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The Ten: World Cup Heroes

by Wisden Staff

Deep from the AOC archives we bring you the best men from three decades of World Cup glory, and the moments that made them great.


Cricket could never return to its cherished old days after the ’75 World Cup and its famous final. A new game was emerging with a new belief in what was possible. WELCOME TO THE FUTURE! it screamed, and amid the din of Caribbean claxons and West Indian whistles on the Lord’s outfield, no one hollered with greater clarity than the victorious captain.

Principally this tournament would give limited-overs cricket the platform upon which to justify itself, but it gave us more than that. The Lord’s final, and the regal classic played by West Indian skipper Clive Lloyd, allowed us a glimpse of the spirit coursing through the team that would come to dominate cricket for the next 15 years.

Australia began the tournament as cricket’s undisputed champions. The belt was then held by Ian Chappell, an outstanding captain and manipulator of men, who controlled a team then acknowledged as the best side in the world. They were also the hardest, and many had the scars to prove it. Australia was the benchmark; teams had to go through them to get to the top; Chappell and Lloyd had to slug it out in the final.

The Australians win the toss and opt to bowl, and the West Indians are soon checked by early wickets. Here he comes. The vast unit with the modest specs lollops out, swinging this willow in a pair of hands so big that the bat requires six grips on its handle. It is 50-3.

The whole thing takes just 108 minutes. Lillee and Thomson are scythed, slashed and belted. With a high grip on the bat and a loose-limbed flow to each shot, he hits good length balls over mid-wicket before cricket allowed for that sort of thing, and hooks Lillee for six from in front of his black-rimmed glasses. At the end of it 102 runs have come from 85 balls, and we have been shown what one-day cricket, and the spectacle of the World Cup, could hold for us. We have also seen the soul of West Indies cricket made flesh.

West Indies made 291-8 from their 60 overs, and despite 62 from Chappell, when last man Thomson became the fifth run-out of Australia’s innings to leave his team 16 runs short, the West Indian fans flooded the turf in spontaneous synergy. Amid the delirium, the godfather of modern West Indies cricket – dignified, serious-minded, inspiring – is carried from the pitch on the shoulders of cricket’s next champions.

Four years later he is back at Lord’s to lift the cup again, and is still the only captain to lift the cup twice. This time he is carried from the field as leader of the best cricket team on earth.


“Things happened to political opponents in the country; people have ‘accidents’. So I was aware of that. I don’t want to sound idealistic, but I suppose at that time my convictions were stronger than my fears. Does that mean I didn’t care what happened to me? Of course not. But I suppose you come to times in life where you think, ‘yeah, I’ve gotta say something here.’ This is not right, you know?”

The words of Henry Olonga, in conversation with AOC in November 2006. He was looking back at a time in history when what happens with a bat and a ball lies a distant second to the realities of life in a blighted land where starvation, corruption and death overpowers hope by sheer weight of body bags.

This is what Olonga and his white compatriot Andy Flower faced in their homeland as the 2003 World Cup got underway. It was the intention of Zimbabwe’s cricket/governmental administrators (demarcations become blurred) to project a façade of middle-class sophistication when the brutal truth was being dumped down the road in makeshift cemeteries, yet these two men blew that deception wide open when, on the morning of their first home match against Namibia at Harare Sports Club, they released a joint statement explaining why they would be wearing black armbands during the match.

Their statement read: ‘We cannot in good conscience take to the field and ignore the fact that millions of our compatriots are starving, unemployed and oppressed… We are aware that many people have been unjustly imprisoned and tortured simply for expressing their opinions about what is happening in the country. We have heard a torrent of racist hate speech directed at minority groups. We are aware that thousands of Zimbabweans are routinely denied their right to freedom of expression…’ It went on, each word a retaliatory hand grenade.

They were, they said, ‘mourning the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe’. Olonga and Flower survived the next few days without incident, “it was all pretty calm, bizarrely” Olonga recalled, reasoning that after such a public statement any repercussions would have to take place “in the full sight of the world”. And when the team travelled to South Africa to play their co-hosts for their final match, they both stayed put.


Even if Sir Isaac hadn’t made 138 not out in the ’79 final and hit the last ball of the innings, a low full toss from Mike Hendrick, impossibly for six into the Mound Stand, he would still be in this list. Even if he hadn’t averaged 63 over four World Cups and 23 matches, with 181 from 125 balls (seven sixes) his personal best, or won the cup itself twice and narrowly lost another final. And even if he hadn’t taken one of the greatest outfield catches you’ll ever see to get rid of Ian Botham on the mid-wicket boundary, again in the ’79 final, Viv Richards would still have made it in.

