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.
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.
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
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 1999 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ugh2D-2MRsM
Watch the West Indies give it away in the 1996 semifinal – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=43N6FWvsTHw