THE CRICKET WORLD CUP: FIVE HEROES
Updated: Oct 20
By far the most authoritative batsman of the 1970s and 1980s, Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards, a resident of the tiny island nation of Antigua in the Caribbean Sea, had a glorious association with cricket’s ultimate quadrennial event. It began in the inaugural edition of the World Cup in the English summer of 1975. Richards at that point was one of the youngest members of a star-studded team led by Clive Lloyd. The World Cup at that point was only a fortnight-long tournament. As it went along, it became apparent that limited-overs cricket and the cricketers from the cricketing entity called the ‘West Indies’ were made for each other. Their batting was belligerent, their bowling aggressive and their fielding exceptional. Indeed, it was as a fielder that Vivian Richards distinguished himself in the first World Cup. Australia looked on course to overhaul a target of 292 set by the West Indies in the final, when Richards swung into action. He ran out as many as three batsmen – Alan Turner, Greg Chappell and the Australian captain Ian Chappell – with precise throws. These dismissals broke the back of the Australian innings and the West Indies eventually prevailed by 17 runs. Four years later, the West Indies took on England, the hosts, in the final of the second World Cup. Put in to bat by England, the defending champions were in a spot of bother at 99-4, when Collis King joined ‘King’ Richards in the middle. What followed was sensational. King scored 86 and Viv Richards went on to complete a stunner of a century. He ended the innings with an incredible six, walking across his stumps even as Mike Hendrick, the bowler, ran in, and swinging his bat to deposit the ball over the square-leg boundary. Richards’ unbeaten 138 helped the West Indies finish with 286-8, a total they defended easily. The West Indies were expected to complete a hat trick of World Cup wins in 1983, with Richards in prime form. He had scores of 119, 95 and 80 behind him, when he strode out to bat in the final against India. The Windies needed only 184 to win and although Gordon Greenidge fell early, the holders did not worry. After all, Richards was in imperious form. He got going as soon as he came in and hit seven boundaries in an innings of 33 when disaster struck. He attempted to pull Madan Lal for another boundary, but only got a top-edge. Kapil Dev, the Indian captain, ran several yards towards the mid-wicket boundary, to complete an extraordinary catch. That dismissal turned the match in India’s favour and Kapil Dev’s team went on to complete the greatest upset in cricketing history. Richards’ last World Cup was the 1987 edition, which was the first to be played outside the United Kingdom. The West Indies, two-time winners and one-time runners-up, were declared the frontrunners for the title, alongside the co-hosts India and Pakistan. Richards, who had been appointed captain after Lloyd’s retirement in 1985 was a determined man, eager to make up for his top-edge in the 1983 World Cup final. However, the West Indies ended up losing two close games to England and Pakistan at the league stage and fell behind in the race for the semi-final spots. For the first time since 1975, the West Indies failed to make it to the final four in a World Cup, but not before the man they called ‘King’ had provided a display of his greatness. He massacred the Sri Lankan bowling in a league game at Karachi to score 181, which was at that point, the highest individual score in the World Cup. Richards went on to lead the West Indies till 1991. He wanted to end his career as a member of the West Indies team that would play in the 1992 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, but shockingly, he was not selected, his ODI record notwithstanding. That brought about an ironic end to one of the greatest cricketing careers of all time.
