The countdown is almost over, and so is this three-part look back at quadrennial celebration of cricket.
So far in this ‘History of the World Cup’ series, we’ve entailed what transpired in the first seven editions of the ICC World Cup, from 1975 up to 1999 – in this final chapter, let’s relive the four World Cups witnessed in the 21st century.
2003: Aussie sun towers over Rainbow Nation
As the millennium turned and the world expanded into the Internet age, cricket wasn’t left too far behind. The first World Cup of the 21st century was also the first to comprise of more than 50 matches; with the competition expanded to 14 teams, a total of 54 games were played over the course of 43 days.
Also the first to be staged in the African subcontinent, this edition of the World Cup would also be the first where the game sent a real political message. Zimbabwean stalwarts Andy Flower and Henry Olonga wore black arm-bands to protest the ‘Death of Democracy’ in their country, while England refused to travel to Zimbabwe as their measure of protest against the dictatorial regime of Robert Mugabe.
What didn’t change was the destination of the title – the Australian machinery was rolling into its smoothest gears, and the world wasn’t going to stop them any time soon.
The format from 1999 was carried forward, with one team being added to each pool. Three top-placed teams out of seven from both groups moved into the Super Six, which determined the four semi-finalists. The presence of four Associate Members allowed Canada to return to the competition after 24 years and the Netherlands after eight years, while Namibia made their only World Cup appearance till date.
Chapter one of the Invincibles of the 2000s. Australia’s title triumph in the 1999 was in line with what one comes to expect from world champion units – digging deep into reserves, coming back from the brink, fighting against odds, and emerging triumphant. But in 2003 (and 2007), they redefined the notion of champions, winning every single game of a long campaign.
82 runs, 9 wickets, 75 runs, 7 wickets, 256 runs, 96 runs, 96 runs, 5 wickets, 125 runs. In only two of their 11 victories was the margin less than 50 runs or five wickets.
As was mentioned in the 1999 throwback, the Australian hat-trick also featured a hat-trick of one-sided title bouts. While they had steamrolled Pakistan four years earlier, at Johannesburg in 2003, they walloped an Indian team that had been a very worthy second-best through the competition. Ricky Ponting smashed a supreme 140 not out off 121 balls, as Australia pummeled 359/2. For the second World Cup final running, the game was over at the halfway mark, and India’s reply ended on 234.
Ponting’s blazing returns from the final took him into the top three run-getters for the tournament, but the list was headed by two leading men from the runners-up camp. Sachin Tendulkar’s haul of 673 runs from 11 matches is yet to be bettered by any batsman at a single World Cup, and it won him the Player of the Tournament mantle, more than 200 runs ahead of second-placed Sourav Ganguly (465).
The bowling list was more dominated by the Aussies, with Brett Lee (22) and Glenn McGrath (21) in the top three. But at the top was Chaminda Vaas with 23 strikes from 10 games – three of which came from the first three balls of Sri Lanka’s group stage clash with Bangladesh (Vaas ended with four wickets in that one over, and 6/25 in the game).
There were multiple jaw-dropping acts through the month-and-a-half in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya, and as is expected of any World Cup, the South Africans featured right at the top.
Having begun the campaign slowly, the hosts needed a win in their final Pool B outing against Sri Lanka at Durban to qualify for the Super Sixes. A pulsating encounter was heading to a premature finish due to rain, but when Mark Boucher slapped the penultimate ball of the 45th over, being bowled by Muttiah Muralitharan, for six, the South Africans pumped fists in the dressing room. Boucher’s hit had taken the Proteas to 229/6, which was the par score if the game didn’t continue beyond 45 overs.
A message was sent out in the garb of a quick drink, and Boucher, with the field still quite spread out, dead-batted a defensive stroke off the final delivery, and clenched his own fist. Except they had got the math wrong.
229/6 was the par score – reaching which meant the South Africans were level, and the game was tied. The celebrations inside the dressing room turned into tears in the bat of an eyelid. For the second World Cup running, South Africa had been eliminated after a tied game.
A special mention also to Adam Gilchrist’s ‘walk’ during the semi-final against Sri Lanka, Canadian John Davison’s then-fastest World Cup 100 (off 67 balls, against West Indies), and Canada’s capitulation for 36 against Sri Lanka – the lowest-ever total at World Cups, and the second-lowest in ODI history.
Two Pool A clashes, between two sets of rivals easily the steepest in the game, live on in the memory from 2003.