Why? Because for every shot Clive Lloyd played in that 1975 final which established West Indies as the coming force, Richards matched his captain’s deeds not with the bat but in the field, where he engineered three show-stealing run-outs in a tight run chase to effectively win his team the world title.

This, remember, was a time when fielding was something to do when you were waiting to do something else, and one-day cricket had yet to craft its identity as a young man’s game for dynamic athletes, yet Richards hit the stumps twice to account for the Chappell brothers – one with a brilliant underarm flick – and claimed a third as chaos set in. Just as Lloyd had shown us the way with the bat, so Richards paved the way for the next generation of dead-eye fieldsmen – Collis King, Jonty Rhodes, Ricky Ponting, Paul Collingwood and the rest – to show us what one-day cricket meant.

Did we mention he could hold a bat?


Ah, Aravinda. The wee wizard with magic in his hands assured Sri Lanka’s cricket would never again be disregarded with an all-round turn in the ’96 final that remains the best individual performance by any World Cup finalist. Australia were inevitably the opponents that day, but not even the gold army could stop Arry’s march to immortality.

He began by squeezing the life from Australia’s lower order with the ball, taking three cheap wickets (Taylor, Ponting and Healy) with his spiky off-breaks and reducing them to 241-7. It was a gettable target for Sri Lanka’s vaunted batsmen, but when Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana went for single figures, in waddled this bow-legged five-footer with scruffy pads and odd gloves to play the most important innings in Sri Lankan cricket’s history. Cutting, hooking, deflecting Warne (0-58) and driving those wrists through anything over-pitched, Aravinda was still there at the end, unbeaten on 107, with his captain Arguna Ranatunga not out at the other end.

That night in Lahore little Sri Lanka – sniffed at by the old world establishment, only ever granted one Test against England, ‘second-class’ cricketers – were crowned world champions.

As for Aravinda, he would score bucketloads for another six years (finishing with 31 international hundreds), before jacking it in to become a national selector, whispering Sky commentator and driver of obscenely fast cars.


The great classicist Martin Crowe was imperious in 1992 and if a dodgy hamstring hadn’t crocked him in full flow in the semi-final, New Zealand rather than Pakistan would have contested the showpiece against England.

Crowe had been run out for 97 against England in his first World Cup game in 1983, and here his final masterclass suffered the same fate, after he’d hobbled to 91 from just 83 balls. This was his final World Cup appearance, and a desperately cruel way for a great player to leave the stage.

Words often fail a talent like Crowe. As near to a right-handed David Gower as you could find, his swivel pull, played with hours to spare, was one of cricket’s miracles. With bandana flowing from under his helmet and a game in perfect order, Crowe was untouchable in ’92. Only his famously brittle body could stop him, because the world’s bowlers had clearly run out of ideas. From his opening unbeaten hundred against Australia in the tournament’s first match (a game NZ won as Australia failed to qualify from the group), he followed with scores of 74*, 81* and 73* before meeting Pakistan in the last four. He finished the tournament with an average of 152 and a cloying sense of what he had achieved. A great player, he deserved a better send-off than a ripped hamstring and a messy run-out.


The fairytale of Pakistan’s 1992 World Cup campaign struggles for plausibility, but as every market trader in Lahore will tell you, this miracle really did happen. And why? Why did a directionless and dispirited team of underperforming individuals come back from being bowled out for 74 in a group game to win the tournament? Why did Wasim Akram suddenly start swinging the new ball, and the young genius Inzamam his blade? Why? Why, Imran of course!

Imran had retired from the international game by the late-Eighties. Tired of the politics of Pakistani cricket, it was the politics of real life that now gripped him; with his mother recently lost to cancer, Imran was only persuaded to come back to lead the team when he realised the money he could make would help finance the cancer hospital he was intent on building.

But still, this champion was creaking. Injured for the early group stages, he watched his team lurch from one farce to another, including that 74 against England. It needed a late surge orchestrated by the returning Imran, whose canny medium-pacers (the pace had gone) and gargantuan aura (the man still shone) accounted for a clutch of cheap wickets, and a few runs. Three wins on the spin had taken them to Auckland, and a classic semi-final.

