Big tournaments across various sports are fraught with stories of heroes and chivalrous performances from teams. Yet, embedded between those majestic tales are unforgettable episodes of angst and anguish from those whose journey to glory is cut short mid-way. The Cricket World Cup, the first edition of which was played in 1975 has seen quite a few harrowing moments resulting in crestfallen teams making an unceremonious exit from the tournament. Here we list out ten of the most heart-wrenching moments of all:
1. England fall agonizingly short in the 1987 World Cup final
Mike Gatting is unquestionably a hero. But his larger than life image took a massive dent in the 1987 World Cup finals when his horrendous shot selection cost England the finals against Australia at Kolkata. Australia had put together 253 in the first innings, buoyed by David Boon’s 75. A daunting target against a formidable attack swayed England’s way after Mike Gatting and Bill Athey put on a 69-run stand for the third wicket.
The assurance that the partnership gave made England firm favourites until a brainfade from Gatting swung the game Australia’s way. The England batsman attempted a reverse sweep off part-timer Allan Border only to be caught behind for 41. Ian Chappell called the shot a ‘brain lock’ while Border was just glad Gatting had messed up.
“I hadn’t seen many reverse sweeps up until that point,” Border had told cricket.com.au recalling Mike Gatting’s unorthodox shot. “Gatt [Gatting] was a good exponent of it [reverse sweep] – but not on this particular day,” he added.
2. The rain-rule that terminated South Africa’s maiden World Cup journey
South Africa’s return to cricket after Apartheid proved to be a memorable one as they surged to the semi-finals of their maiden World Cup in 1992. A sprightly fielding unit and a sharp bowling attack powered the Proteas to the semi-finals where they were to take on England.
England reached 252/6 in a rain-interrupted game after being put in to bat by Kepler Wessels. South Africa lost wickets as they looked to start with a bang but found enough firepower to challenge the total in the end. After 42.5 overs, they had made 231/6 with 22 needed in 13 balls. A 12-minute rain break saw overs being cut and the rain rule existing then meant that the least productive overs of the opposition had to be cut.
When South Africa and England came back onto the field, the equation was an impossible 21 runs to win from one ball. The controversial moment broke South African hearts and led to an outcry over the rain rule which was completely unfair and later changed.
3. India’s exit that fans couldn’t digest in 1996
Some poor batting and a truly angered crowd led to one of the most controversial matches in World Cup history. Neighbours India and Sri Lanka faced off in the semi-finals of the 1996 World Cup at Eden Gardens and the game turned out to be a one-sided affair with the home team collapsing like a pack of cards.
Sri Lanka made 251/8 after being put in to bat by Mohammad Azharuddin but India fought back in the run-chase with Sachin Tendulkar at his flamboyant best. Alongside Sanjay Manjrekar, Tendulkar put on 90 for the second wicket and India were firm favourites in the chase at this point.
However, the game turned on its head when Tendulkar was stumped off Sanath Jayasuriya’s left-arm orthodox bowling. It paved the way for an unexpected collapse as India went from 98/1 to 120/8. The enraged crowd threw bottles onto the ground and set the stands on fire. Though the match referee attempted to pacify the crowd, the efforts went in vain and the match had to be awarded to Sri Lanka. It was a heart-breaking moment for the Indian side which had developed a bad habit of fumbling in big matches in the nineties.
4. Richie Richardson’s lonely battle that ended in vain
Each and every one of 1996’s World Cup knockout matches was a treat but the cream of the lot was perhaps the rather unfancied semi-final between Australia and West Indies at Mohali. Dented by Curtly Ambrose and Ian Bishop early, Australia were tottering at 15/4 when Stuart Law and Michael Bevan combined in a 138-run stand. A final flourish helped them to 207, which was still below par.
West Indies were cruising in the run-chase at 165/2 in 41 overs when their batsmen started committing hara-kiri en masse. From 165/2, they went to 187/7 and 202/9 with skipper Richie Richardson waging a lonely battle. He was on 49 off 123 balls and remained West Indies’ sole hope. With six needed in four balls, Richardson badly needed strike but Walsh went for an ill-advised slog, played all around it and was cleaned up by Fleming for a golden duck. West Indies fell agonizingly short of a berth in the finals and had no one but themselves to blame.
"It was a nerve-wracking time in the dressing room, given Courtney's [Walsh] reputation with the bat. We were just hoping he would stay at the other end and bat time. He's always nervous when he has a bat in his hand," Ian Bishop later reminisced the dressing room atmosphere on that day.
Mark Waugh later wrote in his autobiography about the match — "How the bloody hell did we win that?"
5. South Africa’s epic mess up in the 1999 World Cup semis
If West Indies’ 1996 screw up isn’t talked about more, it is only because of an even bigger capitulation by the South Africans at Edgbaston. The match earned Proteas the ‘chokers’ tag as they went from a position of strength to eventually scrape through with a tie, but it wasn’t enough to stop them from being knocked out of the tournament.
Some exceptional bowling had seen the Proteas tie up Australian batsmen and the eventual total of 213 seemed quite achievable for a strong South African batting line-up. They got off to a great start until Shane Warne interrupted their surge. At 61/4, the chase had derailed but Jacques Kallis and Jonty Rhodes put on 84 for the fifth wicket.