India-Pakistan cricket ties, while not officially off-the-table as they are today, had started to feel the pinch of geopolitical tensions, and the neighbours hadn’t met each other in 33 months prior to their World Cup rubber at Centurion. Saeed Anwar scored a century, and Sachin Tendulkar missed out on one by two runs; but the latter’s was a knock immortalized, fit to rank among the finest ever played by the Master Blaster, and allowed India to breeze through a potentially tricky chase of 274 against a bowling attack featuring Wasim (Akram), Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar.
England, surprisingly, pushed Australia the hardest of all their 11 games on the road to the title and had their group outing in the bag when they reduced the oldest enemy to 135/8 chasing 205. But Michael Bevan (74*) was at hand to play his final – and possibly most telling – hand in a World Cup game for the Aussies, and he was joined by Andy Bichel, who scored 34 to add to his exploits of 7/20 from the first innings.
2007: An Invincible hat-trick, an inerasable farce
Cricket’s first real attempt at inclusivity would shoot the event so bad it led to its own immediate abandonment. 16 teams were part of a World Cup for the first – and by the looks of it, last – time, as the first stage of the tournament was changed into something more akin to how the FIFA World Cup plays out. But from there on, the format took a turn to the unending, instead of a rapid knockout-based conclusion. Perhaps it would have worked if all the big guns were present.
But India and Pakistan were knocked out, by Bangladesh and Ireland respectively, and Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer was found dead in his hotel room – all this within the first 10 days of the 50-day event.
Australia would stroll to their third successive title, but the final stretch of the World Cup final would be played out in the dark. It was all quite farcical.
10 Test-playing nations plus Kenya were joined by five unranked teams – Scotland, Netherlands, Ireland, Canada and Bermuda – as the World Cup expanded to its largest-ever size. Teams were divided into four groups of four, with the top two from each group going into a Super 8 stage where everyone would meet everyone. After all of that, came the semi-finals and the final.
11 wins out of 11 in 2003 improved to 12 wins out of 12 in 2007, and the domination was only furthered. Australia’s ‘smallest’ margin of victory by wickets was 7, and by runs 53 (that too only in the final, and only due to figures being reduced due to rain).
Ponting’s men were severe on the Associates – wins by margins of 203 runs, 229 runs and 9 wickets – but they never went easy on the supposed big guns either. South Africa were beaten by 83 runs, and then swamped by 7 wickets in the semi-final; New Zealand were thrashed by 215 runs, West Indies by 103. It was an all-conquering unit at its greatest peak.
If it had been a 50-over affair, Sri Lanka would have found it tough to limit Australia to anything lesser than their 359 from four years earlier. The Aussie hat-trick was completed with a hat-trick of summit clash demolitions of Asian countries – after Pakistan and India, Sri Lanka would meet the same fate.
Adam Gilchrist ‘squashed’ the Lankans into submission with the highest score made in World Cup finals (149 off 104 balls), and there was no coming back after conceding 281/4 in 38 overs.
It was an all-Aussie affair, everywhere you went. Matthew Hayden sat atop the run tables with 659, Ricky Ponting was third with 539 (Sri Lanka skipper Mahela Jayawardene sat in the middle with 548).
Australia’s four primary bowlers were among the top-six wicket-takers in the competition, with Nathan Bracken picking up 16 wickets, Brad Hogg 21 and Shaun Tait 23. But the summit belonged to Player of the Tournament Glenn McGrath, who took consistency to celestial levels by returning 26 wickets without a single four-for.
Bob Woolmer’s mysterious death in his hotel room (later proven to be out of natural causes), India and Pakistan’s shock early exits, a never-ending Super 8 stage – the ninth edition of the World Cup was, by some margin, was mostly forgettable.
And the bizarre, sadly (or fittingly), hit its crescendo on the night of the final. The last half-hour or so of the game – which had long since ended as any contest – was played in near darkness in Barbados. The gaffe came from officials of experienced enough ilk such as Steve Bucknor, Aleem Dar, Rudi Koertzen and Billy Bowden. All four, along with match referee Jeff Crowe, were suspended from officiating at the 2007 World T20.
A long, largely irrelevant Super 8 stage did provide a few classics of sorts – but the inconsequential nature of several contests didn’t allow them to linger too long in the memory.
