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Cricket World Cup metamorphosis over the years led to escalation in strike rate

By Harsh Thakor 

The advent of the cricket world cup in 1975 carved out new era in the cricket world. It filled the void of test cricket which could not have a world cup. Cricketing spectacles or glory reached a new height with tussles in intensity almost unbelievable and cricketing performance reaching superlative heights. Sensational twists and turns have been a continuous feature.
It is also notable that the winners of most world cups were debatably or morally not the best ODI teams of the world. Best Examples were India in 1983, Australia in 1987, Pakistan in 1992,Sri Lanka in 1996,Australia in 1999 and England in 2019. I have no doubt that in 1983, West Indies were twice as good a team as winners, India. In my view only West Indies and Australia were truly the best sides in the world. Illustrated that world cup cricket is not about being the best performed or most talented team ,but about peaking at the right time and match winning instinct. It characterised how the ODI game or World cup was more on being at your best or blowing out all guns on a given day or about mental resilience and do or die spirit.
Perhaps no sport in a world cup has witnessed as many triumphs of dark horses or teams resurrecting themselves from the grave India’s triumph in 1983 was close to the greatest ever sporting upset ,illustrating the role the spirit and mind played in sport over mere ability.
A young bunch of talented Australians knitted together by Alan Border overcame considerably stronger Indian, Pakistan and English teams in 1987. In 1996, Sri Lanka illuminated the cricket world, shattering the myth of it being a cricketing baby, out a series of spectacular wins, giving run chasing a new dimension. It characterised how the ODI game or World cup was more on being at your best or blowing out all guns on a given day or about mental resilience and do or die spirit.
Although a fancied team, midway through the 1992 tournament Pakistan were in dire straits, all but beaten, before staging one of sport’s most heroic resurrections, with successive wins against Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand and England. It was almost as though skipper Imran Khan infused a new energy within it. A most fitting finale, with Pakistan virtually being the closest to toppling the mighty West Indies in 1975 and 1975 world cups, and arguably morally the best team in 1987.
A notable metamorphosis in the world cups has been the escalating strike rates, particularly from 1996 and 1999,when teams cruised home to targets of 300.Another trend has en teams winning as result of all-rounders in place of match-winners earlier. It was travesty that in the last world cup in 2019, teams bitterly struggled to chase a total above 250, similar to the pattern in the early stages of the tournament.
A predominant feature of the cricket world cup was in it’s first stage, the home side never winning the title. England, India, Pakistan, India and Australia failed as favourites on their home soil. From 1999, the trend tilted towards favourites winning the title, be it India, Australia or England. and home sides, in the last 3 editions.

