another victory prospect. Bangladesh have been historically unpredictable and inconsistent in alien conditions, and if the Scottish bowlers perform to their potential, there is no reason why Bangladesh cannot be beaten. The last two matches will be played at the Bellerive Oval in Hobart against powerhouses Sri Lanka and Australia on 11th and 14th March respectively, both games being day/night affairs.

  Winning against Afghanistan and Bangladesh will definitely be on Scotland’s agenda. If they manage to defeat both of them, all they will need is a win against one of the big four in the group in order to have a realistic chance of qualifying for the quarterfinals. On paper, Scotland’s batting looks stronger than their bowling, but of late, the bowlers have done well especially in favourable environs. While the attention is on Ireland and Afghanistan, the unheralded Scots might just turn out to be the surprise package of the tournament.

  As the World Cup beckons, Scotland are in better shape than ever before to make an impression in the tournament. One can expect them to notch at least one win, and thus finally open their account in cricket’s premier limited-overs event. It is an important tournament for Scotland, because if the ICC has its way, we may never see them playing in the World Cup again.

Record Book – Yuvraj Singh’s unique World Cup double

  Yuvraj Singh, one of India’s most exciting limited-overs players, will not be seen in the 2015 World Cup. However, in the previous edition in 2011, he was the star of India’s winning campaign as his all-round skills played a vital role at various junctures.

  The value he brought to the team with his powerful batting and tricky left-arm spin was most evident in the Group B match against Ireland at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. Ireland had proved that they were no pushovers – just four days earlier, they had stunned England by chasing down 327 at the same venue. Also at the same venue a week ago, a poor bowling performance from India meant that they had to settle for a tie against England despite scoring 338.

  A full house awaited the captains Mahendra Singh Dhoni and William Porterfield as they walked out for the toss. Dhoni called correctly and inserted the Irishmen in. Zaheer Khan gave the hosts a perfect start as he struck in each of his first two overs, clean bowling Paul Stirling for a duck and having Ed Joyce caught behind to leave Ireland in trouble at 9/2 in the third over itself.

  Porterfield and wicketkeeper Niall O’Brien then got together and the duo steadied the ship with a commendable century stand under pressure. The partnership had blossomed to 113 when O’Brien was run out for 46, courtesy of a Virat Kohli throw from cover. In the 30th over, Yuvraj – who had figures of 2-0-4-0 at this point – snared his first wicket of the match as he had Andrew White caught behind. The two quick wickets meant Ireland were on the back-foot again at 129/4.

zyuvh    Yuvraj Singh celebrates after picking up his fifth wicket against Ireland at Bangalore in the 2011 World Cup (source – thehindu.com)

  In his fifth over, Yuvraj dismissed the dangerous Kevin O’Brien – who had struck a record 50-ball hundred against England – cheaply, out caught and bowled. Four overs later, he turned the screws on Ireland’s innings by having Porterfield, who top-scored with a solid 75 from 104 balls, caught at cover by Harbhajan Singh. With ten overs remaining, the score read 172/6. Yuvraj had figures of 8-0-25-3 at this stage.

  However, the Irish lower order failed to make good use of the slog overs and the batting powerplay. In the 42nd over, Yuvraj claimed his fourth victim as he trapped John Mooney leg-before. Off the fourth ball of his final over, he took his fifth wicket in the form of Alex Cusack, who too was out LBW for 24. Ireland were eventually bowled out for 207 with thirteen balls in the innings still unused. Yuvraj, who was the last of the six bowlers to bowl for India, finished with figures of 10-0-31-5.

  Yuvraj’s return was his career-best in ODIs. His previous best of 4/6 also came in a World Cup match, against Namibia at Pietermaritzburg in 2003. He became the fifth Indian bowler to take a five-wicket haul in a World Cup match. Also, this was the first World Cup five-wicket haul by an Indian spinner. It was his spell that put the brakes on Ireland’s charge towards what would have certainly been a total of around 250.

