A synopsis of the most competitive World Cup finals

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13 Jul 2019 | 10:47 AM
authorSomesh Agarwal

A synopsis of the most competitive World Cup finals

The big occasion not defined by an individual brilliance but a collective effort from both the teams

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When the first three days of the third Test during the England’s tour of Australia in early 1971 were washed out, the officials decided to play a 40 over, eight-ball per over single innings match. This marked the inception of the One-Day cricket. 

This in turn gave rise to a new phenomenon - the cricket World Cup. The inaugural edition, played in 1975, proved a big success, attracting capacity crowds and a million viewers all over the world. We have had eleven editions since, once every 4 years, with 5 different winners. 

The quadrennial Cup has seen breathtaking performances, great rivalries and epic encounters. When a closely fought encounter occurs in a must-win match, it leaves a lasting imprint in our memory and when it comes to cricket, no situation is bigger than a World Cup final. 

While there have been moments of individual brilliance when a good knock or a spell defined the entire match, the focus here is evenly fought battles involving all 22 players and going the distance of 100 (or 120) overs. 

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India vs. West Indies, Lord’s, London, 1983 

Before the start of the 1983 World Cup, the chances of the Indian team were quoted at 66 to 1. Winless in the 1979 edition, the team did not enjoy success in the buildup to the 1983 edition as well. In their first game of the tournament, they attracted eyeballs by beating the two-time champions and favorites West Indies. To everyone’s surprise, the World Cup final that year was to feature the same two teams. 

During the previous two finals, the opposition captains had won the toss and asked the West Indies to bat. Both finals ended up being largely one-sided, with West Indies putting enough on the board for their bowlers to work with. Curiously, when Clive Lloyd won the toss on the morning of the 1983 final at Lord’s, he sent India in to bat, hoping to make use of the early morning conditions. 

India lost Sunil Gavaskar early to Andy Roberts, who had him caught behind for 2. Mohinder Amarnath, the eventual Man of the Match, then joined the counterattacking Kris Srikkanth. While most of the Indian batsmen found it tough to face the West Indian fast bowling quartet - Roberts, the 6 foot 8’’ Joel Garner, “Whispering Death” Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall - Kris played a fluent innings of 38 that included a hook off Roberts for 4, a pull for 6, a square drive for 4 and a cut off Garner to fetch another boundary. Amarnath, on the other hand, did well to hold one end up to see off the first spell of the fast bowlers and stabilize the innings. His innings too included some glorious shots including a pull in front of square off Garner and a hook to the boundary off Malcolm Marshall. 

Marshall finally had Kris, trying to play across the line, trapped in front for 38. Holding picked up his first wicket of the game when he bowled Amarnath and reduced India to 90/3. The hero of the group stage fixture between the teams, Yashpal Sharma, holed out in the deep when he tried to take advantage of the fifth West Indian bowler, spinner Larry Gomes. A flurry of quick wickets followed, including that of the Indian captain Kapil Dev, who perished playing one shot too many off Gomes. 

India found themselves at 130/7. The last 3 wickets, with some help from Sandeep Patil, added 53 before being bowled out for 183, a score not even remotely threatening for the mighty West Indies. A highlight towards the end of the innings was a crisp cover drive to the boundary off Holding by the Indian number 11, Balwinder Sandhu. This probably led to Marshall hitting him with a bouncer, much to the displeasure of the commentators and the on-field umpire “Dickie” Bird. 

The Indian bowling attack was led by Kapil and included medium pacers Madan Lal, Roger Binny and Sandhu. WI started badly as Sandhu produced a magic ball, around line of fifth stump; Gordon Greenidge left for line and was startled when it curved in late to hit off and middle.
Vivian Richards, in at 3, started displaying his array of drives, pulls and hooks to quickly move to 33. Given the way he toyed with the bowling, India’s chances looked so bleak that the wives of a few Indian cricketers left the ground because they could not bear to watch. 

When the game seemed out of India’s grasp, Richards mistimed a pull off Madan Lal; Kapil Dev, at mid on, ran backwards at an angle to pull off a catch as the ball dropped over his shoulder – a vignette that has since attained iconic status. Lal provided other important break throughs – opener Desmond Haynes, and Gomes who was in at 5. 

Clive Lloyd, the West Indian skipper, in at 4, pulled his groin just after he ran his first run. Batting in discomfort, he drove one straight to Kapil at cover off Binny. When Faoud Bacchus was caught behind, West Indies found themselves in trouble at 76/6. Keeper Jeff Dujon and number eight Marshall applied themselves to move the score to 119, and then Amarnath, who had learned the art of weaponizing the most innocuous deliveries, got the former to play one back onto his stumps. 

The wickets of Marshall and Roberts soon followed. Amarnath had Holding trapped in front of the wickets to end the West Indies innings, 43 runs short, to help India lift the World Cup trophy for the first time. A seemingly innocuous Indian attack proved to be kryptonite for the mighty West Indies. The Indian victory despite the odds makes this an all time World Cup classic. 

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Australia vs. England, Eden Gardens, Kolkata, 1987 

Some of the greatest contests have occurred not between evenly matched sides, but when one of the contestants is a clear underdog. In the 1987 World Cup, the Australians continued the trend set by India in 1983 and won the World Cup when the consensus was that it was ‘the worst team to leave the Australian shores to play a World Cup’. 

The outcome of the World Cup final that year was not defined by a great knock or an unbelievable spell but rather by a shot selection. With England comfortably placed to reach the target, Mike Gatting opted to reverse sweep the first ball he faced from Australian captain Alan Border, only to find a leading edge onto his shoulder for Australian keeper Greg Dyer to catch. 

