There is a reason the story of David versus Goliath has resonated down the ages – because in life, and sport is but a reflection of life, there is nothing quite as compelling as the story of the underdog who punches way above his weight and emerges triumphant. The history of the Cricket World Cup is replete with such stories and the Afghanistan side was expected to add another chapter to it in the 2019 edition of ODI cricket’s biggest celebration.
They had qualified for the World Cup by winning the qualifier’s tournament, defeating a more prominent West Indies side in the final. They had gained Test status, so they did not enter the World Cup as an associate nation. They were beset by the off-field distractions, the most controversial one being Asghar Afghan’s removal from the leadership role but the spirit with which they have played their cricket, it was expected of them to cause a few memorable upsets. In an otherwise dismal campaign, they almost pulled off a few big wins - against their Asian neighbours by rushing Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan.
Ultimately, it came to their lack of experience which cost them those games. But Afghanistan showed they are a force to reckon with and will continue to threaten the big boys as each game will lend them valuable experience of winning crunch moments in such games. With only one game left in the league stage, they are yet to get off the mark on the points table but delivered some games that will be fondly remembered from this edition of the World Cup.
Moving ahead, here is a short sampling of the most compelling games when lesser established sides managed to cross the finishing line against bigger cricketing nations in World Cups:
Kenyans roll over the West Indies, 1996:
Pune was the venue for an unlikely narrative when Kenya, playing in its first Cup, took on two-time champions the West Indies.
Put in to bat first, Kenya played with spirit and verve. Opener Deepak Chudasama began the innings with two authoritative boundaries against Curtly Ambrose, but Courtney Walsh removed him in the next over and triggered a slide, with the Kenyans losing wickets at regular intervals.
At 81 for 6, the Kenyans were staring into an abyss when the tail began to wag, adding 85 runs and taking them to a score of 166 – by no means an intimidating target for the mighty Caribbean batting lineup.
And then came the shocker – in the space of five overs, the Windies lost three of their top batsmen and in short order, Richie Richardson, Campbell, Lara and Chanderpaul were back in the hut. And to underline the ‘punching above their weight’ storyline, wicketkeeper Tariq Iqbal, who had earlier in the competition fluffed catches and conceded byes by the dozen held on to the one chance Brian Lara offered.
The Windies were in short order reduced to 8 for 81, with fast bowler Rajab Ali scalping three for 17 while skipper Maurice Odumbe produced a man-of-match spell of 3/15 after having being dismissed hit-wicket earlier in the game. Kenya, playing only its third Cup game, knocked the mighty Windies over for 93.
At the post-match press conference, skipper Odumbe summed up what it meant for the minnows: “It’s like winning the World Cup”.
Bangladesh beat their former countrymen, 1999:
The 29th game of the 1999 World Cup, between Bangladesh and Pakistan at Northampton, was supposed to be a formality. Pakistan had won all their four games thus far, beating fancied sides like Australia and New Zealand while Bangladesh, playing its first World Cup, had just one win so far, against fellow associates Scotland.
Asked to bat first against the rampaging Pakistan quicks, the Bangladeshi openers proved ready for a fight with an opening stand of 69-run partnership for the first wicket. But then, premier off spinner Saqlain Mushtaq came on to produce a spell of 5/35 that cut the ground out from under the batting side, keeping them down to a modest, barely competitive 223.
And then Pakistan did what it is notorious for: within the first ten overs, the batting collapsed like a badly assembled house of cards. Shahid Afridi’s dismissal in the first over, a shambolic run out of Saeed Anwar involving Inzamam Ul Haq, and then the latter missing a straight ball to be nailed in front of stumps - everything that could possibly go wrong, did.
Bowling all-rounders Azhar Mahmood and Wasim Akram tried to salvage something from the wreck, but their 55-run partnership for the sixth wicket ended in an embarrassing misunderstanding between the wickets. Another run out ended the Pakistan innings at 161, handing their jubilant former countrymen a stunning upset win.
This win, said Bangladesh skipper Aminul Islam after the game, will help make the case for Bangladesh to be given Test status. Six days later, they were.
Ireland makes a mark, 2007:
Pakistan had lost its opening fixture to the West Indies. Against that, Ireland had pulled off a tie against Zimbabwe to place ahead of Pakistan on the table – all the more reason for the men in green to get its campaign back on track with a win against the minnows.
Asked to bat first, Inzamam ul Haq’s side found itself facing a bowling attack that made up in discipline what it lacked in fire. Moving the ball around as if it was tied to a string, the Ireland bowlers got rid of Mohammad Hafeez and Younis Khan within the first five overs. A brief partnership of 41 runs between Mohammad Yousuf and Imran Nazir gave some hope, but Ireland kept to its basics and Pakistan lost four wickets for 16, collapsing to 72 for 6 – plenty of reason for Ireland to show off its celebratory dance moves.
With the fielders backing their bowlers and catching everything in sight, Ireland bundled the fancied opponents out for a paltry 132 runs.