The man they called ‘Hollywood’ played only two World Cups, but what an impact he made! Shane Keith Warne made his ‘World Cup debut’ in the sixth edition, which was played in the subcontinent in February-March 1996. By then, he had played international cricket for four years and had been hailed for revitalizing the ‘dying’ art of leg-spin bowling. Australia did well at the league stage of the 1996 World Cup, with victories over Kenya, India and Zimbabwe. Warne’s best performance was 4-34 against Zimbabwe. In a high-scoring quarter-final against New Zealand at Chennai, Warne and left-arm wrist-spinner Michael Bevan put the brakes on the New Zealand batters with figures of 2-52 and 1-52 respectively. They ensured that the Kiwis, who at one stage looked like scoring 300-plus, finished with 286-9 instead. Australia won by six wickets, with Mark Waugh scoring a classy century. What the Australians did in the semi-final against the West Indies at Mohali was nothing short of unbelievable. Australia struggled with the bat and scored a paltry 207-8. Their bowlers then gave it everything, but the West Indies had all the time in the world. With less than ten overs left, the West Indies needed to score at a little over four runs an over, with as many as eight wickets in hand. There was no way any team could have lost from that position, but then, the West Indies did. Leading an incredible Australian resurgence with the ball was Warne, who dismissed Ottis Gibson, Jimmy Adams and Ian Bishop, as the Windies capsized to 202 all out. Warne was declared the Player of the Match for his 4-36. He was keen to bowl his team to victory in the final against Sri Lanka at Lahore, only to be undone by Asanka Gurusinha, Aravinda De Silva and Arjuna Ranatunga, who handled him well. Warne went into the 1999 World Cup with question marks over his form and fitness. Three-wicket hauls in the league games against Scotland and the West Indies failed to convince watchers that he still had it in him. His 2-33 in Australia’s last Super Six game against South Africa helped his team qualify for the semi-finals. In the semi-final at Birmingham, also against favourites South Africa, Australia scored only 213. Their only hope of victory was a superhuman effort, and the man they called ‘Hollywood’ proceeded to do just that. After the South African openers had put on 48, Warne snared three wickets in quick succession to turn the game in his side’s favour. He then came back in the end overs to take a fourth wicket. Lance Klusener did all that he could to win the match for South Africa, but the Australians tied the game and went through to the final, having won their previous encounter against the same team. Pakistan won the toss and elected to bat in the final at Lord’s. They wanted to score big, but they were bowled out for 132. Australia won the game and with it, the World Cup, with nearly thirty overs to spare. The Player of the Match award went to the phenomenon who had annihilated the Pakistanis with figures of 4-33, following up on his award-winning 4-29 in the semi-final against South Africa. Despite being under pressure, Shane Warne had delivered on the biggest stage of them all, and how!
Javed Miandad apart, he is the only cricketer to have played as many as six World Cups. He was India’s standout performer in the 1992 World Cup, which was co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. Even as his teammates floundered, Tendulkar batted brilliantly and essayed the role of his team’s fifth bowler. His best performance in the tournament was in the league game against Pakistan at Sydney. Tendulkar’s unbeaten 54 and 1-37 set up a 43-run victory. He won the individual award for his all-round heroics. He won the individual award again in India’s next game against Zimbabwe, for his match-winning 81. Unfortunately, India did not win any other game in the competition. Four years later, Sachin was at his best in the sixth World Cup, co-hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. He blasted 523 runs from seven matches, the highest by any batsman in a World Cup at that stage. This tally was inclusive of two centuries and three fifties. His best performance was a knock of 90 against Australia at Mumbai. India reached the semi-finals, where they lost to Sri Lanka, the eventual champions. Tendulkar’s third World Cup in 1999 was forgettable for both him and Team India. He lost his father during the league stage of the tournament and flew back to India for the funeral. Persuaded by his mother to return to England, he did and scored a century against Kenya. However, the Indian team was inconsistent right through the tournament and did not get past the Super Six stage as a result. To say that Tendulkar was explosive in the 2003 edition of the World Cup, co-hosted by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya, would be an understatement. For the better part of that World Cup, he looked impregnable and one could not help but pity the opposition bowlers. He won the Player of the Tournament award for his 673 runs from 11 matches, still the highest aggregate achieved by a player in a single World Cup, but he would have gladly traded all those runs to lay his hands on the winners’ trophy itself. India reached the final, where they lost to Australia. Tendulkar’s 98 against Pakistan at Centurion is talked about to this day. The 2007 World Cup, hosted by the West Indies, was a disaster, with India crashing out in the very first round, after losing to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The fiasco prompted Tendulkar to consider retirement, but he was talked out of it. It would not be wrong to say that he started preparing for the 2011 edition of the World Cup, four years in advance. He was in excellent form in the lead-up to the tournament and he simply extended his run into the tournament. Centuries against England and South Africa, and an innings of 85 in the semi-final against Pakistan, enabled India to reach the final. What Tendulkar had set up, his teammates completed in style. He was the second-highest run-getter in his sixth and last World Cup, with 482 runs from nine matches.
