The eleventh edition of the cricket World Cup drew to a close with the two best teams of the tournament contesting the final in front of a record crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Michael Clarke’s Australians proved to be too strong for Brendon McCullum’s New Zealanders on the big day as they cruised to a comprehensive seven-wicket victory. Australia now have won five World Cup titles – each of them remarkably coming in a different continent.
The last 44 days saw many memorable moments that shaped cricket’s premier limited-overs event. While it was undoubtedly a batting-oriented tournament, there was no dearth of quality bowling displays. Eventually, the teams with better bowling resources were the most successful.
As yet another World Cup rolls into history, let us look back and relive the matches and moments that defined the tournament.
The six best matches
6) Bangladesh v England at Adelaide
The Tigers roared into the quarterfinals with a determined performance which embarrassingly knocked out England with a match still to go.
Bangladesh were rescued from a worrisome 99/4 by a fine maiden hundred from Mahmudullah, who scored 103 off 138 balls. He shared a fifth-wicket stand of 141 with Mushfiqur Rahim (89) to shift the momentum towards his team. The final total read a competitive 275/7.
England were in the contest at 121/2 in 26 overs, but Rubel Hossain’s double-strike jolted them. Jos Buttler (65) tried his best but Bangladesh kept up the pressure with regular scalps. Rubel (4/53) ended it all by taking two wickets in three balls as England were bowled out for 260 in 48.3 overs.
5) Ireland v UAE at Brisbane
Shaiman Anwar’s 106 from number six and his seventh-wicket partnership of 107 with Amjad Javed shepherded UAE from 131/6 to 278/9. The last 15 overs brought a massive 146 runs.
Ireland made a cautious start and stuttered to 97/4 at the halfway stage. Gary Wilson put his hand up and shared partnerships of 74 with Andrew Balbirnie for the fifth wicket and 72 in just six overs with Kevin O’Brien (50 off 25 balls) for the sixth wicket.
When Wilson was out for 80 from 69 balls, Ireland still needed 12 to win from 15 balls. The tail however held their nerve and ensured a tense two-wicket win with four balls to spare.
4) Ireland v Zimbabwe at Hobart
Ireland kept their cool to eke out a last-gasp five-run win with three balls remaining in a see-sawing high-scorer. This win enabled them to stay alive in the competition whereas Zimbabwe got knocked out.
Ireland piled up 331/8 after batting first, with Ed Joyce (112) and Andrew Balbirnie (97) doing the bulk of the scoring through a 138-run third-wicket stand. Zimbabwe needed to chase down the highest total in World Cup history in order to win.
Zimbabwe slipped to 74/4 in the 17th over, but Brendan Taylor (121) and Sean Williams (96) staged gallant fightback through a 149-run stand for the fifth wicket. It all came down to seven runs needed off the last over, where Alex Cusack (4/32) took the last two wickets to break Zimbabwean hearts.
3) Afghanistan v Scotland at Dunedin
Afghanistan won their first ever World Cup match with a thrilling one-wicket victory. After Afghanistan elected to field, pacemen Shapoor Zadran (4/38) and Dawlat Zadran (3/29) combined to bowl out Scotland for 210.
In reply, Afghanistan were in control at 85/2 in the 19th over with Javed Ahmadi and Samiullah Shenwari in the middle, but the former’s dismissal for 51 triggered a sensational collapse of five for 12 in five overs as the score slid to 97/7.
But Shenwari was still there and he added crucial runs with the tail. He was ninth out for 96 with 19 runs needed off 19 balls. The last pair of Hamid Hassan and Shapoor managed to hang on and complete the win with three balls left, leading to emotional scenes.
2) New Zealand v Australia at Auckland
This was another low-scorer which ended in a classic finish. Australia were cruising along at 80/1 in the 13th over after batting first when Daniel Vettori removed Shane Watson to turn the game around.
The middle-order then stunningly caved in to the pace and swing of Trent Boult (5/27) as the score went from 80/1 to 106/9 in just nine overs. Australia were eventually bowled out for 151 in 32.2 overs.
In reply, Brendon McCullum’s quick 50 guided New Zealand to 79/2 in only eight overs. But Mitchell Starc (6/28) ripped through the batting to reduce the score from 131/4 to 146/9. It was left to Kane Williamson to strike the winning six and seal a relieved victory for the hosts with 26.5 overs unused.
1) New Zealand v South Africa at Auckland
This first semifinal was arguably the best match of the tournament and will also go down as one of the best ODI matches ever played. New Zealand prevailed in an epic finish which enabled them to make their first World Cup final.
South Africa were soon 31/2 after batting first, but recovered through an anchoring innings from Faf du Plessis (82). After a sluggish first 30 overs, du Plessis and skipper A.B de Villiers (65) began to explode. A rain interruption after the 38th over meant that the match was reduced to 43 overs-a-side.
