Cricket: It's all about being world beaters

By David Leggat

Every sport needs a world championship, something for the best of the best to aspire to. Whatever your views on 50-over cricket, this is it.

You can't really claim to be the best team on the planet if you have proved the top side in T20.

There is no world decider in test cricket just yet, so it is the next few weeks that will show who rules the roost.

Only one one-day event really matters in cricket. Forget all the meaningless bilateral, or three-cornered tournaments which are moneymaking exercises, often tedious with players only half-interested, their eyes on the cheque. Too often in recent times they are fertile ground for the crooks, too.

This is the tournament that players want to win. Why? Because they can call themselves world champions, for a start. It also tends to be the only one in which teams, like swimmers or racehorses, are primed to peak when it really counts.

Once again, the International Cricket Council has done an injustice to the game with the length of the tournament.

In 2007 the Caribbean hosted a giant snore, 51 games poured into a seemingly never-ending 47 days.

This time, they've done away with the drawn-out second stage and replaced it with a straight quarter-final knockout system.

The problem is there are 14 teams again, split into two groups. So it will consist of 49 games squeezed into 43 days.

The ICC does have a dilemma. The associate member nations argue this is the one event which offers them a chance to mix it with the big boys; those big boys would prefer to shut the door and make it more elite, with a second tier event to enable a couple to join the party.

That argument is for another day.

For now, what to expect.

There are sure to be walkovers early on. There can't help but be lopsided contests in which the likes of Canada, Kenya and the Netherlands will get a spanking or two.

But you hope there will be a boilover or two.

In 1983, Zimbabwe - in their first year of ODI cricket and still 10 years from their test debut - beat Australia, Wessels, Hughes, Border, Marsh, Lillee, Thomson et al, by 13 runs at Trent Bridge.

Thirteen years on, Kenya smashed the West Indies by 73 runs in Pune, dismissing them for 93; in 1999 Bangladesh, still awaiting test status at that point, beat Pakistan by 62 runs in Northampton.

What does the history of the tournament teach us? Invariably the best teams rise to the top.

However, the nature and format leave room for a country to overcome a poor start.

There's no better example than Pakistan in 1992, Imran Khan's celebrated "cornered tigers".

They had one foot on the plane home early after a dreadful beginning before roaring home on a wet sail to memorably beat England in the final in Melbourne. The West Indies won the first two finals and no argument either. They were the best going round in this form and about to embark on the most formidable period in their history.

India stopped them in the 1983 final, inspired by Kapil Dev and his over-the-shoulder catch to remove the threatening Viv Richards. Over-confidence did for the defending champions and they've never come close since.

Border's battlers won the tightest final by seven runs, four years later in Kolkata, after Australia and England had eliminated joint hosts India and Pakistan in the semifinals.

It signalled the start of one of the great Australian eras, the likes of Steve Waugh, Dean Jones, Geoff Marsh, Craig McDermott and David Boon adorning that side.

Sri Lanka came of age in 1996, toppling Australia, who have dominated things since, with three straight victories.

As always this will be the farewell for some of the game's greats. So enjoy Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting - the two top cup runmakers of all - and Muttiah Muralitharan and his twirling fingers.

West Indian greats Shiv Chanderpaul and Chris Gayle are on their last cup legs; so too, you would imagine, South Africa's man for all occasions Jacques Kallis and one of Pakistan's very best, Younis Khan.

A winner? It's hard to go past India, with one proviso: if they can keep the mental stresses of playing in front of their adoring millions.

WORLD CUP FINALS

June 21, 1975, Lord's

West Indies 291-8 bt Australia 274 by 17 runs.

Cricket's longest day, which began at 11am and finally ended at 8.43pm, came on the longest day of the year. Clive Lloyd's ferocious 102 off 85 balls spearheaded the West Indies; Viv Richards oversaw a fielding operation which included five runouts. Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee put on 43 to give the game a thrilling denouement.

June 23, 1979, Lord's

West Indies 286-9 bt England 194 by 92 runs

Richards' 138 and Collis King's smashing 86 off 66 balls did the business for the Windies. Mike Brearley and Geoff Boycott put on 129 for the opening stand, but far too slowly. Joel Garner's five for 38 did the rest.

June 24, 1983, Lord's

India 183 bt West Indies 140 by 43 runs

Kapil Dev's finest of many notable achievements for India. His running catch to dismiss the threatening Richards turned the game India's way.

November 8, 1987, Kolkata

Australia 253-5 bt England 246 by seven runs

David Boon's 75 and a rapid unbeaten 45 by Mike Veletta set up Australia's total. England captain Mike Gatting will forever be condemned in English eyes for attempting a reverse sweep at rival skipper Allan Border's first ball, when set on 41. It probably cost England the game.

March 25, 1992, Melbourne

Pakistan 249-6 bt England 227 by 22 runs

Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Wasim Akram got the key runs. Akram's bowling did the job on England's middle order for a famous win for Imran's 'Cornered Tigers'.

March 17, 1996, Lahore

Sri Lanka 245-3 bt Australia 241-7 by seven wickets

Aravinda de Silva's greatest innings, 107 not out, with strong support from Asanka Gurusinhe and captain Arjuna Ranatunga saw the Sri Lankans home for one of the most popular of all World Cup wins.

June 20, 1999, Lord's

Australia 133-2 bt Pakistan 132 by eight wickets

Lamentable batting from Pakistan led to a lay-down win for the Aussies, for whom Shane Warne took four for 33.

March 23, 2003, Johannesburg

Australia 359-2 bt India 234 by 125 runs

Ricky Ponting's savage 140 not out off 121 balls, and Damien Martyn's unbeaten 88 enabled the Aussies to put up the biggest score in a final. India were never in the frame.

April 28, 2007, Barbados

Australia 281-4 bt Sri Lanka 215-8 by 66 runs

Adam Gilchrist's squash-ball-in-a-glove trick helped him to a rapid 149 from 104 balls. As the light faded, so did Sri Lanka's always slim hopes.

- NZ Herald

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