Sport Cricket Countdown: the 40 greatest World Cup moments
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Countdown: the 40 greatest World Cup moments

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This year marks 40 years since the first edition of cricket’s World Cup, and while the 50-over format has declined in popularity in recent years, the tournament always provides plenty of magical moments.

Sports writer Will Evans is counting down his 40 most memorable World Cup moments of all-time. Here is the top 10.

The 40 greatest World Cup moments 40-31
The 40 greatest World Cup moments 30-21 
The 40 greatest World Cup moments 20-11

10. Sri Lanka come of age (1996)

Prior to co-hosting the 1996 tournament, Sri Lanka had won just four of their 23 World Cup matches. The early stages of ’96 were dampened by Australia and West Indies forfeiting their games against Sri Lanka in Colombo due to security concerns, but the former lightweights put the unrest behind them to ultimately go through the tournament unbeaten, ousting England in the quarters and India in the semis to set up a final showdown with Australia. Mark Taylor’s 74 was the feature of Australia’s 7-241 off their 50 overs, and Sri Lanka was under the pump when both openers fell cheaply. But the mercurial Aravinda de Silva, who earlier took three wickets, crafted a masterful 107 not out, while Asanka Gurusinha (65) and captain Arjuna Ranatunga (47 not out) made telling contributions as Sri Lanka swept to a seven-wicket win with 22 balls to spare.

9. Ireland runs down England at Bangalore (2011)

Ireland achieved one of the great World Cup upsets in 2011 on the back of an extraordinary knock by all-rounder Kevin O’Brien, who inspired the minnows to a three-wicket triumph over England with five balls to spare. England racked up an imposing 8-327 thanks to strong contributions by Jonathan Trott (92), Ian Bell (81) and Kevin Pietersen (59), and a comfortable victory for the favourites appeared a formality when Ireland slumped to 5-111 in the 25th over. But O’Brien had other ideas, walloping an unbelievable 113 from just 63 balls – including 13 boundaries and six sixes – to lift Ireland back into the contest. The swashbuckling redhead was run out in the second-last over, but John Mooney (33 not out) and Trent Johnston (seven not out) calmly picked off the 11 runs needed for the boilover.

8. Binny and Dev smash records as India triumph (1983)

Rank outsiders India enjoyed one of their greatest ever cricketing achievements by surging to take out the 1983 World Cup crown. After upsetting hosts England by six wickets in the semi-final, India rolled two-time champions West Indies by 43 runs in the final at Lord’s. The overwhelming stars for the unlikely victors were Roger Binny, whose 18 wickets (at 18.66) was a World Cup tournament record that stood until 1999, and 24-year-old captain Kapil Dev – the brilliant all-rounder smashed a then-ODI record 175 against Zimbabwe and finished the competition with 303 runs at 60.6 and 12 wickets at 20.41. The ’83 tournament was dubbed the ‘boilover World Cup’ and the plucky Indians personified that underdog spirit.

7. Ponting leads from the front (2003)

Australia became only the second team after the West Indies in 1979 to successfully defend the World Cup, decimating India by 125 runs in the 2003 final at Wanderers. After a 105-run opening stand between Adam Gilchrist (57) and Matthew Hayden (37), captain Ricky Ponting proceeded to play one of his most spellbinding limited-overs innings. Punter bludgeoned four boundaries and eight sixes in his 140 not out from 121 balls in one of the great captain’s knocks, while Damien Martyn played a superb support role with an unbeaten 88 off 84 balls in an incredible 234-run partnership. Glenn McGrath had Sachin Tendulkar out caught and bowled in the first over to set the tone for a relentless bowling display by the Australians, skittling India for 234 in the 40th over. Ponting, Gilchrist, McGrath, Michael Bevan and Darren Lehmann celebrated their second straight World Cup final victory.

6. Warnie and McGrath’s semi-final heroics bring Windies undone (1996)

West Indies came home with a wet sail during the 1996 tournament, recovering from a shock loss to Kenya (see No.30) to stun Australia (see No.21) and reach the semi-finals. The Windies were on course for another boilover in the semi at Mohali as Curtly Ambrose and Ian Bishop decimated the top order to leave Australia at 4-15. Stuart Law (72) and Michael Bevan (69) rescued the innings, but the total of 8-207 was looking mighty inadequate when West Indies were 2-165 in the 42nd over. Shiv Chanderpaul (80) holed out to Glenn McGrath, however, sparking the most mindblowing collapse imaginable. McGrath had Roger Harper out lbw two overs later but, with 30 runs from as many balls required, Shane Warne took three quick wickets – all lbw. Captain Richie Richardson kept his side in the contest with a couple of boundaries, but Damien Fleming bowled No.11 Courtney Walsh in the final over as the Windies came up five runs short. Richardson was left stranded on 49 not out as their last seven batsmen failed to score more than three runs, while the ecstatic Aussies were through to a final showdown with Sri Lanka.

5. Richards’ majestic innings foils England (1979)

The second World Cup climaxed in a dream final between two unbeaten sides – defending champions West Indies and hosts England – at Lord’s. Batting first, the Windies were delicately placed at 4-99 … before the incomparable Viv Richards took a stranglehold on the decider, scoring a sublime 138 not out off 157 balls. The outstanding contribution of Collis King, who smashed 86 off just 66 balls, is often overlooked; he provided valuable support to Richards as the rest of the West Indies batting order crumbled around him. Chasing 287 for victory, England started strongly – albeit slowly – as captain Mike Brearley (64) and Geoff Boycott (57) made 129 for the first wicket. But Joel ‘Big Bird’ Garner ensured no English batsman from No.5 onwards made more than five runs, taking 5-38 as the Windies defended their crown with a comprehensive 92-run triumph.

