Four Unforgettable World Cup Memories

While the history of cricket World Cups date back to the 70s, I only started watching cricket since the 1996 World cup. So, in the last 15 years, I have followed four World cups with varying degrees of satisfaction. 1996 and 2003 featured some good performances from the Indian team, but eventually ended in tears. 1999 was a ho-hum event and 2007 was forgettable. Of course, there was plenty of good cricket played by other teams in these tournaments resulting in some unforgettable games. For the sake of brevity, I will pick four stand-out moments from each of the World Cups I have followed so far.

1996 – India vs Sri Lanka at Calcutta – The lone warrior

In the 90s, Sachin Tendulkar carried Indian batting on his shoulders and the opposition knew that if they could get him out, invariably the rest of the batting would fold quickly. It was no different in the Wills World Cup, where Tendulkar scored mountains of runs to propel India up to the semifinals in Calcutta where they met eventual champions Sri Lanka.

At that time, I was a 10 year old more interested in soccer and hockey, to whom cricket seemed to be too complicated a game. Due to the insistence of my cricket-crazy dad, I sat down to watch the matches featuring India, because (according to my dad) India stood a very good chance of winning the World Cup and emulating West Indies by doing it twice. Initially, I was not too enamored with the games, but as the tournament progressed, I was slowly getting hooked.

By the time the semifinals came around, Sri Lanka was a team to be feared. Led by the inimitable Ranatunga and featuring world class players like Jayasuriya and De Silva, they had confounded critics and fans alike with their aggressive play and managed to surpass expectations by reaching so far in the tournament. Everyone agreed that India would have a tough time getting past the Lankans to reach the final.

I started out watching the game dispassionately, and when Sri Lanka managed to sore 251, I figured that India would win the game easily. At that time, I didn’t appreciate the fact that India had allowed the Lankans to claw back after picking the wickets of the openers in quick time; and that De Silva had played one of the finest One day knocks at that time. I didn’t even realize the intricacies of pitch conditions and the pressure that the Indian team was facing in the cauldron that is the Eden Gardens.

All that didn’t matter when Sachin Tendulkar came out to bat. As his innings progressed, for the first time I was aware that I was watching a master at work. He seemed to be on a different plane than his team-mates, and I started to realize why his name was held in reverence by his countrymen. Then he got out stumped.
I will never forget that moment, because for the first time, a cricket dismissal elicited strange emotions in me. Feelings of total despair and lost hope. I had no idea why that elicited such strong feelings but sure enough, India crumbled from 98-1 to 120-8 (a stunning collapse of 7 wickets for 22 runs, courtesy of some smart spin bowling by the Lankans and lack of belief on the part of the Indian batsmen). 

Soon, Eden Garden was in flames and Sri Lanka marched on to the final, after winning the game by default. For me, the sight of Tendulkar sitting somberly in the dressing room and Vinod Kambli walking back in tears, will be enduring images; that day, I cried for the first (and last time!) for cricket. That day, I fell in love with the game and with the phenomena that is Sachin Tendulkar.

1999 – Australia vs South Africa at Edbagston – ‘What we got here is a failure to communicate!’

India were never really convincing throughout the tournament despite stellar performances from Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly. Instead, it was South Africa and Pakistan who looked good to grab the title. I was a big fan of South Africa then, due to presence of my favorites like Rhodes, Klusener and Donald. In the second semifinal, the latter two players combined for the most heart-breaking run out in ODI history.
South Africa and Australia had already taken part in a classic encounter in the Super Six stage where another of my favorites, Steve Waugh had played a captain’s innings to lead his team into the semifinals. It would have been too much to expect another good game so soon. Instead, the semifinal was a classic for the ages.

When Australia batted, they braved Pollock and Donald to set a tricky target of 214, thanks to some ice cool batting from the captain and Bevan. In reply, after Warne mesmerized the top order, South Africa stumbled on to 175-6 at the end of the 45th over having just lost Kallis, their most impressive batsman and still needing a further 39 from 31 balls. Klusener, who made his name during the tournament with his lusty hitting, walked in and proceeded to bat the way he did all through the summer. Soon, the score became 198-9 with 8 balls to go and still 16 runs needed to win.

I had an important test the next day and so I decided to multi-task by keeping one eye on my book and the other one on the TV (It is pretty hard imagining that, I know!). By the end of the 49th over, I threw my book to the side, and was praying for South Africa to squeeze through. South Africa needed 9 runs at the start of the final over, and Klusener reduced it to just 1 run after smoking the first two balls to the boundary. At this point, I was celebrating as I was convinced that South Africa would wrap this match with 4 balls to go. The third ball was a dot ball and made my heart skip a beat as Donald barely survived a run out chance. Convinced that the gods were on South Africa’s side, mentally I began to switch off from the game when it happened.