One such game was right at the end of the round, also the final international outing for one Brian Charles Lara. Both West Indies and England had already been eliminated, and Lara himself was run-out for 18. But the game was a humdinger.
West Indies scored a round 300, and fifties from Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen were seeing England sail at 154/2 around the halfway stage. But in a spell of 10-odd overs, the English lost four wickets for 35 runs. Pietersen completed a century to bring his side close, but fell immediately after to leave Paul Nixon with a solo act to carry. He, too, fell in the last over, but the tenth-wicket pair of Stuart Broad and James Anderson pushed and prodded out the final three runs to eke out the narrowest of wins.
2011: Finishing off in style
Over two decades of play-time for the most revered cricketer in modern-day history had not been able to bring with it the Holy Grail. But 19 years after he featured in his first World Cup, and at the sixth – and final – time of asking, Sachin Tendulkar arrived at the Promised Land.
Cricket was coming to its spiritual home, with India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh the co-hosts for the landmark tenth ICC World Cup; the Cup would stay, as India were champions once again after 28 years – the first team to win it at home.
The lessons from 2007 were learnt even before that edition closed out; what was deemed to be the ‘extra fat’ of 16 was trimmed back to 14, and there was to be no ‘Super’ stage whatsoever – a seven-team round-robin, followed by three knockout rounds beginning with the quarter-finals. Scotland and Bermuda were the two teams to miss out from the Class of 2007.
India were the odds-on favourites to make best use of their home conditions and go the distance, but when you have a side that hasn’t lost a World Cup game for 12 years, there are mountains to scale before getting to the mark.
The group stage wasn’t without its flaws – there was a tied game against England, and a loss to South Africa, both of which boiled down to unexpected batting collapses. But by the end, one would realize that this campaign was being played out in the reflection of the skipper – India were positioning themselves to peak at the right time, and they did just that. Triple-defending champions Australia in the quarters, arch-rivals Pakistan in the semis, and the clear second-best Sri Lanka in the final.
Never had a host nation won a World Cup final on home soil. Never had a score of 250+ been chased down in a World Cup final. Never had a World Cup been won with a six.
All three of those boxed were checked on one balmy Mumbai night on 2 April 2011 at the Wankhede Stadium.
Mahela Jayawardene scored one of the most silken hundreds you’ll ever see in a tournament final, and it took Sri Lanka to 274/6 – but it wouldn’t be enough, despite Lasith Malinga giving India the early jitters by sending Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar back cheaply.
Gautam Gambhir played what is likely to remain the finest World Cup final knock to not end in three figures or with a Player of the Final title. That honour, instead, went to his captain, who strode out a spot earlier than usual, demoting Player of the Tournament Yuvraj Singh, in a bid to counter Muttiah Muralitharan on his final international outing.
The ploy worked like a dream, the game was finished off in style like a dream, and India – 1.3 billion plus Sachin Tendulkar – had realized the dream.
The champions were loaded with a star-studded roster, and the big guns did come to the party. Tendulkar was the second-highest run-getter with 482, only 18 shy of Tillakaratne Dilshan. Zaheer Khan shared the bowling podium with Shahid Afridi, both of whom took 21 wickets.
But the true individual champion of the competition was Yuvraj Singh, going further north on his already-exceptional potential as an ODI player with a priceless all-round act: 362 runs at an average of 90 and with five scores above 50, plus 15 wickets at an economy of 5.03 while giving the team a constant fifth bowler – all this while battling the early stages of what would later be identified as cancer.
In a tournament where fellow Associates Canada, Kenya and Netherlands barely made an impression, Ireland stamped themselves as a cut above the chasing pack with arguably the greatest upset in World Cup history – built around, arguably, the most jaw-dropping innings in the history of the competition.
Locking horns with ‘big brothers’ England at Bangalore, the Irish were nowhere in the running at 111/5 in the 25th over facing a 330-run target. Then, a pink-haired all-rounder barely making the cut as an English county cricketer hit the pink of his batting health.
Kevin O’Brien shellacked 113 off 63 balls – bringing up a 50-ball hundred, still the fastest-ever at the World Cup – against an attack comprising James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann. It remains the biggest triumph in ICC Associate Member nation history.
Three nights before their hiding at the hands of the Irish, England, at the same venue, had contested a see-sawing epic against the hosts.
On the back of Tendulkar’s 98th international century, India had looked primed for much more than their eventual 338 all out. But Tim Bresnan took 5/48 as India lost their last eight wickets for 102 runs in a manic last 11.3 overs of their innings.
