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Was England’s 1999 World Cup campaign really that bad?

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read

England have had too many World Cup horror shows for any to take the honours, definitively, as the worst, but the 1999 global tournament stands out for many.

Success in the 1997 Akai Singer Champions Trophy had given them quiet confidence of being competitive on the world stage, and with the conditions typical of those early in the English season, they were seemingly well placed to put up a fight. Instead, they crashed out in the group stages, with Zimbabwe progressing to the Super Sixes stage in their stead.

Infamously, their official song, ‘All Over The World’, only came out after England’s elimination had already been confirmed. The attempted smash hit flopped, failing to chart. Much the same could be said of England’s campaign.

Or could it? The first thing to note is that, rather than being knocked out extremely early, All Over The World actually came out strangely late, with England having played their last group stage game before it was finally available to purchase. The TCCB, as the ECB was then known, had decided to give it plentiful airplay before it hit the market, leading to the unfortunate timing of its arrival.

England’s exit is also as much down the surprising strength of the other teams in their group, especially Zimbabwe. Heading into their final fixture, England had won the games expected of them, beating Kenya, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe themselves, and failing only against South Africa, by a distance the best side in the world at that point, and India, whose side contained Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Javagal Srinath, Anil Kumble, and Sourav Ganguly. It was regrettable that the last of those did the damage with the ball, taking 3-27, but it was still a side which England would normally have no shame in losing to.

It was the unpredictable Zimbabwe who upset the form book time and again, beating India and losing to Sri Lanka, who otherwise failed to build on their 1996 triumph. They went into their final game against South Africa with the Proteas already qualified and Zimbabwe knowing a victory would send them through. Whether it was that motivation, or simply just one of those days, Neil Johnson put on one of the great World Cup displays, scoring 76 opening the batting before removing Gary Kirsten, Jacques Kallis and Hansie Cronje. South Africa were stunned, England were out, and that was that.

What also hurt England was net run rate, with a 122-run trouncing by South Africa denting the tiebreaker, and victories against Sri Lanka, Kenya and Zimbabwe comfortable in terms of wickets in hand, but not overly by overs remaining. Against Zimbabwe, 168 was knocked off at 4.36 runs per over.

Perhaps it’s this factor that makes the campaign so lamented, and so unlike the 2015 World Cup, when England were trounced by Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand. This was a decent enough England side who didn’t do all that badly, and still ended up humiliated, partly because of their own reticence to put the foot down when on top. Still, if you’re looking for true English World Cup embarrassment, look elsewhere; there’s plenty to choose from.


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