Greatest World Cups

For it’s sheer aesthetic value very few world cups could surpass the 1975 Prudential World cup. When scoring 78 of a mere 35 balls against Australia, Alvin Kalicharan transcended regions of domination untouched before. In the final Clive Lloyds 102 ranked amongst the most spectacular all round strokeplay ever witnessed on a cricket field. West Indies by the skin of the teeth, defeated Pakistan by a slender margin of 1 wicket, when the last wicket pair of Andy Roberts and Deryk Murray, ressurected the Calypsos from the grave, to reach the pinnacle of glory.
In the semi-final at Leeds between England and Australia, in of dramatic twists and turns Australia ressurrected themselves from 39-6,to reach the target of 93. The final between West Indies and Australia, manifested cricketing glory at heights rarely transcended, with West Indies prevailing over Australia by slender margin of 17 runs, with an enthralling 41 run last wicket between Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. On paper, there was hardly anything separating West Indies, Australia, Pakistan and England.
Arguably, Pakistan was the unluckiest loser in the inaugural world cup, who had virtually sealed a win against the eventual champions, West Indies at Edgbaston, when placed in apposition when a team would won 99 times out of 100.It possessed the strongest batting line up of all sides.
For sheer competivity or openness, the 1987 Reliance World cup played in India and Pakistan, ranks at the top. England had won 4 one day tournaments in Australia in Sharjah and at home conquering West Indies, England and Pakistan, India and Pakistan the most talented and balanced and West Indies still morally the best ODI side. Australia caused dramatic upset in the semi-final against Pakistan at Lahore to turn the tables, and go on to beat England in the final.
That edition had a dramatic one wicket win of Pakistan over West Indies scoring 14 in the last over, England beating West Indies by 3 wickets with Alan Lamb scoring 13 of the last over, and Australia snatching a dramatic 1 run victory at Madras , after the Indian middle order sensationally collapsed, which once looked like a walk in the park with victory being a formality for India.
Like India in 1983, Australia did what the doctor ordered to stick to their basic task. After India and Pakistan were firmly entrenched as favourites, displaying an aura of invincibility, England and Australia toppled them in the semi-finals.
In terms of a spectacular resurrection or Houdini act none could equal Pakistan in 1992 Benson and Hedges World cup world cup in Australia and New Zealand, who recovered like a phoenix from the Ashes. Inzamam Ul Haq’s 60 in the semi-final against New Zealand, was amongst the finest ever innings in an ODI run chase, while Wasim Akram in the final with blistering 33 and in capturing 2 wickets of successive deliveries, amongst the finest ever in cricket, to send the stumps of Alan Lamb and Chris Lewis shattering, took allround cricketing prowess, to heights rarely scaled. I can also never forget the spectacular contests between South Africa and England in the league game and semi-final, takingc cricketing intensity to its peak.
For sheer sporting sensation or upset none could rank with India’s win in 1983, 33-1 outsiders. India ressurected from the grave at 17-5 against Zimbabwe, to carry of spectacular wins against Australia, England and West Indies in the final.Kapil Dev’s swashbuckling 175 not out, was arguably the most defining world cup innings ever, turning the entire complexion of the tournament. For sheer virtuosity it transcended regions unscaled.
In the qualifying league game against Australia and semi final against England India were as clinical focused and spirited as the greatest of sides, in very department of the game. Seam bowlers like Roger Binny and Madan Lal brilliantly exploited the conditions while the batsmen did exactly what the doctor ordered.