4. Imran’s crowning moment (1992)

Pakistan started the 1992 tournament erratically, recording just a win and a no-result in their opening five matches before rolling Australia, Sri Lanka and previously unbeaten New Zealand to scrape into the semi-finals. Skippered by legendary 39-year-old Imran Khan, Pakistan’s somewhat unfancied side included precociously talented youngsters Inzamam Ul-Haq and Moin Khan, veteran batsman Javed Miandad and star fast bowler Wasim Akram. They pipped the Kiwis in an epic semi-final to progress to their first World Cup final, but were reeling at 2-24 against England at the MCG before the irrepressible Khan stepped up again for his ‘cornered tigers’. Promoting himself to No.3 for the second straight match, the all-rounder top-scored with 72, while a solid contribution by Miandad (58) and quick-fire knocks from Inzamam (42 from 35 balls) and Akram (33 from 18 balls) saw Pakistan through to 6-249. Neil Fairbrother (62) attempted to hold England’s innings together, but Akram and Mustaq Ahmed claimed three wickets apiece before, fittingly, Khan dismissed No.11 Richard Illingworth in the final over to seal a 22-run triumph. The captain brought down the curtain on a 21-year international career after the tournament.

3. Australia’s improbable maiden triumph delights Indians (1987)

Although subcontinental archrivals India and Pakistan were knocked out in the semis, the 95,000-strong crowd at Eden Gardens in Calcutta (now Kolkata) created an electric atmosphere for the 1987 final – and the locals chose to get behind Australia, who were ridiculed as a club-strength side prior to the tournament, rather than the traditionally loathed England side. David Boon’s 75 held Australia’s innings together at the top of the order, while Allan Border’s run-a-ball 31 and Mike Veletta’s blistering 45 not out off 31 balls lifted the underdogs to 5-253. England’s chase was in a healthy position at 2-135 when captain Mike Gatting infamously, and inexplicably, attempted a reverse sweep off Border’s first delivery; he caught a top edge and was caught behind, changing the complexion of the final. Despite a swift 45 from Allan Lamb and Bill Athey’s painstaking 58, England couldn’t keep up with the required run rate and ultimately came up seven short in a pulsating conclusion to an outstanding decider. The crowd celebrated the victory as they would had their own team won, while Border was carried shoulder-high by his teammates. The ’87 triumph ended a long period in the doldrums for Australian cricket and sparked a revival that has garnered world’s best status for the vast majority of the 27 years since.

2. Viv Richards’ run outs swing inaugural final (1975)

Promising 22-year-old Viv Richards barely showed a glimpse of his marvellous talent with the bat at the inaugural World Cup, producing a top score of 15 not out and falling for just five in the final against Australia – but his oft-overlooked brilliance in the field was a crucial factor in the West Indies’ 17-run victory. Captain Clive Lloyd’s dazzling 102 from 85 balls – sharing in a 149-run stand with Rohan Khanai (55) – saw the Windies post 8-291 from their 60 overs, with Australia’s semi-final hero Gary Gilmour (see No.15) took 5-48. Australia’s innings started promisingly, but Richards brilliantly dismissed Alan Turner (40) and Greg Chappell (15) with direct hits, before firing in a throw to get rid of top-scoring skipper Ian Chappell (62). Desperately hanging in the match via some robust lower-order hitting, Australia was eventually dismissed for 274 in the final over after both Max Walker and Jeff Thomson were also run out. The veteran Lloyd and young Richards were feted after the win, while the latter would become a World Cup legend thanks to his batting heroics in the ensuing three tournaments.

1. Tied semi defies belief (1999)

No match in the World Cup’s four-decade narrative, or arguably even ODI history, has produced the drama and excitement, or become as fabled, as the 1999 semi-final between Australia and South Africa at Edgbaston. Steve Waugh’s side had snared a thrilling win over the Proteas just four days earlier (see No.18) just to reach the semis, but their quest to regain the trophy was on the ropes after Shaun Pollock (5-36) and Allan Donald (4-32) terrorised the Aussies, restricting them to a modest 213 all out; Steve Waugh (56) and Michael Bevan (65) were the only batsmen to offer any resistance. South Africa were crawling in their reply, struggling at 4-61 in the 22nd over, before Jacques Kallis (53) and Jonty Rhodes (43) righted the ship. Some big hitting by Pollock left the Proteas needing a gettable 30 off 24 balls, but wickets kept steadily falling and brutish all-rounder Lance Klusener was their last hope with one wicket in hand.

In what shaped as a tournament-turning moment, Paul Reiffel dropped Klusener on the second-last ball of the penultimate over and it went for six – South Africa required nine off the final over. Klusener clubbed Damien Fleming for boundaries off the first two balls, taking his total to 31 off just 14 balls and tying the scores; the Proteas needed an outright win as they had finished below Australia in the Super Six stage. In a seemingly hopeless position, the Australian fielders lined the 30-metre circle. After a dot on the third ball, Klusener hit the fourth straight up the wicket and ran … but No.11 Allan Donald stayed in his crease for an eternity before realising he had to run. The hapless Donald dropped his bat and was run out by half the length of the pitch. It was pandemonium – unrestrained jubilation from the Aussies, shattering disappointment for the South Africans, and stunned disbelief from everyone at Edgbaston and watching on television. It was a match that started a tradition of World Cup chokes for South Africa, while it epitomised the Australian side’s remarkable never-say-die spirit.

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