Once every four years, the cricket world comes together for a month (plus change) of enthralling, exhilarating, encapsulating action. Okay, not all of it is necessarily edge-of-the-seat material, especially in recent editions, that have been plagued by formats considered by some to be too long, or too lop-sided. But irrespective of the tournament duration, or the number of teams, every World Cup has been replete with some absolutely jaw-dropping moments and storylines.
From upsets to boycotts, and records to even a murder investigation, cricket’s quadrennial celebration has often been a theatre of the bizarre. Here’s a selection of 10 of the most extraordinary of those moments.
The Run That Wasn’t, South Africa vs Australia, 1999
How can any list around the World Cup not begin with the most astounding singular moment ever witnessed in the limited-overs game? If you’re a ‘90s kid (or anything senior to that), you’ve probably seen re-runs and re-runs of those re-runs for the last two decades. Unless, of course, you happen to be from South Africa.
A target of 214 came down to 9 off the final over with one wicket in hand. But Lance Klusener, the Man of the Tournament (more than just the award that came his way at the end), was at the crease, and on strike. First two balls from Damien Fleming, two crunched fours through the off-side, and the Proteas were one run away from their maiden World Cup final.
Klusener and Allan Donald contrived to have a brain-fade the very next ball, but survived a run-out. The next ball, they weren’t as lucky. Klusener set off for the single, Donald didn’t; it is believed in some parts that an alternate timeline version of Klusener is still running into nothingness. Australia progressed to Lord’s after the first – and thus far only – tied game in a World Cup knockout…
When Gibbs ‘Dropped The World Cup’, South Africa vs Australia, Super Six, 1999
…that’s because the previous meeting between these teams at the same edition, just four days earlier at Headingley, had seen another moment (read: gaffe) archived in World Cup history.
The South Africans were already assured a semi-final berth heading into their final Super Six clash, but for Australia, this was an effective quarter-final, with victory required to stay alive in the competition. Captain Steve Waugh – all of one ODI hundred in 241 innings prior to the day – had walked in at 48/3 in a run-chase of 271, and had worked his way to 56 off 52 when he flicked one straight to Herschelle Gibbs at midwicket off Lance Klusener. Gibbs’ premature celebration proved fatal; Waugh’s second ODI ton saw Australia over the line, and that would become the tie-breaker in the unlikely eventuality that transpired a few days later at Edgbaston.
22 off 13 becomes 22 off 1, South Africa vs England, Semi-Final, 1992
Since we’re talking bizarre at the World Cup, let’s just have a South African hat-trick right at the top and get the Proteas heartache over with?
Making their first appearance at the global stage, shortly after seeing their international ban for apartheid lifted, South Africa did what former champions West Indies, India and Australia couldn’t, and made it to the knockout stage. In the semis, they came up against England, and their chase of 253 at the SCG was headed to a tense climax when rain interrupted proceedings.
22 were needed off 13 balls when play paused; when it resumed, via the controversial (and fortunately immediately-abandoned) rain rule, the South Africans were left requiring 22 off one.
It began a theme of recurring – and thus far unending – heartbreaks for the rainbow nation at the big event.
Leverock defies gravity, Bermuda vs India, 2007
Dwayne Leverock was (perhaps still is) a heavy-duty character. He was a quite jovial figure for a jail officer by profession; his frame, to be polite, was among the larger ones ever seen in the game.
Leverock was part of a Bermuda team that didn’t set anything to fire on their first and only World Cup appearance in the West Indies in 2007, but for one moment towards the start of their then record-breaking defeat to India, Leverock shook the tournament.
Weighing nearly 20 stones – or roughly 125 kg – the 35-year old dove miraculously to his right and plucked a one-hander out of thin air at first slip to get rid of Robin Uthappa in the second over of the clash at Trinidad. The moment was iconic enough to see him named Sports Personality of the Year and Athlete of the Year in Bermuda; a picture of the same is framed in his living room.
‘Superman’ Jonty derails Inzy, South Africa vs Pakistan, 1992
From a gravity-defying act from the unlikeliest of sources to one from the likeliest. Cricket has rarely seen a livewire on the field to match up to Jonty Rhodes, and if a single moment could picture his potential in and around the 30-yard circle, this was it.
A rain-curtailed South Africa-Pakistan tie at Brisbane seemed headed for a nail-biting finish, with Pakistan ready to unload their guns at 135/2, needing nearly 10 an over in the final six overs. Inzamam-ul-Haq, then 22, and several stones lighter than Leverock, hared off for a single after tapping the ball just off the square at the Gabba, but was asked to go back by skipper Imran Khan at the other end.
Only seconds had passed, but those seconds were enough for the flash-lightning speed of the young South African who was going to redefine fielding benchmarks in the game. Inzamam, eventually, barely made it to the frame as a flying Jonty took down all three stumps. It also initiated a collapse that saw the Proteas, for once, emerge on the right side of a close encounter at the World Cup.