It was at this point that Imran delivered his famous ‘Cornered Tigers’ speech. No other country plays on its wits like Pakistan and Imran saw this. It was a rallying call to his men to play like the world was against them and to come out fighting. It was inspirational. Inzamam-ul-Haq played a glorious cameo to steal the semi-final, and followed it up in the final itself after Imran had taken a week to score 72; Wasim Akram bowled like a crazed hoodlum, Mushtaq spun his googly, and Javed Miandad batted with masterful finesse.

Imran just let them play. England were swept aside in the final, with Imran’s protégé Wasim taking the wickets and the glory. After that match, the man just walked away.


World Cups always throw up a few cult heroes. We could, for argument’s sake, have gone with Mark Greatbatch (Kiwi biffer from ’92), Zimbabwe’s Eddo Brandes (chicken farmer/imperialism-botherer), Jonty Rhodes (for diving about a bit), Duncan Fletcher (for turning the Aussies over – as a player of course, back in 1983). Or what about John Davison from Canada, who took West Indies for 111 from 76 balls in 2003, still the fastest hundred in cup history? But if all these men can claim their own piece of the story, the ultimate World Cup cult hero has to be old Lugs himself, the hairless superstar that is Christopher Harris.

For four World Cups for New Zealand from 1992-2003, Harris bowled these strange floating non-spinning leg-cutters off the wrong foot that were paradoxically impossible to hit, batted eagerly but without much success, and fielded brilliantly in the covers. He was always effective with the ball, taking the pace off it, then taking off a bit more, and then shedding any last vestiges of pace until it was so slow a batsman needed an almighty hoick just to get it off the square. He was your archetypal ‘bits-and-pieces’ player, unflashy, unorthodox, a one-day product and proud of it.

Then one day, out of nowhere, Harris went totally berserk! It’s the semi-final in 1996, Australia are the bitter opponents, and Harris, who in 272 other international appearances never sniffed three figures, shuffles out at 44-3 and smashes Warne, McGrath et al for 130 bafflingly brilliant runs! They lost of course – a Mark Waugh special saw to that – but Harris had gone down in World Cup folklore.


The man revolutionised the game, simple as that. Up until 1996 the opening overs were treated with respect, with deference to the new ball. The field was close in with just two boundary fielders, yet few runs were scored. It just wasn’t done. Then Jayasuriya came along, with his pick-up shots over mid-wicket and his left-handed slashes through and over the covers, and tore up the manual. Sri Lanka won that tournament and he was the man, with 221 runs at 130 runs per 100 balls, closely followed by his tiny, equally murderous accomplice Romesh Kaluwitharana. Jayasuriya’s wild dismantling of England’s insipid attack in the quarter-final – 82 from 44 balls – was brought into sharp relief when you considered that England’s labouring openers were the rigidly orthodox Mike Atherton and Robin Smith.


It tells you all about England’s World Cup record that the sole Englishman on our list played in three tournaments, made it to three finals, and lost them all.

In 1979 he was the middle-order man faced with the impossible job of upping the ante after openers Brearley and Boycott shared 235 balls for 121 runs. In 1987 the opener swept and swept and swept again to neuter the subcontinent’s spinners (117 vs India at Mumbai in the semi-final, 92 against West Indies, 67 versus Sri Lanka), before succumbing for 35 in a final against Australia that England tossed away to lose by seven runs.

In 1992 he was captain, and this time he had to watch Pakistan carve up a final that should have been England’s. They were probably the best side over the course, but on the day Botham went for nought and Gooch himself nicked one for 29 to complete a desperately cruel World Cup career that produced 897 runs at 45, a masterful hundred in the searing smog of Mumbai, and a whole lorry load of hurt.


Great feats against the odds should be celebrated, yet it felt like Kenya had committed a crime by making it that far. Maybe TV revenues were down, and big league sponsors didn’t fancy unfamiliar faces polluting their screens. A year after Kenya’s sucess, captain Steve Tikolo bemoaned the lack of progress in terms of developing the game in his homeland. “The ICC have more or less turned their backs on us since our showing in the tournament,” he said.

One face that few knew before the World Cup was Collins Obuya, a lower-order hitter and leg-break bowler, but after taking four wickets against Canada and then five famous scalps against Sri Lanka in a game his country won by 53 runs, he was the most potent symbol of what Kenyan cricket could offer with the right support. Here was a young kid, with no experience or domestic structure to practise his art, spinning big leg-breaks with control and great flair on the international stage and ripping up a middle order of de Silva, Jayawardene and Sangakkara. After 13 wickets at 28.76 he was snapped up by Warwickshire, but he made little impression and returned to the margins of the game in the company of a clutch of talented but undervalued countrymen.

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