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The Ten: Greatest World Cup Matches

by Wisden Staff

As we build towards the 2015 World Cup, Phil Walker, Sam Stow and Damian Dolan pick out the games that have made cricket’s biggest show.

10) South Africa vs Sri Lanka
2003 Group Match, Durban, South Africa
Match Tied

The masters of World Cup self-destruction, South Africa somehow topped the debacle of four years previous (see below) and contrived once again to snatch parity from the jaws of victory. With rain in the air, it became obvious that Messrs Duckworth and Lewis would have a final say on the Group B clash and a game crucial for both the hosts’ progression and pride ended in farce and teary eyes. A target that changed by the minute had batsmen and the balcony alike engrossed in Frank and Tony’s crib-sheet with the scrutiny normally reserved for acts of play. The hosts misread the only script that mattered and, in an act that anguished all in the know, Mark Boucher blocked what proved to be the final ball, to leave the sides level. A scampered single would have been enough. As the reality of their folly sank in, the now steady rain gave pathetic fallacy to, well, a pathetic fallacy. Embarrassing and – in Boucher’s last act – ultimately feeble, South Africa’s fate was all the more sickening for the qualification of un-fancied Kenya in the Proteas’ stead. As captain Pollock hung his head in wretched disbelief, the cheers from Nairobi came strong on the wind.

9) Kenya vs West Indies
1996 Group Match, Pune, India
Kenya won by 73 runs

A vintage giant-killing. The West Indians, twice winners and still full of champions, from Walsh and Ambrose to Lara and Richardson, are not just turned over by Steve Tikolo’s amateur Kenyans, they’re flipped and spun and rolled out the ground. Defending 166, Maurice Odumbe is Kenya’s chicken farmer with 3-15 and Rajab Ali also takes three wickets as Windies are stuffed for just 93, with 14 overs to spare. After Zimbabwe’s moments against the superpowers in 1983 and 1992, now it is Kenya’s turn to distribute the banana skins; seven years later they would take Sri Lanka en route to the semi-finals.

8) England vs Zimbabwe
1992 Group Match, Albury, Australia
Zimbabwe won by nine runs

Gooch. Botham. Lamb. Smith. Hick. Fairbrother. Stewart. And on the other side of the paddock, a chunky Zimbabwean farmer who calls himself Eddo. The cream of English batsmanship (and what a line-up) against a bloke who flogs chickens at market day. England are chasing a whopping 134, but when Eddo Brandes plucks Gooch’s off-stump first ball, the rest follow without so much as a squawk. Poultry-botherer Brandes’ paltry seamers may be more ‘in-a-basket’ than Coque au Vin, but this was one of those FA Cup-style days, when a muddy field in the middle of nowhere becomes, just for one weird day, the patch where legends are made. Eddo takes four, and England, hilariously, are nine short. Giblets, anyone?

7) India vs Pakistan
2003 Group Match, Centurion, South Africa
India won by six wickets

No contest in sport compares to India and Pakistan. You can have your Old Firm derbies, your Borg and McEnroes, your Ali and Foremans, your South American kickabout/shoot ‘em ups; but India and Pakistan goes deeper than any of them. It was one of those electrifying moments, when the worldwide audience comfortably topped a billion and the tournament felt like the centre of the world. Pakistan, who needed the win, went flying out the traps, the magical wrists of Saeed Anwar cutting and slashing to another hundred. They posted 273, and with Wasim, Waqar and Shoaib in the bowling ranks it looked to be enough. But Sachin Tendulkar, with all of India on its knees in supplication, then played the purest one-day innings this writer has ever seen. His contest with Shoaib – full of fire, bite, spite – was India and Pakistan in microcosm, and Sachin was unstoppable, magisterial. Nothing became this contest like the leaving of it, and when Sachin was finally undone by a Shoaib snorter fended off in front of his jaw after a flurry of boundaries, he was gone for 98, from just 75 balls. The game was India’s, comfortably. But the memories were all of Tendulkar.

6) England vs Australia
1987 Final, Calcutta, India
Australia won by seven runs

And so to Mike Gatting’s other that ball moment. England are chasing a gettable target and Gatting is doing it well, which makes the skipper’s decision to greet opposite number Allan Border’s first delivery with a reverse-sweep all the stranger. But this was a more sedate time for one-day cricket, when the unconventional was frowned upon, and the reverse-sweep in particular was seen as Lucifer’s favoured stroke. Peter May, English cricket chairman around the time, actually wanted it outlawed (the shot, not the devil). In keeping with the tempo of the game back then, David Boon’s 75 off 125 balls gave the Aussie’s some old-fashioned ballast and Mike Veletta (remember him?) struck a brisk 45 to give the innings some late impetus, but it was pretty bland stuff. In response England lost Tim Robinson first ball to Craig ‘Raging Bull’ McDermott, and although Gatting and Gooch steadied the stomachs, when Bill Athey (58 off 103 with two fours) decided to play for stumps and the new ball in the morning, Gatting’s hand was forced. The ball went looping to the point fieldsman, Gatting was gone for 41, and England’s chances went with him. The seven-run defeat was the closest they ever got to a World Cup trophy.