Andrew Strauss then appeared to be making short weather of the run-chase, hitting a sublime 158 as England reached 281/2 with 45 balls remaining. Then Zaheer Khan removed Ian Bell and Strauss of successive deliveries, and another manic back-end ensued. Graeme Swann and Ajmal Shahzad hit crunch sixes in a crazy climax; eight hours and 599 deliveries failed to separate the sides, and the World Cup got only its fourth tie.
2015: Homecoming, Southern Hemisphere Edition
Possibly the most open World Cup since the turn of the century, and one where even the at-times sleep-inducing round-robin stage provided a thrill a minute.
Co-hosts Australia and New Zealand played out a 19-wicket low-scoring thriller at Auckland, Chris Gayle smashed the first double century in World Cup history, AB de Villiers belted the fastest 150 in all ODIs, Kumar Sangakkara hit an unprecedented four consecutive hundreds and England were knocked out in the opening round by Bangladesh.
Add to that the heart displayed by the likes of Afghanistan and UAE – despite the knowledge that this was going to be the last World Cup with more than 10 teams – and 44 days in the Trans-Tasman flew by before you knew it.
Exactly the same as in 2011, with World Cup debutants Afghanistan, along with Scotland and UAE, replacing Canada, Kenya and Netherlands from the previous edition. The round-robin proved to be more engaging than any earlier edition, and as a result, a spate of largely one-sided knockout games did little to take the sheen away from the last ‘inclusive’ World Cup.
For a record-extending fifth time, Australia. While they weren’t overwhelming favourites the way they had been in their recent triumphs, the Aussies showcased just why they are the kings of the competition, not letting a slip-up against New Zealand in the group stage hamper their progress, and adroitly dealing with tricky challenges against Pakistan and India in the quarters and the semis respectively.
Another Australian appearance in a World Cup final, and another lopsided World Cup final.
New Zealand had been everyone’s favourite through the competition, spiritedly marching into their maiden World Cup final; but on the big day, in front of a packed MCG, their dreams fell short.
Grant Elliott and Ross Taylor were taking them towards safety before James Faulkner changed the course of the final with three wickets in no time – 150/3 in 35 overs turned into 183 all out, and what could have been a competitive total ended up as one that gave a no-contest.
Australian skipper Michael Clarke, playing his last ODI, top-scored as the Aussies crossed the line with seven wickets in hand and nearly 17 overs to spare.
Australia’s bowling spearhead led the wicket-taking charts for the tournament and walked away as the Player of the World Cup. Mitchell Starc finished level with Trent Boult on 22 wickets, but his impact on his team’s results was greater. Umesh Yadav was a surprise third on the bowling podium, with 18 wickets.
With the bat, a series of superstars enjoyed barely-believable campaigns. Sangakkara’s four tons had him leading the scoring pack all along before Martin Guptill blasted a 237 not out against West Indies in the quarter-final to eventually pip a tight battle (547 runs to 541). AB de Villiers waltzed his way to a strong 482-run tally at third spot.
Maybe it’s because it is the most recent memory, but more than a few memories from 2015 are still rather fresh in the mind. Guptill’s record-breaking 237 not out, de Villiers’ stunning assault on West Indies during his 66-ball 162* at Sydney, Afghan celebrations upon the completion of their first-ever win at the World Cup (against Scotland), that Wahab Riaz spell to Shane Watson in the quarter-final… but perhaps the most breath-taking memory was not just a moment, but a match altogether.
Semi-final one, Auckland. One out of the Kiwis and the Proteas was certain to enter their maiden World Cup final. And what a pity, that it could only be one.
Drama, delirium, delight, despair – all the ingredients that make this sport what it is came together in the most riveting pot-boiler of them all.
South Africa made 281/5 in 43 overs, bolstered by de Villiers and Faf du Plessis. Brendon McCullum wanted to finish the chase in 20 overs, and slapped 59 off 26 balls.
But there were still more ebbs and flows to come, and it all came down right to the wire – and that’s not a scenario that plays out too well for South Africa at the World Cup, is it?
Grant Elliott lofted the penultimate ball of the game, with five still needed to win, into the stands and became an instant cult Kiwi hero.
His next act, however, made him a worldwide hero. The image of Elliott lifting a sunken Dale Steyn up and into an embrace was the defining moment of not just a game, but an entire tournament.