In the final, defending a mere 183, India pulled of a near miracle. West Indies were cruising before Viv Richards was spectacularly caught by Kapil Dev at long on, after which the West Indies middle order fell in total disarray, tottering at 66-5 and then 75-6.The scene was reminiscent of a 360 degree turn in plot of an epic or a Tsunami intervening from nowhere. It was left to Mohinder Amarnath, to clean up the tail, and perform the final rites.
In displaying sheer supremacy or invincibility no side could rival West Indies in 1979 Prudential world cup and Australia in 2003 and 2007 world cups. Both teams literally rolled over the opposition, in the manner of bulldozers, manifesting the aura of an invincible emperor. Pakistan gave West Indies a fright in 1979 when chasing 293 in the semi-final and at one stage being 176-1, just as England and New Zealand did in the 2003 edition to Australia. In 2007 only Sri Lanka stretched Australia, in the final, who ranked amongst the strongest sides in world cup history.
The most defining factors were included the humiliation Viv Richards and Collis King caused in the 1979 final, Adam Gilchrist in the 2007 final against Sri Lanka when scoring an unbeaten 149,Mathew Hayden when scoring 172 against South Africa in 2007,Joel Garner’s blistering spell of 5-38 in the 1979 final,Andrew Symonds volatile 109 v Pakistan in 2003 etc.Most defining stars for West Indies were Viv Richards,Clive Lloyd ,Joel Garner, Andy Roberts and Gordon Greenidge while for Australia were Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne, Steve Waugh, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Michael Bevan, Glen Mcgrath.
Australia demonstrated invincibility in unprecedented depths. Simply rolled over opposition, with the clinical organisation of a surgeon and impact or power of a bulldozer. No team ever had more match-winners or cricketers of such explosive power. West Indies had the most lethal pace attack ever and best ever ODI batsmen .I rate it a whisker below Australia as it did not equal Australian professionalism or temperament.
In terms of sheer team class or strength of teams, I put 1999 ICC world cup at the top. The world cup, in my opinion, has never witnessed 3 teams so skilled or balanced. South Africa had the strongest batting depth, best fielding and greatest abundance of allrounders, Pakistan had the best bowling attack and match-winners, while Australia had the highest degree of professionalism.
In my view no team was ever as unlucky not to the world cup title as South Africa in 1999,who almost did everything right before capitulating in the final league match and semi-final, with the latter one being tied. In my view, possibly in team strength Pakistan and South Africa were on par with great West Indies and Australian world cup teams. 
Steve Waugh’s match-winning unbeaten 120 at Leeds against Australia, was one of ODI cricket’s most clinical or surgical exhibitions. Few batsmen were ever as dazzling towards the end of an innings as Lance Kluesener, in this edition, who put the perfect icing on cake to give a flourishing finish. In affirming the new trend in a home team having a distinct advantage in a world cup, the 2011 edition, when India triumphed was a landmark .India peaked just at the right time, playing in a most organised or clinical manner, to ward of Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Morally, perhaps Sri Lanka was even stronger than India, who gave some dazzling performances to reach the final.
For sheer ebb and flow the 2019 cup stood out, even if favourites England clinched the title. England looked down and out after deafest at the hands of Pakistan and Sri Lanka, before spectacularly resurrecting themselves against India. New Zealand won many hard fought tussles, managing to stave of the opposition by the skin of their teeth, with West Indies being the best example. In the semi-final the Kiwis caused a dramatic turnabout against India. In the final, chasing 241 runs, England faltered in the first part of the chase, losing 4 wickets before Ben Stokes and Joss Butler did a repair job to take their side to the brink of famous win. Sheer luck enabled England to draw level, with Stokes getting runs from accidentally hiiting the bat.In the end, England triumphed in a super over.

