The World Cup is the stage where every cricketer wants to step up and make it count. The careers of some of the greatest to have played the sport have been defined by what they did when the stakes were at its zenith. For an unfortunate few, failure(s) at the biggest stage have corroded otherwise illuminating stints at the top of the game. Whilst for some others, the ability to raise their game during a marquee event has provided a headline act to last a lifetime.
Here’s a look at some players who saved their best for the best – a collection of cricketers who, despite having otherwise a rather modest careers, were able to impact the World Cup with the extraordinary performances.
Lance Klusener (1999, 2003)
ODI Career: 171 matches, 3576 runs, avg. 41.10, S/R 89.91 | 192 wickets, avg. 29.95, econ. 4.70, S/R 38.2
At World Cups: 14 matches, 372 runs, avg. 124.00, S/R 121.17 | 22 wickets, avg. 22.13, econ. 4.82, S/R 27.5
If you manage to average above 40 with the bat and under 30 with the ball over the course of a 171-game career, you ought to be remembered among the higher batches of those who have played in limited overs cricket. But such was Lance Klusener’s stunning command during that English summer of 1999, that there’s little else he’s gauged even after all these years.
To say ‘Zulu’ was the Man of the Tournament and leave it there would be the gravest injustice to a tournament performance witnessed at the World Cup.
Nearly a decade before the T20 boom, Klusener, then 27, gave a glimpse of the future with his destructive batting along with the tail in virtually every South African innings during the 1999 edition.
Sadly, the lasting memory of his exploits is the most painful one when the Proteas 'choked' against Australia in the semi-final n Edgbaston.
But if it wasn’t for Klusener’s English summer of 1999, cricket may have been a very different prospect in the years that followed. And Klusener himself would have been just another one among the hoards of fast-bowling all-rounders produced by South Africa.
Rameez Raja (1987, 1992, 1996)
ODI Career: 198 matches, 5841 runs, avg. 32.09, S/R 63.31, 100s/50s 9/31
At World Cups: 16 matches, 700 runs, avg. 53.84, S/R 64.10, 100s/50s 3/2
For most cricket-watchers among the present generation, Rameez Raja’s identity is that of the voice of Pakistan cricket. But his original claim to fame was that of being the rock at the top of the order for the Cornered Tigers of 1992.
Two of Raja’s three World Cup hundreds came during their successful campaign in Australia and New Zealand, and the second of those might be considered among the most invaluable group stage centuries in World Cup history.
After running New Zealand over for 166 in their must-win league finale at Christchurch, Pakistan lost Aamir Sohail first ball and Inzamam-ul-Haq nine runs later; but Raja’s gritty, unbeaten 119 negated any concerns and took Pakistan through to the knockouts.
The rest is part of cricketing folklore.
'Rambo' scored nearly 12% of his ODI runs and one-third of his centuries in 16 World Cup games; his average outside of World Cups was barely 30, compared to 53.84 at the World Cup.
Brad Hogg (2003, 2007)
ODI Career: 123 matches, 156 wickets, avg. 26.84, econ. 4.51, S/R 35.6, 4w/5w 3/2
At World Cups: 21 matches, 34 wickets, avg. 19.23, econ. 4.12, S/R 27.9, 4w 2
Brad Hogg is an answer to a great pop trivia question: Who was the highest-contributing spin bowler during Australia’s hat-trick of World Cup titles from 1999 to 2007? Distant observers shouldn’t be judged for picking Shane Warne as the answer, however Hogg would be the correct one.
The ‘invincible’ triumphs of 2003 and 2007 saw Hogg hold fort as the sole spinner in the Aussie ranks.
Hogg just didn’t just make up the numbers either. In 2003, a tournament played on pace-friendly tracks in South Africa, the left-arm wrist-spin bowler scalped 13 wickets in 10 games, and was the only spinner other than Muttiah Muralitharan to feature among the top-12 wicket-takers.
He levelled up in West Indies four years later, bagging 21 wickets – still the second-highest haul for any spinner at a World Cup – and finishing fourth on the wicket-taking charts. That included a four-for against New Zealand in the Super 8s, followed by a measly 1/24 in the semi-final against South Africa.
Hogg averaged less than 20 runs per wicket at World Cups; remove that haul, and his career average would shoot up to nearly 29.
Ashish Nehra (2003, 2011)
ODI Career: 120 matches, 157 wickets, avg. 31.72, econ. 5.19, S/R 36.6, 4w/5w 5/2
At World Cups: 12 matches, 18 wickets, avg. 22.72, econ. 4.40, S/R 30.9, 4w/5w 1/1
With 157 wickets, Ashish Nehra ranks eighth among all fast bowlers to have played ODIs for India. His average and economy rate are the second-worst among those eight. But in the two World Cups he played, his skill with the ball made a telling contribution to what remain India’s most successful campaigns post 1983.
One spell from 2003 alone would become the cornerstone to his two-decade long career. Few can forget Nehra razing through the English batting order with his 6/23 at Durban. It still remains the best-ever figures for an Indian at the World Cup, and is part of every highlights reel from the 2003 edition.
In 2011, he returned to the squad after missing out in 2007, but injuries had become an ever-present plague by then, and he could only feature thrice – with a fractured middle finger on his right hand ridding him of a spot in the World Cup final.
As a result, his frugal 2/33 in India’s defense of 260 in the semis against Pakistan, would become his final output in Indian ODI colours.
James Faulkner (2015)
ODI Career: 69 matches, 96 wickets, avg. 30.85, econ. 5.53, S/R 33.4, 4w 4
At World Cups: 6 matches, 10 wickets, avg. 19.70, econ. 4.70, S/R 25.1, 3w 3
Another Aussie who provides a pop quiz stumper from the recent past: Who was the Man of the Match when Australia beat New Zealand to win the 2015 World Cup final?
You’ve got the drill by now.
James Faulkner – who only played 25 further ODIs since then, and is currently nowhere near the plans for Australia's title defense in 2019. Faulkner’s three-wicket burst in the MCG final was as game-changing a moment as any in recent finals.
The Kiwis had recovered from an abysmal start to reach 150/3 in 35 overs. Just as they prepared for a death onslaught, Faulkner returned to dismissed Ross Taylor and Corey Anderson in the 36th, before following up with the scalp of top-scorer Grant Elliott a few overs later.
Faulkner had also claimed a three-for in the semi-final, against India.
The all-rounder’s ODI career, outside of the World Cup, had earned him a better reputation with the bat than with the ball; in front of a roaring home audience, Faulkner delivered the goods with his primary suit to land Australia’s fifth World Cup crown.
Notable Mention: Collis King (1979)
His was a career which could have easily slipped entirely under the radar. He played 18 ODIs, and his international career lasted all of four years.
But on one particular day, Collis King outdid the ‘King’. And that day happened to be a World Cup final.
Viv Richards smashed an unbeaten 138 in the 1979 final where the West Indies beat England. But they had been 99/4 when King (by name) joined King (by game). Over a 139-run stand, the man by name became the game.
King bludgeoned 86 off 66 balls; for a measure of understanding, that was his only half-century in ODIs, more than 2.5 times any other innings he hit, and accounted for 28% of his career runs.