There is no greater stage in world cricket than the World Cup. Stars may be born year in, year out, but this is where legends are created — and haven't we, the cricket fans, had the privilege of witnessing some true gems over the 11 editions, 44-year history of cricket's biggest carnival?
How, then, do you go about limiting an all-time list of the best batting performances down to 10?
We're looking at the ten finest batting performances in the ICC World Cup, and it is one difficult exercise.
Clive Lloyd's majestic 102 in the first final? Viv Richards' sterling century in the second? Martin Crowe's 100 not out to lay down Australia in the 1992 opener? Any of Sachin Tendulkar's six World Cup tons?
None of them make the cut. Do you get a measure of the task now?
Here goes an earnest effort to put together the best knocks at the biggest stage — we're not even attempting to rank these, so let's just relive them in chronological order.
When King Made 'The King' Play Second Fiddle
Collis King's 86 off 66 balls, West Indies vs England, 1979 Final, Lord's
Vivian Richards hit an unbeaten 138 in West Indies' total of 286/8 in the 1979 final against England — but it wasn't the defining innings of the day. Would take something to better the original G.O.A.T. on a day he got going, wouldn't it? That's just what Collis King delivered.
He arrived to the middle, as the last of West Indies' recognised batsmen, with the holders stuttering on 99/4. First ball, four off Ian Botham. And then, on either side of the lunch break, came pure carnage.
For a measure of just how much he dominated proceedings, sample this: When Richards entered the 90s, King was on 48. When King fell, having added 38 to his tally, the 'King' was still in his 90s.
"I scored 138, but it was Collis who came in and took charge", Richards exclaimed many years later. Nuff said.
The greatest knock the world never saw
Kapil Dev: 175* off 138 balls, India vs Zimbabwe, 1983, Tunbridge Wells
That game, which the world — or at least every soul in India — remembers, or has heard of, but no one in the world ever saw.
A BBC strike meant there was no broadcast for what was a must-win game in India's eventually victorious campaign — and what a pity, for it stripped the world of any footage from one of the all-time greatest ODI knocks.
India were 9/4 when their captain walked out at Tunbridge Wells. He'd barely gotten off the mark, and the scorecard read 17/5. What followed was an astonishing passage of one-way traffic which could have easily belonged to the T20 age.
175 undefeated runs off 138 balls, with 16 fours and six sixes. It worked up to 65.78 percent of India's total runs — still the second-highest contribution by a batsman in a completed ODI innings.
India would win the game, and the three subsequent games, and the future of the sport in the country would be changed forever. None of it would have happened if it weren't for one possessed knock, from one possessed man.
A King Vivian classic at Karachi
Vivian Richards: 181 off 125 balls, West Indies vs Sri Lanka, 1987, Karachi
We've missed out on one Richards epic thanks to his own teammate's doing in the 1979 final, but no list of World Cup knocks can be complete without an entry featuring the one of the greatest batsman of the modern era.
West Indies weren't quite the unchallenged force of the 1970s in 50-over cricket anymore, and had been beaten by England in their opener. When Richards strode out to the middle, they had just lost two wickets in two balls.
By his own lofty standards, he took time to settle, reaching 50 off 62 balls. 35 deliveries later, he'd touched triple digits. The worst was still to come for the Lankans. The last 29 balls Richards faced, quite like Kapil Dev's assault four years earlier, were a few decades ahead of his time.
He finished on 181, and could have knocked on the first-ever ODI double century if it weren't for a rare mistimed hit. The West Indies' total of 360/4 would remain the highest in a World Cup game between two Test-playing nations till India hit Sri Lanka for 373 in 1999.
Inzy arrives in time for the cornered Tigers
Inzamam-ul-Haq: 60 off 37 balls, Pakistan vs New Zealand, 1992 S/F, Auckland
When a 22-year-old Inzamam-ul-Haq trudged his way out at Eden Park — Inzamam was suffering from a stomach bug, and had even asked his captain Imran Khan to exclude him from the XI a day earlier — Pakistan's hopes of a maiden World Cup final were quite distant.
At 140/4 in reply to New Zealand's 262/7, Pakistan needed 123 from the final 15 overs — a challenging ask even in today's T20 age, so imagine the odds nearly three decades ago.
He did have Javed Miandad for company at the other end — but for the next hour, the old-warhorse would play second fiddle, as Inzamam smashed the shrewd, military medium attack of the Kiwis to all corners of the ground.
It took a run-out to stop him; not for the first time, not for the last. But he'd made 60 in an 87-run partnership, and Pakistan were left needing 36 from the last five overs. They were home with an over to spare.
Mad Max de Silva's forgotten gem
Aravinda de Silva: 66 off 47 balls, Sri Lanka vs India, 1996 S/F, Kolkata
The lesser proclaimed of the two most important innings in Sri Lankan cricket history, played in successive outings, by the same man.
Aravinda de Silva's unbeaten 107 to make the Lankans world champions is regaled everywhere, but four days prior to the summit clash in Lahore, he had fought, arguably, the tougher fight.
The prospect of facing India, with a Sachin Tendulkar in blazing form, in front of a capacity Eden Gardens crowd, for a spot in their first World Cup final, was daunting enough. When de Silva arrived at the crease, the scoreboard read 1/2 after four balls — Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana, top-order tormentors through the competition, were back in the hut.
Over the next 63 minutes followed a momentum-shifting daze.
Unfazed by the partisan 100,000 crowd, and the buoyant home attack, de Silva stroked 14 boundaries in a 47-ball stay. Number three Asanka Gurusinha had struggled to one run off 16 balls at the other end, but such was de Silva's fleeting-but-fierce control, that Sri Lanka had still reached 85 when he fell to Anil Kumble in the 15th over.