Australia enjoyed a good luck with the coin throughout the tournament. Opting to bat first in the finals, they got off to a flier as their openers, Geoff Marsh and David Boon, posted 52 in the first 10 overs. This was also a by-product of a rather wayward spell from the English opening bowlers Phil DeFreitas and Gladstone Small. 

Boon enjoyed a slice of luck during this phase as a mistimed pull off DeFreitas fell in no man’s land. The threatening opening partnership was ultimately broken by the first change, Neil Foster, who uprooted Marsh’s off stump with the score at 76. Dean Jones, in at 3, stitched a 76-run partnership with Boon that lasted till his dismissal in the 37th over. Craig McDermott promoted to up the ante, slogged 15 off 8 balls before being bowled by the part time medium pace of Graham Gooch. In the next over, the Australians found themselves in a tricky position when Boon top edged a slog sweep off Eddie Hemmings and was caught by keeper Paul Downtown. He had scored a valuable 75, and went on to win the man of the match award. Border and Mike Veletta then added 73 in ten overs (65 in the last 6) to ensure a total of 253. 

The English opener, Tim Robinson, was trapped in front for a duck off the fourth ball of the first over by McDermott. Bill Athey, in at 3, was lucky to not be given caught behind off Bruce Reid. The Cup was the first to field neutral umpires to nullify allegations of bias, but it did little to improve overall standards. 

Athey put together 65 in 17 overs with Gooch, and 69 in thirteen overs with Gatting. England were comfortably placed at 135/2 in 31 overs when Gatting lost his wicket to the aforementioned reverse sweep and handed back the initiative to the Australians. 

Athey and Allan Lamb had scored 35 in just over eight overs when Steve Waugh ran Athey out. England needed 75 off the last ten overs; then 46 off the last five. The English lacked the firepower of the Australian lower order. After Waugh bowled Lamb in the 47th over, DeFreitas hit a four, six and four of the 48th over off McDermott. However, Waugh followed up with an excellent 49th over that went for just 2. With 17 needed in the last over, England fell short by 7 runs. Australia won the first of their World Cups; that they beat their archrivals to do it was just icing on the cake of the little fancied team.

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India vs. Sri Lanka, Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, 2011 

Before 2011, no team had ever won the World Cup at home. The pressure and expectations invariably seem to get the better of the host country. This was to change by the evening of April 2, 2011 when India became the first team to lift the coveted trophy in front of the home spectators – a phenomenon continued by Australia in 2015, and one that England could well repeat this Sunday. 

Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara won the toss and chose the advantage of runs on the board over the dew factor. During the 2003 finals, Zaheer Khan’s first over had read nb,0,2+nb,1,0,0, 5wides, 4, wide, 0. Eight years later, a mature and more relaxed Zaheer bowled three maidens in a row upfront. 

Off the first bowl of his fourth over, Zaheer had Sri Lankan opener Upul Tharanga caught at slips by Virender Sehwag. The other opener, Tillakaratne Dilshan, managed to get a few boundaries off S Sreesanth, but the Indian bowlers managed to build sustained pressure to keep the run-rate down. The score read just 60 in the 17th over; Dilshan, in an attempt to release the pressure, attempted a sweep off Harbhajan Singh only to glove it back onto his stumps. 

The two Sri Lankan veterans Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene steered Sri Lanka to above 100 while improving the run-rate to above four. With the score at 122, Yuvraj Singh, the part time left arm spinner, continued his tournament-long purple patch to have Sangakkara edge from wide outside the off stump into MS Dhoni’s gloves in the 28th over. 

Thilan Samaraweera, in at 5, had a swift 54-run partnership with Mahela, which was again broken by Yuvraj after a good LBW review. When Zaheer dismissed Chamara Kapugedera caught at short extra cover off a slower ball, Sri Lanka found themselves reeling at 183/5 at the 40 over mark. 

Unhindered by the events around him Jayawardene - classy and elegant as ever - kept the scoreboard ticking. He was well supported by Nuwan Kulasekara who stitched a 49 ball 66 run partnership for the seventh wicket. Zaheer, back for his third spell at the death overs, proved costly in his penultimate over when Nuwan sit him for a six and Mahela followed up with a couple of crisp boundaries to bring up his century. Thisara Perera walked in at 8 after Nuwan’s run out, then hit Zaheer for 4,4,2 and 6 in the last over. The three batsmen had scored 91 in the last ten overs, and the momentum was with Sri Lanka. 

India, chasing 275, the highest ever needed to win a World Cup final, had the worst possible start. Lasith Malinga trapped Sehwag in front with the second ball of the innings. Demigod Sachin Tendulkar, playing in his last World Cup match, in search of the trophy that had eluded him in five previous attempts, struck a couple of boundaries before nicking one to Sangakkara off Malinga. Virat Kohli walked in amidst pin drop silence at Wankhede. In that cauldron, Gautam Gambhir held one end up and put together a crucial 83 runs with Virat, a partnership that was marked by intelligent strike rotation. Kohli was dismissed by a spectacular one-handed return catch by Dilshan for 35, an innings he describes as one of the most important of his life. 

Indian captain MS Dhoni had a lean tournament with the bat thus far, but decided to promote himself above Yuvraj who was having a dream run. The idea was to counter the Sri Lankan off spinners Muttiah Muralitharan and Suraj Randiv, whom he could read easily due to his experience of keeping wickets to them during the IPL. 

The decision paid rich dividends as the duo scored swiftly, counter attacking the spinners, and turned the momentum back in India’s favour. When Gambhir was dismissed on 97, ending a 109-run partnership, the Indians were in the driving seat. Yuvraj joined Dhoni, who ended up at 91*, to ensure that the team reached the target without further damage, Dhoni sealing the game with a six over long on – a moment that became a totem in India’s cricketing history. India became only the third country after West Indies and Australia to win the World Cup more than once. 

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