  Requiring 208 to win, India also lost two quick wickets. It was the medium pace of Trent Johnston that provided the breakthroughs – he first caught Virender Sehwag off his own bowling and then had Gautam Gambhir caught by Cusack at short fine leg. Johnston, with figures of 3-1-7-2, was looking threatening. But to Ireland’s misfortune, he could bowl only two more overs as he was forced off the field due to a knee injury. The third wicket to fall was the prized one of Sachin Tendulkar, who was out LBW to George Dockrell for 38.

zyuvg      Yuvraj Singh acknowledges the Bangalore crowd after reaching his half-century against Ireland (source – thehindu.com)

  The score read 87/3 in 20.1 overs, and Yuvraj walked out to bat with his team not quite out of the woods. Just three overs later, a misunderstanding between him and non-striker Virat Kohli led to the latter’s run-out. India were now 100/4, with more than half of the target still to be achieved. Dhoni joined Yuvraj in the middle, and the dependable pair put on 67 runs for the fifth wicket before the Indian captain was dismissed by Dockrell for 34.

  Yuvraj was playing according to the situation on the dry pitch, and had collected 40 runs from 64 balls with just two fours when Yusuf Pathan came out to join him. 41 runs were needed from 59 deliveries at this stage. Pathan shut out the Irishmen by clobbering sixteen runs off the first five balls he faced, much to the relief of the Bangalore crowd.

  Off the fifth ball of the 46th over, Yuvraj reached a well-deserved half-century with a single off Mooney. He remained unbeaten on 50 from 75 balls with three fours, while Pathan, who hit the winning boundary, scored an unbeaten 30. India reached 210/5 with four overs to spare. Not surprisingly, Yuvraj was declared the Man of the Match.

  Yuvraj thus became the first man to score a half-century and take five wickets in the same World Cup match. In all ODI cricket, such an instance has been recorded 17 times so far, with Shahid Afridi the only one to do it more than once (he has done it thrice). Yuvraj became the third Indian after Kris Srikkanth and Sourav Ganguly to achieve this feat.

  As the tournament progressed, Yuvraj gave further evidence of his all-round ability. Against the Netherlands, he guided another chase with an unbeaten 51. Against the West Indies, he scored 113 and took 2/18. In the quarterfinal, he scored a crucial 57* and also scalped 2/44. In the final against Sri Lanka, he took two more wickets for 49.

  Yuvraj ended the tournament with 362 runs – the eighth highest tally – at 90.50 and 15 wickets – the joint-fourth highest tally – at 25.13. For his efforts, he was named as the Player of the Tournament, becoming the second Indian after Sachin Tendulkar (in 2003) to win this honour.

REVIEW – Difference in bowling prowess the decisive factor amid run-glut

  An unprecedented 5870 runs were scored in the recently-concluded four-match Test series between Australia and India for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Never before had so many runs been scored in a four-Test series.

  Incidentally, the previous highest tally of 5651 also came in a series between the same teams – in Australia in 2003-04. The pitches rolled out for the series were quite uncharacteristic to what one usually comes across in Australia. There was precious little for the bowlers from either side to rejoice about.

  The Tests at Melbourne and Sydney both produced draws – the previous drawn Tests at the MCG and the SCG were back in 1997-98 and 2003-04 respectively. Since the visit of India is a lucrative event for Cricket Australia, it is possible that measures were taken to ensure that all the Tests last their entire duration.

  Having said that, the cricket itself in the series was far from dour. The end result might have been 2-0 in Australia’s favour, but it would be fair to say that India more than held their own throughout the rubber, something which had been amiss in their recent overseas tours. At least three of their batsmen enhanced their reputations by the time the series concluded, and most of the times they matched their Australian counterparts stroke for stroke.

zbgh     The victorious Australian team pose with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy which they regained after defeating India 2-0 (source – sportskeeda.com)

  The difference lay in the bowling performances of the two teams. Australia’s two victories were ultimately shepherded by a combination of clever bowling – from Nathan Lyon at Adelaide and from Mitchell Johnson at Brisbane – and at the same time, poor bowling from the Indians. In fact, India failed to take 20 wickets even once. Looking back, one wonders what might have been the result in the second Test at Brisbane had India not allowed Australia to get to 505 from 247/6 in the first innings.