It was St Patrick’s Day and Ireland, aware that it was on the threshold of something momentous, started cautiously. Powered by a cautious 72 off 107 by their wicketkeeper Niall O’Brien, Ireland got past the target slowly but surely, completing the win in the 42nd over. Skipper Trent Johnston, who struck once with the ball, took a couple of catches and scored the winning runs, wrote his name into the history books by leading his side to the Super 8 stage in its maiden World Cup.
With this defeat, Pakistan was virtually out of the competition. Next morning, their coach Bob Woolmer was found dead in his hotel room.
Bangladesh stun India, 2007:
March 17, 2007 was cricketing apocalypse -- not only did Pakistan crash out of the tournament following a defeat by Ireland but India, which began the tournament as firm favourites, went down to Bangladesh.
The star-studded Indian side elected to bat first, but failed to develop momentum. Mashrafe Mortaza cleaned up Virender Sehwag and Robin Uthappa with the new ball before the Bangladesh spinners Mohammed Rafique and Abdur Razzaq got going, taking three wickets each in a rout that saw India bundled out for 161, not even managing to bat through the allotted fifth overs. And even that semblance of a total was made possible only by a Sourav Ganguly crawl to a 129-ball 66.
Bangladeshi opener Tamim Iqbal came out all guns blazing. On his way to a 53-ball 51, he singled out Zaheer Khan for scornful treatment, smacking boundaries off the left arm seamer at will. India’s hopes of pulling it back in the middle overs was stymied by fifties from Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib Al Hasan; the former sealed the win with a cover drive in the penultimate over.
The most notable aspect of Bangladesh’s victory was its batting heroes Iqbal, Rahim and Shakib - all below the age of 20, and playing with the ferocious freedom of youth.
The defeat put India’s qualification for the Super 8 stage in jeopardy; the Men in Blue bowed out of the competition after losing to Sri Lanka six days later. Bangladesh advanced to the next phase of the World Cup, and signalled that its youthful, talented side was ready to mix it up with the big boys.
England blown away by Kevin O’Brien storm, 2011:
After a thrilling tie against India in a daunting run-chase, an English side with its confidence sky high turned up for what was supposed to be an easy win against their neighbours.
Batting first, England cruised to a total of 327 with half-centuries from Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell. The Irish bowlers pulled things back to an extent, conceding just 39 runs in the last six overs, but at the halfway point England appeared to have a sufficiency of runs on the board.
The feeling was intensified as Ireland’s top-order failed to create pressure on the English bowlers. Their chances of making a contest of it looked slim when skipper William Porterfield dragged a wide delivery from James Anderson onto his stumps. For approximately 75 overs out of the 99.1 bowled in the game, it was all one-way traffic in England’s favor.
And then Alex Cusack joined Kevin O’Brien in the middle. The duo added 162 runs for the sixth wicket off only 103 balls, with the pink-haired Kevin O’Brien mounting an assault of unbridled ferocity as he blazed away to a 50-ball hundred - the fastest in World Cup history.
By then, England’s bowling was dispirited, its fielding ragged. So much so that even when Cusack and O’Brien ran themselves out, John Mooney walked out to play a cameo of 33 from 30 balls, sealing the win with a four off the first ball of the last over.
Bangladesh’s knockout punch to England, 2015:
“Full and straight. The Bangladesh Lions have knocked the England Lions out of the World Cup,” said Nasser Hussain as Rubel Hossain castled Jimmy Anderson.
England had played some of its worst ODI cricket coming into the tournament, while Bangladesh was going through an exponential rise. Yet, it seemed unlikely that England would lose and, in defeat, fail to make the quarterfinal berth still seemed a far-fetched outcome.
Batting first, Bangladesh lost both openers within the first 15 balls. 8 for 2 became 99 for 4, but then Mahmudullah Riyad turned up with his A-game, smacking 103 – the first Bangladeshi batsman to score a century in the World Cup. More importantly, batting with Mushfiqur Rahim who scored 89, he resurrected the innings with a 141-run stand that took Bangladesh to a competitive first innings total of 275.
England had a decent start before their opening pair was separated by an embarrassing run out. Ian Bell held the innings together, but his departure for 63 triggered a middle-order collapse that reduced England to 163 for 6. Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes kept England’s hopes alive but Rubel Hussain, bowling “full and straight”, knocked over the stumps twice in the 49th over to hand England a humiliating defeat.
Bangladesh lost to India in the quarterfinal, but had already had a dream World Cup campaign making it as far as it did. England, on the other hand, received considerable flak – and, unlike in the aftermath of previous failures, learned its lessons, overhauled its team, recreated its strategy and, five years later, head into the current World Cup as firm favourites.
Other Notable Upsets:
Sri Lanka beat India, 1979
Zimbabwe beat Australia, 1983
Zimbabwe beat England, 1992
Canada beat Bangladesh, 2003
Kenya beat Bangladesh, 2003
Kenya beat Sri Lanka, 2003
Kenya beat Zimbabwe, 2003
Bangladesh beat South Africa, 2007
Ireland beat Bangladesh, 2007
Ireland beat West Indies, 2015