In a moment that will stay in the minds of the batsmen and cricket fans watching all over the world, Klusener biffed one down the ground and took off for a single which was never really on. I watched in horror as Donald lost his nerve, grounding his bat at first, then belatedly dropped the bat and set off for the striker’s crease – all in vain. As the Australian fielders converged in a huddle jubilantly, South Africa were shell shocked as they let another World Cup slip out of their grasp. I don’t know about Zulu and Donald, but I couldn’t sleep well for one week after that harrowing end. That day, South Africa earned the ‘chokers’ tag, which they have not been able to shake off ever since.

2003 – India vs Pakistan at Centurion – The shot heard around the world

Okay, maybe that is a bit overdramatic; but such was the hype for this encounter. Even before the World Cup began, millions of cricket fans from both countries were looking forward to this fixture. Tendulkar later said that he had sleepless nights before this match, and that says something. India overcame a slow start in the tournament and were peaking at the right moment while Pakistan were always going to be a transformed side when they came up against their arch rivals. It was the first clash between the two sides in almost three years, and I, along with a few friends, gathered to watch the game in feverish anticipation.

Pakistan propelled their score to a challenging 273 thanks to a century from the blade of the original bearded master, Saeed Anwar. When Sachin and Sehwag came out to bat, it was widely expected that they would consolidate at first, given the quality of the opposition bowlers – Akram, Younis and Akhtar. Instead, in the second over against a steaming Akhtar, Tendulkar unfurled a cut shot which sent the fourth delivery of the over, soaring over backward point for a six. In the room, where I was watching the game, it was perhaps the only six hit by an Indian batsman which was greeted by stunned silence. Such was the quality and timing of the shot that it took a few seconds before we gathered our bearings and shouted ourselves hoarse. It was the defining shot of the match, and possibly the World Cup. Pakistan were stunned and India simply lifted off from that point. Befitting the occasion, Tendulkar played one of the finest sub-100 knocks in ODI history.

2007 – Sri Lanka vs South Africa at Guyana – Malinga (almost) slings Lanka home

This was a very underwhelming World Cup, to say the least. First off, India were knocked out early removing major interest in the tournament. To make things worse, Bob Woolmer’s death cast a pall of gloom over the proceedings. After that, I barely followed any of the games, though I made it a point to watch Lara’s final innings in international cricket. Australia were playing well and everyone expected them to win the World Cup, which they duly did. In such a scenario, I maintained passive interest over the matches taking place, till the day of the Sri Lanka-South Africa game in the Super Eights.

I was randomly flipping through the channels, when I chanced upon the game. South Africa were chasing a target of 210 and were five runs away from victory, with Kallis still at the crease. As I was about to change the channel, Malinga struck with the penultimate ball of the 45th over, removing Pollock with a slower ball. There were still 4 wickets left, so the game was good as gone; or so I thought. Next ball, Andrew Hall departed after giving a catch to cover.

Now, my interest was piqued and I decided to wait and see if Malinga could get a hat-trick in the next over. When he resumed at the start of the 47th over, South Africa needed 4 runs to win with 3 wickets in hand. The first ball came full and outside off, which Kallis duly nicked to give Malinga the hat-trick. Suddenly, there was a buzz in the ground. Kallis couldn’t believe it and neither could I. Surely, South Africa cannot bottle it now, could they? Of course, then I remembered the 1999 semifinal. 

Out came Ntini, and the pressure was evident on the face of a usually cheery player. Malinga steamed in, his crazy hair bobbing all over the place, and sent in a searing Yorker, which Ntini could do nothing about. Just like that, South Africa were 1 wicket away from a demoralizing defeat after having dominated throughout the game. The Lankans couldn’t contain their unbridled joy and Malinga was all pumped up to deliver one final killer blow. Even though I was neutral, I couldn’t help get involved in the moment as Langeveldt came out to the crease. 

Malinga spent the next few minutes harassing the tail-enders, interrupted in between by a Vaas maiden. Balls kept missing the bat and stumps by millimeters keeping the umpires interested and the South Africans in the dressing room, at the edge of their seats. Finally, an edged boundary off the blade of Peterson brought South Africa their victory, but not before making their captain age in a couple of overs. Eventually, neither team would win the tournament but they provided cricket fans with possibly the best moments of the ill fated World Cup.

So there it is. Four unforgettable memories from the past four World Cups. What is in store this time?

tracerbullet007 blogs here.