  As has often been the case, Mahendra Singh Dhoni – the Indian captain for the second and third Tests – was criticised for his defensive field settings and unwarranted shuffling of bowlers. Dhoni, to the surprise of all and sundry, decided to call it quits from Test cricket immediately after the Boxing Day Test ended. Statistically, he will go down as India’s most successful Test captain, but his forgettable record overseas will always refute that claim.

  His obvious successor was Virat Kohli, who in fact had lead India in the first Test at Adelaide as Dhoni was out due to injury. As the series unfolded, Kohli began to relish feasting on the much-vaunted Australian bowling attack. He ended up with as many as 692 runs at 86.50 in the series – the highest by an Indian in a series in Australia, surpassing Rahul Dravid’s tally of 619 runs made in 2003-04. In the exciting Adelaide Test, Kohli the captain also showed intent by going for the kill on the final day.

  While experts were divided on whether India should have played for the draw or not, Kohli himself was highly satisfied of the way his team approached the fifth-day chase of 364. Indeed, India fell only 48 runs short and at 242/2 with Kohli and Murali Vijay at the crease, they actually had an opportunity to score a historic win. But once the captain fell for a brilliant 141, the ship sank fast as the visitors lost eight wickets in the final session.

  Besides Kohli, who struck four hundreds and also became the first man to hit three hundreds in his first three innings as captain, the other Indian batsman who reaped rich benefits was Vijay. True to his nickname of ‘Monk’, Vijay left more deliveries in the series than any other batsman from either side. He logged 482 runs – the most by an Indian opener in a series in Australia – and the highlight was a high-quality 144 on the opening day at Brisbane – the venue which assisted the fast bowlers the most.

  Then there was the ever-improving Ajinkya Rahane, who was among the runs as well. He scored 399 runs which included a glorious career-best of 147 at the MCG, where he was involved in a 262-run stand with Kohli, who also achieved a career-best of 169. He was also at the crease to ensure that India saved the final Test. Young Lokesh Rahul, in his debut series, put behind a shoddy first game at Melbourne to score a patient hundred at Sydney.

zkohl     India’s new Test captain Virat Kohli bounced back from a poor tour of England in superb fashion, scoring 682 runs with four hundreds (source – financialexpress.com)

  Transcending the trio of Indian batsmen was Australia’s stand-in captain Steven Smith. Entrusted with the top job after Michael Clarke pulled out after the first Test due to his recurring back injury, Smith came through with flying colours. Not only did he have the satisfaction of winning his first Test as captain – at Brisbane – but he also scored a whopping 769 runs in the series at an average of 128.16.

  Just like Kohli, captaincy seems to bring out the best in Smith, and this series might just be the turning point of the 25-year-old’s Test career. He hit a hundred in the first innings of each Test, with a best of 192 at Melbourne. Smith’s tally of 769 is now the best ever by an Australian in a series against India, going past the 715 runs scored by none other than Donald Bradman in 1947-48. He now has eight hundreds in 26 Tests, while Kohli has ten in 33 Tests.

  Irrespective of the nature of the pitches, the superlative efforts of these two young potentially great batsmen deserve to be applauded. Home openers David Warner (427) and Chris Rogers (417) also made hay, with the former kick-starting the series with a rip-roaring 145 at Adelaide and the latter scoring six consecutive fifty-plus scores, though he could not reach to a hundred.

  There were very few good individual bowling performances in the series. Two of them stand out – Lyon’s match-winning 12/286 at Adelaide, where he exploited a final-day pitch to its maximum advantage with his off-spin, and Johnson’s equally vital four-wicket burst in the second innings at the Gabba. Before that spell, Johnson had crashed a counter-attacking 88 from number eight. Riled by Indian fielders when he came out to bat with his side in trouble, Johnson gave it back to them with one of the best all-round displays of his career.

zzsmith     Replacing the injured Michael Clarke as Australia’s captain, Steven Smith scored 769 runs at 128.16 and was named Man of the Series (source – sports.ndtv.com)

  The series had its fair share of on-field verbal duels, most notably between Johnson and Kohli. Before the series began, one would have expected the cricket to be played in a healthy spirit in the wake of Phillip Hughes’ tragic death, but that was not to be. The home side could not deliver their promise in this regard. Aggression from certain players does work in their favour, but tasteless comments on the field can well be avoided. One needs to draw the line at some point and realise that millions of people across the world are watching the unruly antics.

