The history of the World Cup is short, encompassing just five competitions and, yet, picking the 10 best performances has been a taxing exercise. The short list alone filled a sheet and a half of ruled foolscap paper. If a jury of the statutory number of 12 sat to take a corporate decision, the odds against any two coming up with an identical list would be very low.
All things being equal, a Viv Richards innings would be more likely to get the vote than one by Geoff Boycott. When it comes to bowlers, a romantic would plump for a leg-spinner’s 3 for 43 sooner than a nagging seamer’s 5 for 38 on a slow pitch. One-day cricket being quite blatantly a batsman’s game, willow-wielders must inevitably outnumber bowlers in the roll of honour. Three bowlers figure in mine, however, but two come in from having combined their bowling triumphs with valuable contributions with the bat.
The inaugural World Cup (1975) seems to have produced more outstanding performances than its successors. Taken in chronological order, there was Dennis Lillee’s five wickets for 34 on an unhelpful Headingley pitch against a Pakistan side of such batting talent that Imran Khan batted at seven.
On that very pitch, 11 days later, Australia beat England by four wickets to reach the final, thanks to a man who was a last-minute selection—the left-hander Gary Gilmour. The match was remarkable for its low scores because the pitch had not been adequately mowed and was uneven in bounce. Moreover, a low cloud cover hung over Headingley. Australia won the toss, elected to bowl first, and Gilmour took the first six English wickets in a nine-over spell, conceding 10 of the 36 runs scored and all but one of his victims were bowled or were lbw. Given the favourable conditions, this performance alone would not have qualified him for the 10 greatest. But he followed it up by top scoring in the match, 28 not out, after John Snow and Chris Old had reduced Australia to 39 for six.
In the final at Lord’s three days later, Gilmour was again in his element, taking five wickets. Among his victims was Clive Lloyd. But before he brought him to book, Lloyd had played a valiant match-winning innings of 102, off only 84 balls. It had begun against the sombre background of 50 for 3 and although Rohan Kanhai was entrenched, he, for all his natural gift of timing, couldnot take command. But Lloyd did to such effect that runs now began to ooze like syrup from Kanhai’s bat as well and the Guyanese pair put on a telling stand of 149. Two of Lloyd’s strokes that day which can never be forgotten were his sixes, one a hook off Lillee and the other a pick-up off Max Walker.
Viv Richards’ 138 not out was at the core of the West Indies triumph over England in the 1979 final. However, Richards had a strong rival for the Man of the Match award in Collis King, who participated with Richards in a crucial stand of 139, claiming the major share with a whirlwind 86. For all his supposed arrogance, Richards was too sensible to be irked at being upstaged by one of the chorus line. The overall tempo of his innings was influenced by the conditions, which did not deny the bowlers help, and the shaky state of the innings. It may not have been one of his more devastating knocks, but it was far from unglamorous, containing as it did three sixes, one of them off the last ball of the innings from Mike Hendrick, and 11 fours.
In 1983, Zimbabwe announced their arrival in the World Cup arena with a remarkable 13-runs victory over Australia at Trent Bridge. Their hero was their captain, Duncan Fletcher, who shored up a faltering innings with an unbeaten 69 and then took four wickets for 49 to contain Australia.
One of the great legends of the World Cup is Kapil Dev’s 175 not out against Zimbabwe that year. Admitted that the boundaries of the lovely Turnbridge Wells ground, adorned by rhododendron bushes, was short. But the circumstances in which the innings was played (India were 17 for 5 at one stage) must also count. Moreover, the pitch was an unabashed ally of the seamers.
Except that it did not lead to victory, the heroic 136, off 144 balls, by Zimbabwe’s David Houghton against New Zealand at Hyderabad in 1987 was an echo of Kapil Dev’s celebrated innings. Houghton came in at 8 for one and stayed until the innings’ 47th over, when Zimbabwe, who eventually fell three runs short, needed only 22 to overhaul New Zealand’s 242.
The sweep is not a shot of the highest pedigree, but it was one that Graham Gooch used with telling effect in making 115 against India, in Bombay in the 1987 semi-finals. It was thatinnings that was responsible in taking England to the final. Renowned more for drives straight and through the off side, Gooch, who batted through 43 overs to see England reach 203 for four, swept even at balls outside off stump and completely unsettled the two left-arm spinners, Maninder Singh and Ravi Shastri, on whom India was heavily dependent for containment on a slow pitch. Gooch’s innings may not have delighted the purist, but it certainly tipped the scales.
The very first match of the 1992 World Cup, in the Antipodes, provided a shock that reverberated right through the competition, in that it drove a large nail in the coffin of the holders and favourites, Australia, and paved the way for New Zealand’s progress to the semi-finals for the first time since 1975. Martin Crowe, New Zealand’s captain batting with a troublesome knee, was the perpetrator of this shock dealt to Australia in Auckland. Crowe’s unbeaten century, completed with one ball to spare, was in itself a highly creditable performance, considering that New Zealand’s innings, except during Crowe’s fourth-wicket stand of 118 with Ken Rutherford, was always tottering.
If ever a World Cup final was won with a supreme team effort, it was the one at Melbourne in 1992, in which Pakistan beat England. When Pakistan were struggling in the early days of the competition, their captain Imran Khan exhorted them to respond like ‘cornered tigers’. In this dramatic final, he set his team an example with a dour, but effective 72. It was the first of many heroic deeds performed for Pakistan that day.
But the man who swung the balance in a very evenly foughtmatch was Wasim Akram. In the latter part of their own innings, Pakistan were badly in need of acceleration and Wasim provided much of it with a blazing 33 off 18 balls. When Pakistan defended a sound, but not overwhelming, total of 249, he took three wickets for 49. These figures do not look startling until the impact of his successes is appreciated.
In his first spell, Wasim defeated England’s major ploy in opening with Ian Botham. He had him caught behind. On his return for a second stint, he ended the menace of Allan Lamb, who had made 31 off 44 balls, with an absolute gem that left him. He swung the next ball in to skittle Chris Lewis and the match had got its decisive twist.