When Gavaskar fell asleep at Lord’s, India vs England, 1975
We’re going from the fastest act of the World Cup to the slowest of slow crawls imaginable.
It was the first game of the first edition of cricket’s revolution; this was to be to cricket in the ‘70s what T20 became for it in this century. Except no one sent Sunil Gavaskar the script.
Hosts England had walloped their way to 334/4 – comfortably the highest-ever score in ODIs at that point – but in a tournament where batting run rates were to serve as tie-breakers in the event of two teams ending level on points, India’s 'Little Master' produced something even he fails to be able to describe all these years later.
Gavaskar, in what to some was an act of protest (against what? Nobody knows, not even him) batted out the entire 60 overs – 174 balls, to be exact – making 36 runs. According to a report in the Cricketer, Indian fans “were pathetically pleading with him to die fighting”. It was all quite embarrassing, and farcical.
The lights go off at Barbados, Australia vs Sri Lanka, Final, 2007
Speaking of farce, can there ever be anything quite as farcical as the biggest moment of the biggest competition in the game being played out in virtual darkness? Will any sport ever quite manage to trump the logistical disaster that was the final stretch of the 2007 World Cup final?
If you’ve forgotten it – which is what cricket did with the episode in the post-mortem – here’s a reminder.
The summit clash which made Australia the first team to win a hat-trick of world titles was a no-contest virtually all along; Adam Gilchrist had ‘squashed’ Sri Lankan hopes as the Aussies belted 281/4 in 38 overs, and the Lankans were never in the run-chase. They had even accepted defeat when bad light halted play with 63 required off the last three overs with only their tail remaining. But the match officials, God alone knows why, deemed that the 18 remaining balls would have to return to complete the match the following day.
And so, Mahela Jayawardene agreed to send his batsmen back, with Australia agreeing to use only spinners, and it was around near-complete darkness and amid a chorus of boos, that the final of the ninth World Cup meandered to its climax.
Gilchrist: From Swashbuckler to Squash-buckler, Australia vs Sri Lanka, Final, 2007
The first half of that same summit clash had witnessed a much-more acceptable first, at least in the history of World Cup finals.
Adam Gilchrist had gone through a rather quiet tournament, even as the Australian juggernaut rolled on in its most ruthless form. The ‘keeper/opener had 304 runs to his name in 10 matches, with only two half-centuries, ahead of the final. He went ahead and smashed what remains the highest individual score in a World Cup final.
And he did so with a squash ball in hand.
Perturbed by the amount of times his powerful bottom hand was paving the way to avoidable dismissals, Gilchrist tucked in a squash ball into his left glove – the purpose to keep the last few fingers of his left hand away from his batting grip, thereby allowing his top (right) hand to flow freely.
And flow freely it did, as he pummeled 149 off just 104 balls.
EP Instructions feat. Cronje & Woolmer, South Africa vs India, 1999
The late Bob Woolmer was considered by many as the man to helm the next step in cricket coaching; the Englishman wasn’t shy of looking left-field for tactics and innovations to build his teams.
One of his more infamous attempts came to the spotlight when he was overseeing South Africa at the 1999 World Cup.
For their group stage opener, against India at Hove, Woolmer had captain Hansie Cronje walk out for the game with a small earpiece that allowed the coach to transmit instructions and ideas to the skipper during play. It was a move Woolmer had trialled during warm-up games leading up to the competition, but that, quite obviously, didn’t attract attention. This did.
Indian openers Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar brought the ‘intervention’ to the notice of the on-field umpires, who then sought the advice of the match referee, who had to further contact the ICC since the ‘ruling’ on this move wasn’t clear to most.
The South Africans, to be fair to them, had seen that this wasn’t a breach of either tournament regulations or laws of cricket, but the ICC deemed the activity unfair and subsequently banned the use of such devices.
India crash, Eden burns, India vs Sri Lanka, Semi-Final, 1996
The sight of flares going up in the stands, be it in delight or despair, had/has been common to football stadiums over the years. But cricket, the gentleman’s game, played in front of polite audiences? Surely not?
India’s 1996 World Cup semi-final against Sri Lanka was looked at, by many in the country, as the intermission between one pot-boiling winner-takes-all script; Pakistan had been defeated in the quarters, and now the final, and to some, the title was there for the taking.
At 98/1 in a chase of 252, with Sachin Tendulkar in full flow, that partisan thought didn’t appear too out of place. Except the Eden Gardens surface was a slow-cooking raging turner; and the Lankans had enough options to stew it with.
Seven wickets fell for 22 runs within the next hour – the rage had shifted from the track to the stands, and an incensed Kolkata crowd turned to vandalism in their anger. Bottles were thrown on the outfield, seats were set ablaze, and play was forced to a halt.
Match referee Clive Lloyd attempted a restart after a 15-minute break, but to no avail – and a World Cup knockout was handed by default for the first, and thus far only, time.