  Had it not been for India’s disappointing bowling, they might have had a chance to win a Test or two. Australia hammered totals in excess of 500 in each of their first innings, and to their credit, the Indians scored more than 400 in each of their corresponding first innings. But the bowlers left a lot to be desired.

  Mohammed Shami finished decently with 15 wickets but could not deliver when it mattered. Ravi Ashwin, Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma all leaked runs heavily. Varun Aaron came into the series with confidence, but was wayward enough to render his pace impotent. The only bowler from both sides to take more than 15 wickets was Lyon, who finished with 23 scalps at 34.82.

  The only bowler to average less than 30 was the debutant Josh Hazlewood, who impressed with 12 wickets at 29.33 while also maintaining a tight economy rate. Even the much-feared Johnson had an ordinary return, save for his match-winning spell at Brisbane. It was a struggle for bowlers, and in the end Australia triumphed because they had a better bowling attack and also because they were much more suited to bowl in their home conditions.

  With the conclusion of this series, the 2014-15 Test season has come to an end. Australia, who were possibly expected to win the series by a higher margin, will be satisfied with the regaining of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy after enduring a torrid time against Pakistan in the UAE. India, though they could not win a match, will look at the positive side of not repeating the whitewash suffered in 2011-12. At the same time, they must be ruing the missed opportunities in the two Tests they lost.

  The unsavoury incidents on the field did mar the series a bit, especially since it was slated to be a tribute to Hughes. However, Australia did win the series for their departed mate, and the respect paid to Hughes throughout the series by their batsmen on reaching a score of 63 struck a poignant note. A commemorative plaque was also unveiled in his honour at the SCG, the venue where he played his last innings.

  It has been a highly emotional summer of cricket in Australia, which will culminate in the final of the eleventh ICC World Cup on 29th March. The spotlight has shifted to ODI cricket, as all teams are now gearing up for what promises to be an exciting and possibly the most open World Cup tournament ever.

  As for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the next edition will take place in India in 2016-17. Will Australia be able to exorcise the demons of their 2012-13 defeat? Australia last won a Test in India back in 2004-05, while India last won a Test in Australia in 2007-08. An interesting question has arisen – which of the two teams will first win an overseas Test against the other in the near future? Only time will tell.

VIEWPOINT – Wellington victory exhibits Black Caps’ new-found resolve

  For the second time in less than a year, the Basin Reserve was witness to an astounding fightback by a tenacious New Zealand side. Finding themselves in another backs-to-the-wall situation, the Black Caps produced one of the best performances in their history to win the series against Sri Lanka.

  Last February, captain Brendon McCullum and wicketkeeper Bradley-John Watling had combined to add a record 352 runs for the sixth wicket to guide New Zealand – who were staring at certain defeat – to a scarcely believable draw against India, a result which sealed the series in their favour.

  In honour of this feat, a plaque was laid at the Basin Reserve on 2nd January this year. Little did they know that the record would be bettered just four days later at the same venue.

  Against Sri Lanka, New Zealand were in a very similar situation to the one they faced against India. Just like last year, they were inserted on a green-top. After getting dismissed for a below-par 221, their fast bowlers had Sri Lanka on the mat at 78/5.

  Kumar Sangakkara then produced a glorious innings of 203 which gave his team a real chance to square the series. Trailing by 135 on the first innings, New Zealand slipped to 159/5 in the second session of the third day. Effectively they were five down for 24, with more than seven sessions still remaining.

  At this juncture, Watling – who is arguably the pluckiest Test cricketer in the world at the moment – joined Kane Williamson in the middle. Ever since he scored a hundred on Test debut four years ago, Williamson has been touted to be a future New Zealand legend. Just 24 years of age, he can possibly go on to become the country’s greatest ever batsman. This was a ripe scenario for him to live up to that billing. And he could not have asked for a better partner than Watling.