He is only the second captain after Clive Lloyd to lead his team to World Cup glory twice. A veteran of five World Cups, Ponting impressed the cricketing world with his batting and fielding in his first World Cup in 1996. His top performance was a century in the league game against the West Indies, which Australia lost. From that point till the end of the next World Cup in 1999, he was consistent without doing anything spectacular. His best performance was an innings of 69 in the crucial Super Six game against South Africa, which helped his captain Steve Waugh, who scored a century, to take Australia to victory. Four years later, Ponting was Australia’s captain when the 2003 edition got underway in Africa. The start of Australia’s defence of its 1999 title was inauspicious, with Shane Warne forced to exit the tournament, but the team overcame that shock to stun Pakistan in their opening game. Going in at 10-1, Ponting scored a quick 53 to get his team’s innings back on track. He paved the way for Andrew Symonds to come in and score an audacious century. Ponting scored 114 in a Super Six encounter against Sri Lanka later in the tournament, even as his team made a mockery of the ‘law of averages.’ The Australians were unstoppable. Nothing fazed them. They simply kept winning and finding ways to dominate from seemingly hopeless positions, as was the case in their Super Six matches against England and New Zealand. Ponting led from the front in the final against India. Put in to bat by India, Australia were given a rollicking start by Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist. The bowlers’ woes were compounded when the Australian captain arrived at the crease after the 14th over. Ponting scored a belligerent 140 off 121 deliveries, inclusive of four boundaries and eight sixes. A target of 360 was well beyond the reach of the Indian batsmen. Australia’s victorious run continued in the next World Cup, which was played in the Caribbean in 2007. As captain and premier batsman, Ponting played his part with one century and four fifties. Australia completed a hat trick of World Cup wins in 2007 and were therefore the favourites when they arrived in the subcontinent for the tenth edition of the World Cup in 2011. However, not everything went according to plan; their streak of 34 consecutive wins in World Cup matches ended on 19 March 2011 when Pakistan beat them by four wickets in a league game at Colombo. Coincidentally, their previous defeat in a World Cup game had also been affected by Pakistan, at Leeds on 23 May 1999. Ponting had scored 47 in that match. Coming back to 2011, Australia flew from Colombo to Ahmedabad, where they took on India, the co-hosts, in the quarter-final. Ponting’s 104 ensured that his team totalled 260-6. India started well, but stuttered in the middle overs and for a while, it did seem that Australia’s dream run in the World Cup would extend into the tenth edition as well. However, Yuvraj Singh, who was eventually declared the Player of the Tournament, took India through with an innings for the ages. Ponting may have failed to achieve a hat trick of World Cups as captain, but thousands of cricketers would still give an arm or leg to get anywhere close to his achievements. He played in five World Cups from 1996 to 2011, was a winner in three (1999, 2003, 2007), led his team to victory in two (2003, 2007), was a runner-up once (1996) and a quarter-finalist at the final attempt (2011).
He was gutted when the national selectors overlooked him for the 2011 World Cup. He then swore to never give the selectors another opportunity to ignore his claims. Since then, Rohit Gurunath Sharma has gone from strength to strength. He made his World Cup debut in the eleventh edition, which was co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand in 2015. Opening the batting for India, Sharma scored half-centuries against UAE and Ireland at the league stage. He went on to explode in the quarter-final against Bangladesh at Melbourne, with an innings of 137, scored off only 126 balls, inclusive of 14 boundaries and three sixes. His pyrotechnics at the top of the order enabled India to finish with 302-6, a total that the bowlers defended easily. The Indians were then put to the sword by the Australian batsmen in the semi-final at Sydney. Needing 329 to win, Sharma began well, but could not consolidate. He was dismissed for 34 and Australia shut the door on the 2011 champions with a comprehensive 95-run victory. That they lost to the team that went on to win the title was of little consolation to the Indians. The Indian team wore a new look in the twelfth edition of the World Cup, which was played in the United Kingdom in 2019. It would be safe to say that no single batsman has dominated a single World Cup the way Rohit Sharma did the 2019 edition. Sachin Tendulkar came the closest to doing so in 1996 and 2003, but even he did not score five centuries in a single edition. Sharma’s unbeaten 122 took India to victory against South Africa at Southampton. He followed that innings with 57 against Australia and an extraordinary 140 against Pakistan, match-winning efforts both. A couple of games later, he embarked upon the batting equivalent of the hat trick; centuries in three consecutive games against England, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka respectively. India topped the round-robin league with 15 points, accumulated by winning seven games (and one no-result) out of nine. They were therefore the favourites on the eve of their semi-final against New Zealand, who had stood fourth in the points table with 11 points. Indian supporters were ecstatic when New Zealand were restricted to 239-8, but disaster lurked around the corner. Sharma, India’s in-form batter, fell for only 1 and the innings never really recovered from that initial setback. India were bowled out for 221. For the second successive time, a World Cup campaign had ended in the semi-finals, and in tears, for the Men in Blue. When the thirteenth World Cup gets underway in October 2023, Sharma will look to make up for the disappointments of 2015 and 2019 in his capacity as the captain of the Indian cricket team