South Africa finished with 281/5, thereby setting New Zealand a revised target of 299. Brendon McCullum (59 off 26 balls) launched a stunning assault to lay the platform. His dismissal led to a mini wobble from 71/0 to 149/4. But Grant Elliott (84* off 73) and Corey Anderson put on 103 for the fifth wicket.
When Anderson was out for 58, New Zealand needed 47 from the last five overs. South Africa began to wilt under the pressure as they committed several fielding lapses. The last over began with 12 needed. With five needed off two balls, Elliott struck Dale Steyn for a six to seal a four-wicket victory.
The six best moments
6) Ireland defeating the West Indies
Ireland signalled their intent with an authoritative victory over the West Indies in their opening game at Nelson. The world’s leading Associate nation clinically chased down a total of 304/7 to throw open Group B.
Paul Stirling (92), Ed Joyce (84) and Niall O’Brien (79*) ensured that the total was chased down with as many as 25 balls remaining. Most importantly, the win was not treated as an upset; in fact, many were expecting the Irishmen to win.
With this win, Ireland reaffirmed their status as the torchbearers of the Associate world and sent a strong reminder to the hypocrites at the ICC who have decided for a ten-team ‘World Cup’ in 2019.
5) Daniel Vettori’s one-handed catch
The recently-retired Daniel Vettori had a highly satisfying tournament, in which he picked up 15 wickets at 20.46. But his personal highlight came not as a bowler, but as a fielder.
New Zealand had amassed a mammoth 393/6 in the quarterfinal against the West Indies at Wellington, but the Windies batsmen had got off to a decent start and were placed at 80/2 after nine overs. Marlon Samuels was on strike as Trent Boult began the tenth over.
Samuels clouted the first ball towards the stands and it did seem like it was going to sail over. But he had reckoned without Vettori, who leapt high and out of nowhere pulled off a one-handed screamer at deep point. The crowd roared and his team-mates were animated, but Vettori himself remained as calm as he could be.
4) Hamid Hassan’s unique celebration
With his country’s colours painted on his face and on the headband around his forehead, Afghan fast bowler Hamid Hassan was one of the reasons why the World Cup was enjoyable to watch.
In the group match against Sri Lanka at Dunedin, Hassan provided one of the most heartwarming moments of the tournament after he got the prized wicket of Kumar Sangakkara.
Hassan crashed through Sangakkara’s defence to reduce Sri Lanka, who were chasing 232, to 18/3 and expressed his joy with a delightful cartwheel. While the cartwheel might not have been perfect, it signified how much it meant for Hassan and the Afghans.
3) Wahab Riaz v Shane Watson
The stirring duel between Wahab Riaz and Shane Watson in the quarterfinal at Adelaide will remain one of the most talked-about points of the tournament.
It all began when Watson, fielding in the slips, sledged Riaz by asking ‘are you holding a bat?’ when the latter came out to bat during Pakistan’s innings. A few minutes later, Riaz also had an exchange with Mitchell Starc who was trying to rub it in along with a few others.
With Australia set a modest 214 to win, a fired-up Riaz gave it back to Watson in a hair-raising manner. In one of the most mesmerising spells seen in recent times, Riaz made Watson duck, sway and scamper for survival. Riaz was already on song – having got rid of David Warner and Michael Clarke – when Watson came out to bat.
His very first ball to Watson was a short one and then followed it up with a barrage of snorters. However, Watson was lucky to be dropped when on 4, following which Wahab lost his intensity. He remained unbeaten on 64 to guide Australia to victory, but that little passage of play was certainly the highlight of the game.
2) Grant Elliott and the spirit of cricket
In the epic semifinal at Auckland, New Zealand and South Africa were both gunning for a place in the summit clash,something which neither team had done before.
After a hard-fought tussle, it was New Zealand who emerged on the winning side, holding out for a heart-stopping four-wicket triumph with a ball to spare. The star of the show was Grant Elliott, who scored 84* and struck the winning six off Dale Steyn.
As a crestfallen Steyn slumped on the pitch, Elliott put his joy aside for a while and reached out his hand to the bowler in a touching show of commiseration. It was a wonderful moment that captured the very essence of sport.
1) Shapoor Zadran’s victory dash
Qualifying for the World Cup was a fairy-tale in itself for the Afghans, who fought all odds to rise from refugee camps to the world’s biggest stage.
The dream reached its zenith amidst the serene environs of Dunedin’s University Oval, where Afghanistan beat Scotland in a gripping finish to win their first World Cup match. When last man Shapoor Zadran strode out to bat, Afghanistan – chasing 210 – still needed 19 to win from as many balls.
The long-haired Shapoor and fellow tailender Hamid Hassan managed to steadily whittle down the target and eventually it was Shapoor – who had earlier taken 4/38 – who hit the winning boundary in the final over.
As soon as he realised it, he took off his helmet and made a dash to a corner of the ground. He knelt down and looked skywards, with his hands spread out wide, as his team-mates converged on him. There was emotion, there was delirium, there was gratitude. It was a moment for the ages.