New Zealand v Sri Lanka - 2nd Test: Day 4    Another one for the record books – Kane Williamson (left) and B.J Watling both made career-best scores as they stitched a record partnership (source – pakistantoday.com.pk)

  Over the course of the next 111.3 overs, Williamson (242*) and Watling (142*) went on to instill a feeling of deja vu in the Wellington crowd. Not only did they break the record by churning out an unbeaten 365 for the sixth wicket, but they also scored the runs at a pace good enough for McCullum to declare late on the fourth day.

  On the final day, the stunning turnaround was complete as the bowlers, led by the ever-improving off-spinner Mark Craig, secured a 193-run victory which will undoubtedly one of the sweetest experienced by New Zealand. It has been a rare dream run for New Zealand since the last one and a half years, a period during which they have won four and drawn two of the six series played.

  This team has the capability to better the feats of the class of the 1980s, when the side boasted of the likes of Richard Hadlee, Martin Crowe, John Wright and Ewen Chatfield. In 1985-86, New Zealand attained the peak of their cricketing prowess when they won back-to-back three-match series against Australia – a 2-1 victory away and a 1-0 success at home.

  New Zealand are scheduled to play home and away series against Australia in the 2015-16 season as well. On current form, it will be no surprise if they manage to emulate the feat of their countrymen achieved thirty years ago. Under McCullum, the team has discovered a zeal for the longest format seldom seen in recent times. Be it the memorable series win against India, the thumping series-levelling win against Pakistan in the UAE or the whitewash of Sri Lanka, the Black Caps have shown great resilience in bouncing back from sticky situations.

  Never before had New Zealand recorded five Test match wins in a calendar year before they did it in 2014. In that year alone, they bettered the national record for the highest team total twice, first scoring 680/8 against India at Wellington and then surpassing it with 690 against Pakistan at Sharjah later in the year.

  Players like Craig, Tom Latham and James Neesham have eased into Test cricket with weighty performances. The batting is no longer dependent on Ross Taylor – the brilliance of McCullum and the consistency of Williamson has made the middle-order stronger than ever before.

  In January 2013, discord in the team coupled with poor displays on the field had left New Zealand reeling at the eighth position in the Test rankings. The lowest point came against South Africa at Cape Town where they were shot for 45 in the first innings.

zcalp       The Black Caps celebrate after beating Sri Lanka in the second Test at Wellington to win the series 2-0 (source – radionz.co.nz)

  The first signs of renaissance came when they held England to a 0-0 draw at home a couple of months later. The win against India last year confirmed that they were indeed becoming a force to reckon with, and today, the massive improvement is testified by the jump to the fifth spot in the rankings. Only five points now separate the Black Caps and third-placed England.

  Besides the initiative shown by the batsmen, another chief factor in New Zealand’s recent surge has been the presence of a world-class pace battery. Tim Southee and Trent Boult are arguably New Zealand’s most formidable pair of fast bowlers ever, and their propensity to generate appreciable swing makes them dangerous both at home and overseas.

  Neil Wagner and Doug Bracewell – star of the famous Hobart win in 2011-12 – add great variety to the attack. And we have not even mentioned the exciting trio of limited-overs pacemen, namely Mitchell McClenaghan, Matt Henry and Adam Milne.

  It is heartening to see the current state of New Zealand’s Test team and also the way they go about their business in an unassuming manner. In ODI cricket too, they have put together an efficient side which, as co-hosts, has a wonderful chance to create history by winning the World Cup for the first time this year. The public has begun to warm up to the Black Caps due to their Test performances, but a World Cup win can take the interest in the game to another level altogether.

  For a sport which has always been overshadowed by the mass appeal of rugby union, cricket in New Zealand has historically had to be content with a limited player pool. Hence, the relative riches at present are a strong indication that things can only get better from here on.

  Credit needs to be given to head coach Mike Hesson and bowling coach Shane Bond for transforming the side into a resourceful unit. The gumption New Zealand have shown of late and the meaningful contributions by all the team members at various times is evidence of the cohesiveness and camaraderie in the Black Caps camp.

For the benefit of international cricket, it would be great if New Zealand go further up the ladder and become a world-beating force in the next few years.

  And if the Wellington victory is anything to go by, the best days in New Zealand’s cricket history may just be around the corner.