Most unlucky teams not to win World Cup

To me the best and most unfortunate team not to win the world cup has been South Africa. In my view, arguably, the Proteas were the best team in 1992, 1996, 1999 and 2011. It possessed stars like Alan Donald, Hanse Cronje, Peter Kirsten , Brian Mcmillan, Lance Kluesener ,Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, Dale Steyn, Herscelle Gibbs ,Shaun Pollock etc. No side had equal batting depth or such a plethora of allrounders.Imagine the likes of Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock and Hanse Cronje together with paceman like Alan Donald and batsmen like Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs and Daryl Kullinan. In one era it won 75% of it’s matches, which was remarkable. Few sides ever as comprehensively conquered top teams like Australia ,Pakistan or India in ODI’s, home and away, as the Proteas, from 1996-199,or even earlier from 1992-1996.Buckling under pressure in big tournaments and the world cup, virtually became habit. Herschelle Gibbs flooring a catch of Steve Waugh at 152-3 at Leeds in 1999 and Alan Donald missing out on run to win the 1999 semi-final against Australia, probably robbed South Africa of the title. South Africa although man to man the best team and playing best ,lacked big match temperament ,killer instinct. or match-winning flair.
New Zealand is next to South Africa, as the best team not to win a world cup. In initial years it was consistency personified, with an abundance of allrounders, but lack of match-winners. The Kiwis almost made all the semi-finals till 1996.In 1992; it came on the brink of winning before Pakistan snatched the semi-final from their clasp. I n 2007 and 2011, it was consistency personified till the semis, when they capitulated. In 2015, it pulled of a sensational win in the semi-final against South Africa, only to go down to Australia in the final. In 2019, arguably it was the moral winner of the final, if you analyse England’s sheer lucking getting runs technically. The Kiwis had series of very close shaves, before entering the final. Overall, perhaps New Zealand was unlucky not to win in 1992, 2019 and came very close in 2015.No team has more frequently qualified for the semifinals.
Innings that most turned or determined the fate of a world cup in my order of merit are Kapil Dev;s 175 v Zimbabwe at Tunbridge Wells ,Steve Waugh's 120 at Leeds v South Africa in 1999,.Inzamam Ul Haq's 60 v New Zealand in 1992 semi-final Clive Lloyd's 102 in 1975 final , Adam Gilchrist's 149 n.o in 2007 final., Sachin Tendulkar’s 98v South Africa in 2003 at Centurion,Aravinda De Silva 66 at Kolkata v India in 1996 semi-final,Yuvraj Singh v Australia at Ahmedabad in 2011,Ben Stokes 84 n.o. in 2019 final v New Zealand ; Aravinda De Silva in 1996 final at Lahore ,Viv Richards 138 and Collis King 86 jointly in 1979 final, Ricky Ponting 140 in 2003 final and Gautam Gambhir 99 in 2011 final and Steve Waugh 60 not out in 1987 semi-final.
For sheer virtuosity of batting, Sachin Tendulkar’s 98 of 75 balls in 2003,I rate at the top, which had every ingredient of a perfect innings. In terms of sheer destruction I rank Gilchrest 149 in 2007 final at the top. To manoeuvre or overcome a crisis in chase Steve Waugh’s unbeaten 120 and Inzamam Ul Haq’s 60 in 1992 semi-final are my joint best. Few innings were ever as dazzling as those by Collis King and Viv Richards in 1979 final ,Clive Lloyd in 1975 , Ricky Ponting in 2003 final and Aravinda De Silva in 1996 final.
The bowling spells that most defined or turned the fate of a cricket world cup were Joel Garner’s 5-38 in the 1979 final, Wasim Akram’s spell of 3-49 in the 1992 final ,Craig Mcdermott’s 5-44 in 1987 semi-final ,Gary Gilmour 6-14 in 1975 semi-final, Abdul Qadir’s 5- 44 against Sri Lanka in 1983 , Shane Warne 4-36 in 1996 semi final at Mohali and Roger Binny’s 4-29 jointly with Madan Lal’s 4-20 against Australia in 1983.
The matches which in my view most turned the fate of cricket world cups in order of merit were
1.India v Zimbabwe at Tunbrige Wells in 1983.Kapil Dev's heroic unbeaten 175 resurrected India from the grave at 17.5,to recah heights of glory.
2. West Indies v Pakistan at Edgbaston in 1975-A last wicket 64 run stand between Deryk Murray and Andy Roberts robbed Pakistan of a dramatic upset, with the Calypsos looking done and dusted at 203-9.
3. South Africa v Australia at Leeds n 1999-Herschelle Gibbs flooring a catch of Steve Waugh, did Australia a virtul a favour to seal their berth for the semi-final. .
4. India v Australia in quarter final at Ahmedabad in 2011-India garnered its forces to pull of it's act ,to give the Aussies a crushing blow in a run chase.
5. India v New Zealand semi-final at Old Trafford in 2019-Rain intervention robbed India of winning the game, causing deterioration the conditions. India faltered, to the incredible seaming conditions.
6. Australia v Pakistan Lahore semi-final in 1987-The Aussise caused arguably the most dramatic upset in a world cup semi-final, by turning the tables on the hot favourites.
7. West Indies v Pakistan at Oval in 1979 in semi-final-Pakistan looked to be cruising home to target of 293, at 176-1, before West Indies spectacularly clawed themselves back.
8.Pakistan's win in semi final against the Kiwis in the 1992 world cup, resurrected from no man's land to reach peak form, and then capture title.

Best Teams in Cricket World Cup

Amongst world cup winners I rank Australia of 2007 as the best team to win a world cup, a whisker ahead of Australia of 2003, and just one notch above West Indies of 1979. I am assessing form in world cup combined with team strength. West Indies were possibly better or more talented side on paper, but in my view, did not have Australia’s sheer professionalism and killer instinct, to so consistently overpower the opposition. Australia was more balanced or organised, with Shane Warne giving it a more diverse bowling attack and more allrounders to propel the batting order. At no 4 I would place India’s 2011 winning side, which had balance in all departments and variety.
On pure man to man basis, Pakistan of 1999 or South Africa of 1999 could have matched the best West Indies and Australian teams. Pakistan had the best and most diverse bowling attack ever and South Africa possessed more batting depth and genuine allrounders. Ironically, even 1983 losing finalists, West Indies, could well have defeated the 1979 side ,when you consider team bale and pre-final form. Similarly, losing finalists of 2007 and 2011, Sri Lanka, were debatably only behind the best West Indies, Australian, South African and Pakistan teams, to play in a cricket world cup.
Harsh Thakor is freelance journalist who has extensively researched on history of cricket



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