Big Clive: not just a skipper

Big Clive: not just a skipper

5) Australia vs West Indies
1975 Final, Lord’s, England
West Indies won by 17 runs

In the days when men were men and sideburns ran wild, Australia and the West Indies contested the first ever World Cup final, the two sides serving up a fitting finale to justify a competition that, perhaps inevitably, wasn’t without its teething problems. Most notably, Sunil Gavaskar interpreting the new 60-over format as a challenge of personal endurance, the Indian opener bizarrely batting through his side’s full allotment against England, and finishing 36 not out. Ah, the good old days! In the final, the great Clive Lloyd blasted his way to 102 off just 85 balls while Gary Gilmour picked up 5-48. The Aussie reply was obliterated by the flashing hands of Viv Richards in the field, but the game reignited when Australia’s final pair of Lillee and Thomson began a stunning hitting spree, sharing 41 runs, swearing like chavs, sweating like the Seventies porn stars they always wanted to be, and almost pulling it off. Mercifully it was not to be, as Thomson became the fifth run-out victim of the innings.

4) Australia vs West Indies
1996 Semi-Final, Mohali, India
Australia won by five runs

Those Aussies, you just gotta love ’em. A side that doesn’t know when it’s beaten with the players that ensure they seldom are. The champions of the ‘juggernaut’ brand of cricket proved yet again that they are not adverse to a phoenix from the inferno performance when the fancy takes them. A team less cocksure and, let’s face it, brilliant than Steve Waugh’s men would have called it a day at 15-4 after 45 minutes, but led by 72 from Stuart Law, Australia mustered 207. They took to the field with half a chance and, as usual, it was all they needed. Still, it was inconceivable that the Windies could lose from 165-2 and the Caribbean was poised for another glorious chapter in the region’s World Cup history. Step forward those arch wreckers, you know the ones, McGrath and Warne, baulking at the thought of impending defeat. The special one lit the fuse with the wicket of Shiv Chanderpaul and the blond bombed his way through the rest. The West Indies lost their last eight wicket for 34, a collapse of Wall Street proportions. Only the Aussies, only the Aussies.

3) England vs Australia
2003 Group Match, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Australia won by two wickets

In one of the most darkly thrilling games in World Cup history, Andy Bichel delivered an all-round performance to rank with the best and condemn England to four more years of purgatory. Chasing an unimposing 205 – thanks to a remarkable 7-20 from Bichel – England’s serial tormentors slumped to 48-4 and then 114-7. Australia were up the creek without a Jacob’s. Bichel entered the fray at 135-8 with a rampant England poised to administer the last rites and Michael Bevan stranded at the other end. Still on a high after his bowling feats, Bichel then clubbed 34 priceless runs to secure victory with two balls to spare. A shattering tour – the Zimbabwe crisis, ICC intransigence, questions in Parliament, dark nights of the soul – had turned up one last heartbreaker. Captain Nasser’s face, as Bevan hits the decisive boundary from the final over, will never be forgotten. England had crashed out in the group stages, penalised for their own moral rectitude as they sacrificed the points after refusing to visit Zimbabwe, whilst Australia, who did play in Harare, went on to win their second successive tournament. We’ll take the high ground, you can have the trophy. How very English.

2) Australia vs Zimbabwe
1983, Group Match, Trent Bridge, England
Zimbabwe won by 13 runs

The first and grandest of all the World Cup upsets, this clash marked the day that Kim Hughes’ Australians were force-fed a sizable platter of sour grapes and humble pie by a certain Duncan Fletcher. These days The Duncster is (generally) lauded throughout world cricket, but back then the captain of Zimbabwe was a cricketing non-entity until an innings-rescuing 69 and 4-42 against Australia in the ’83 World Cup. Some say that as defeat loomed and Australian panic set in, Fletcher was even moved to flash that trademark smile of his, though strangely there’s no photographic evidence to back this up. And Dennis Lillee is said to have advised Hughes to put Zim into bat if they won the toss so the team could ‘get back to London early’. The plan worked, one way or another, and after failing to make the semi-finals Australia checked in at Heathrow well ahead of schedule.

1) South Africa vs Australia
1999 Semi-Final, Edgbaston, England
Match Tied – Australia advance to final (after finishing higher in the qualifying group)

The greatest one-dayer ever played. Contained everything, from knocked-down genius to knockabout farce. By turns thrilling, gut churning, exhilarating or just plain cruel, if you weren’t aghast at Warne’s Hollywood stagecraft, you were taking cover from axe-wielding Lance Klusener’s plebeian brilliance, or you were laughing, or crying, or shouting, or simply counting the dozens of times you’d written off each side.

This was one of those games where you had no idea who would win until two-thirds through the penultimate ball, when the shock of seeing two greenhorns in Klusener and last-man Allan Donald at the same end, with the ball being rolled along the floor to the stumps at the other, gave way to wild celebrations among the herding pack of yellow-shirts. And in that moment, we realised with dark foreboding that this Australian team will never do the decent thing and accept defeat. It has been a familiar story for these golden boys ever since – if the piercing light of unquenching self-belief gleams from these moments when a team wins the unwinnable, then this grey afternoon in Birmingham was Australia’s epiphany. It was a sudden leap towards the aura of invincibility we see today.

Which classic World Cup clashes have we missed? Tell us in the comments section below.

Have Your Say

Comment (1)

  1. sam 8 years ago (Edit)

    1996 world cup final should have been the best, number one and the greatest world cup match as, then world's best team "AUSTRALIA" was totally demolished and beaten by that time minos of the world cricket, fighting heros of SRILANKAN cricket.

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