The equation got tougher after the partnership was broken but Klusener, the unassailable player of the tournament, kept them in the hunt. With 9 needed off the final over and one wicket remaining, Klusener hit Damien Fleming for boundaries off the first two balls. With scores level, Donald at the non-striker’s end took off for a single off the third ball hit to mid-off. Klusener sent him back then but off the next ball, it was him who hared down the track for another non-existent run.
Donald didn’t run this time but Klusener kept running. Eventually, the no.11 took off too late, dropped his bat on the way and watched agonizingly as the Aussies celebrated the run-out. With Australia having won the Super Six game between the two sides, South Africa needed a win to qualify but had only tied the match leading to their ouster.
6. India’s dream run in 2003 ended by Ponting special
India in the World Cup finals was a dream that several fans had seen go unfulfilled in the 90s, the era of Sachin Tendulkar’s rise. But they were overjoyed when Sourav Ganguly led his men into the finals of the 2003 event in South Africa driven by Tendulkar’s 669 runs in 10 matches. Though they had to face off with defending champions, Australia, who were a raging outfit in the tournament, India’s chances weren’t bordering impossible until that man, Ricky Ponting, put on an exhibition at Johannesburg. His 140 drove Australia to an imperious 359 after Ganguly put them into bat.
Indian fans weren’t prepared to throw in the towel yet but they had to accept their fate as Sachin Tendulkar top-edged Glenn McGrath back to the bowler in the very first over of the run-chase. India kept losing wickets at regular intervals and despite a valiant 82 from Virender Sehwag, they were never really in the contest and lost by a whopping 125 runs, sinking the Indian contingent into despair.
7. Shaun Pollock’s mathematical goof up
World Cups are incomplete until South Africa commit an act of lunacy in the knockout stages, but 2003 saw a goof up on an entirely different level. In a home World Cup, the Proteas were firm favourites given the kind of talent they had at their disposal. Yet, they found themselves behind the eight ball after losses to West Indies and New Zealand. In a do-or-die group match against Sri Lanka, South African skipper, Shaun Pollock, misread the D/L calculation which saw his side bow out of the tournament.
Sri Lanka had a respectable 268 runs on board after the first innings and South Africa were well on course for a win until Herschelle Gibbs and Boeta DIppenaar were dismissed off successive deliveries. Pollock and Mark Boucher took South Africa close but rain intervened the proceedings shortly after Pollock was dismissed. With 46 from 32 to win, Boucher hit Muralitharan for a six to apparently take South Africa past the par D/L total. He defended the last ball before play was suspended assuming South Africa were above by calculations.
However, Pollock had messed up the D/L calculation when conveying to Boucher and South Africa were actually only level with the par score on D/L. Rain continued to pour down and South Africa’s home World Cup ended in the group stage as the match ended in a tie.
8. After much anticipation, India make first round exit in 2007
The runners-up tag from 2003 and a strong squad made India firm favourites alongside Australia for the 2007 edition of the World Cup. They had quite a few experienced veterans at the peak of their game and were expected to do well, if not bring the trophy back home. However, an upset loss to Bangladesh in the first match of the tournament, crushed India’s hopes. They beat Namibia convincingly but had to beat Sri Lanka to qualify to the next stage.
In the must-win encounter, Sri Lanka made 254 batting first and then choked India with spin. Under pressure to win the match, India bungled up the run-chase, losing wickets at regular intervals. They were eventually bowled out for 186 and made a shock exit from the World Cup in the group stages. The unsuccessful campaign, however, sparked reforms in the team for the 2007 World T20 which India went on to win under MS Dhoni.
9. South Africa’s Eden Park tragedy
After playing in six World Cups until 2015, South Africa had never won a knockout game until they thrashed Sri Lanka in the quarter-finals at Sydney in the 2015 event. Though New Zealand had won all their games at home in the World Cup, South Africa at Eden Park, basking in the glory of a first knockout win, were tough opponents.
They proved as much as de Villiers slammed a 45-ball 65 and David Miller chipped in with an 18-ball 49 despite rain interrupting proceedings. They lost seven overs and made 281 with New Zealand set a revised target of 298 to win in 43 overs. South Africa seemed well set for a 300-plus total and so the D/L revised target seemed favourable to New Zealand.
Some good bowling brought the game down to the wire but with 12 needed from six balls and Grant Elliott on 77, the game was in the balance. Dale Steyn bowled well in the final over and despite conceding a four to Daniel Vettori, the equation read five for New Zealand to win from two balls when Elliott thumped Steyn over long-on for a maximum to end South Africa’s hopes. The anguish and despair of Proteas players who sunk to the field crying makes for an everlasting image in World Cup memorabilia.
10. Bangladesh overwhelm England in 2015
A vibrant Bangladesh team chucked a mediocre England ODI team out of the 2015 World Cup in the group stages of the competition. A century from Mahmudullah had taken Bangladesh to 275 in their quota of overs at Adelaide in the group match against England. From 99/4, a 141-run partnership between Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah took Bangladesh to a total from where they could dictate terms to England.
Bangladesh’s seamers then toyed with the English batsmen, taking wickets at regular intervals, to peg them back. Fighting knocks knock from Jos Buttler – a savage 52-ball 65 – and Chris Woakes – 42 from 40 balls – couldn’t stop them from finishing 15 runs short. It signalled the end of an embarrassing World Cup campaign for England and arguably proved to be the impetus behind their monstrous transformation in the format since then.
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