It bought the batsmen following him time to build a score which would prove to be more than enough.
The Iceman's finest hour
Steve Waugh: 120* off 110 balls, Australia vs South Africa, 1999 Super Six, Leeds
Yes, this game was all about the moment which could have had an unimaginable impact on the rest of the tournament. But that shouldn't take away from the knock to which it became the drop of life. To put things in perspective — Steve Waugh had only once scored a century in 241 ODI innings spanning 13 years prior to that day, 14 June 1999, at Headingley.
He had entered the stage, a virtual quarter-final, with his side on 48/3 in reply to a sizeable 271/7 (built, ironically, around a Herschelle Gibbs hundred).
Prior to Gibbs' gift, Waugh had already stroked his way to 56 off 52 balls — this even as Ricky Ponting huffed and puffed to a 110-ball 69. After Ponting's departure, Michael Bevan joined him in the middle. But the 'Iceman' even put the then-finest finisher in the shade, scoring 45 in a stand of 73.
Even Bevan fell, but Waugh stayed put, and took his team over the line. The knock, and the result, would take on gigantic proportions following the events of the next clash between the two sides, four days later.
The Master at his most majestic
Sachin Tendulkar: 98 off 75 balls, India vs Pakistan, 2003, Centurion
Sachin Tendulkar hadn't put too much of a wrong foot in three past World Cup outings against the greatest rival. He was Man-of-the-Match the first time around, in 1992, for a 54, and had scored 31 and 45 in two subsequent clashes.
But on 1 March 2003, as he took to the SuperSport Park in a battle he had envisioned for more than a year, he produced his most masterly creation. India were chasing 274 — 52 more than they had ever successfully chased before in a World Cup game — against a bowling line that read Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, and Shoaib Akhtar.
The arch-rivals hadn't faced off in nearly three years, and the Sachin vs Shoaib contest had been deemed decisive.
In three back-to-back deliveries from the very first over bowled by Akhtar, Tendulkar had blunted the world's fastest bowler. The upper-cut six, the flicked four, the God drive — surely that's pasted in your mental archive too?
India reached 50 in 4.5 overs, and 100 in 11.1 overs. By the time he fell, hamstrung and two short of what would have been his finest ton, India required 97 with nearly half the overs left.
Tendulkar would later reveal he hadn't slept well for 12 nights preceding the clash; the Pakistan attack wouldn't sleep peacefully for a little longer.
Ponting leads the march of the invincibles
Ricky Ponting: 140* off 121 balls, Australia vs India, 2003 Final, Johannesburg
It takes something to render a World Cup final a foregone conclusion at the end of one innings. Half-way through the 2003 finale, one crushing knock had done just that.
The roles played by those around Ricky Ponting were significant to Australia's 359/2 — but Ponting's unapologetic pummeling of the bowling at the death lies unmatched in any World Cup final.
Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden had added 105 in 14 overs, and Damien Martyn would finish 88 not out off 84 balls despite a broken finger. Ponting's first stage, in fact, was the slowest of Australia's entire innings, as he took 74 balls to get to 50. Off the next 47, he shellacked 90, with eight sixes - all between long-on and square leg.
133 came off the last 12 overs. India's three-pronged pace attack of Zaheer Khan, Javagal Srinath and Ashish Nehra had taken 48 wickets between coming into the final; they finished wicket-less, going for 211 in 27 overs.
Ponting had bull-dozed India at the Bull Ring.
Shock, awe and an Irish Punch
Kevin O'Brien: 113 off 63 balls, Ireland vs England, 2011, Bengaluru
Ireland needed 223 runs to win off 166 balls when Kevin O'Brien took guard at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. Two overs later, with only five runs added, they had lost another wicket to be five-down. The equation read 218 to win in 25.4 overs.
When Kevin O'Brien walked back to the pavillion, Ireland were 12 runs away from the target with 11 balls to spare, and three wickets in hand.
In between, he took a quite competent bowling attack to the absolute cleaners, belting what remains the fastest World Cup hundred (off 50 balls), against a lineup fronted by two pacers who would go on to cross 1000 Test wickets between them.
Oh, did we mention they were playing England? And that, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe aside, they'd only ever won two ODIs against a Test-playing nation until that evening?
It would have been an 'upset' even if one of the big guns turned a game around from such a dire position; O'Brien's manic hour had lifted a then-associate nation to its greatest victory.
Dhoni Finishes Off in Style
MS Dhoni: 91* off 79 balls, India vs Sri Lanka, 2011 Final, Mumbai
No team had ever chased more than 250 to win a World Cup final. No team had ever won a World Cup final on home soil. MS Dhoni's World Cup 2011 record, prior to the final, read 150 runs in seven innings, at a strike rate under 70.
He decided to promote himself in the batting order, ahead of the man who was to be named Player of the Tournament. That evening, 2 April 2011, at the Wankhede, Dhoni sealed his legacy as one of the game's greatest finishers. He oversaw the end of a 28-year wait.
He sealed it with a six — but there was more to it.
Muttiah Muralitharan was playing his last international game. Suraj Randiv, in a bid to potentially stem Yuvraj Singh in the middle overs, was added to the mix by the Lankans. Tillakaratne Dilshan was in the attack too.
One brave call from a man known in his earlier days for preferring the road less travelled changed the course of the final.
Take nothing away from Gautam Gambhir's 97, which began the rescue act from 31/2. But when Dhoni opted to become number five, he had a lot to lose. India had a lot to lose.
Eventually, they won it all, in a canter.
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