The hallmark of a true genius lies in lifting one’s game a notch higher when the situation demands it the most. And when it comes to situations, there is perhaps none bigger than a World Cup final, and the unmatched pressure that accompanies it.
While Australia have, hands down, dominated the competition as a team, with five titles, several players from other teams have stood out with their peerless performances. Ahead of the 2019 finale, we compile a list of superstars who set the stage on fire with their performances in the finals of past editions of the World Cup, and put them together to make a world-class XI.
1. Adam Gilchrist
Gilchrist’s 15th ODI century, and his first in 14 months, came on the grandest stage of them all. Arriving in quite the mood after having endured a lean tournament, a ruthless ‘Gilly’ punctured the Sri Lankan attack from the get-go, repeatedly lofting the pacers over the in-field, and using his feet against spin. Such was his impact that he raced to his ton in just 72 balls; Hayden, at the other end, managed only 38 in that time.
149 runs [104 balls, 13 fours, 8 sixes] v Sri Lanka, 2007
2. Gautam Gambhir
Long before MS Dhoni created a storm to accelerate India’s march towards the title, Gautam Gambhir was making the hard runs, having to dig deep after the loss of the Indian openers Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag in quick succession. Gambhir’s dogged 97 at No. 3, built on tireless scrambling between the wickets and snatching away the odd boundary, pulled India out of trouble and laid the base from which Dhoni launched an onslaught to help India chase down 275 and negate Mahela Jayawardene’s ton earlier in the day.
97 runs [122 balls, 9 fours] v Sri Lanka, 2011
3. Ricky Ponting
Walking onto a solid platform, with over 100 runs on the board in the 14th over, Ponting spent the next two hours clinically taking the final out of India’s reach. Under Ponting’s unrelenting assault, Australia’s run-rate never dipped. Initially watchful against the spinners, Ponting changed gears upon reaching his fifty, and pummelled the pacers in the final ten overs, repeatedly going aerial as he powered Australia past 350 and to their second successive World Cup trophy.
140* runs [121 balls, 4 fours, 8 sixes] v India, 2003
4. Vivian Richards
Collis King’s whirlwind 66-ball 86 was arguably more impactful, but it was Richards’ century that anchored West Indies to a healthy 286. Class and ruthlessness combined, Richards mellowed down when King was on song, but held the batting together after his dismissal, finishing the innings with a flurry of lusty hits, and staying unbeaten.
138 runs [157 balls, 11 fours, 3 sixes] v England, 1979
5. Clive Lloyd
The West Indies captain put behind an underwhelming tournament with the bat as he tore into Australia’s bowling attack, in the first-ever World Cup final, at Lord’s. Lloyd took West Indies from a tricky 50-3, to 291, making full use of an early dropped catch and exhibiting his famed big-hitting for an 82-ball ton – no mean feat in the 70s.
102 runs [85 balls, 12 fours, 2 sixes] v Australia, 1975
6. Aravinda de Silva
Aravinda de Silva’s stellar ‘96 campaign culminated with a sensational, all-round masterclass in the final, which sealed his name in Sri Lanka’s cricketing folklore. His three-wicket haul confined Australia to within 250, before he came out to steer the chase himself, nullifying the openers’ early departure to take his side home with an unbeaten ton.
3-42, 107 [124 balls, 13 fours] v Australia, 1996
7. Mohinder Amarnath
‘Jimmy’ features low on this XI due to his bowling exploits in the ‘83 final. Amarnath’s innocuous medium-pacers turned out to be an unlikely asset in India’s giant-slaying of West Indies. In a low-scoring thriller, he first mustered a crucial 26, before diffusing Windies’ lower-order fightback with figures of 7-0-12-3.
26 [80 balls, 3 fours], 3-12 v West Indies, 1983
8. Imran Khan
Debuting in a World Cup final, and faltering at 24-2, Pakistan’s nerves were soothed when Imran Khan entered at No. 3 and resurrected their innings. Along with Javed Miandad, he forged a 139 run-stand to ensure his side had enough to fight for. He later returned to admirably lead his troops on the field, holding a young line-up together under pressure.
72 [110 balls, 5 fours, 1 six], 1-43 v England, 1992
9. Wasim Akram
In that same topsy-turvy 1992 final, Akram exhibited moments of sheer brilliance, both with bat and ball. At No. 6, his 18-ball 33, at the far-end of Pakistan’s innings, gave them the final thrust towards 250. He later returned to remove opener Ian Botham for a six-ball duck, before stifling the middle order, and prising out two back-to-back wickets to tilt the game in his side’s favour.
33 [18 balls, 4 fours], 3-49 v England, 1992
10. Shane Warne
After the pacers did their initial bit, Warne’s four-wicket haul refused to let Pakistan’s middle-order off the hook, denting it with regular strikes. In what turned out to be his final World Cup appearance, Warne’s crafty spin first cleaned up Ijaz Ahmed and Moin Khan, before he returned to capture two more wickets and extinguished hopes of a late fightback.
4-33 v Pakistan, 1999
11. Joel Garner
Chasing 287, England’s top order took them to 182-2, before the pressure of an elevating run-rate, and Joel Garner’s mid-innings magic, derailed them. Garner dismissed the well-set Gooch, and four balls later, cleaned up David Gower to kickstart a fightback. He later returned to feast on the tail, finishing with figures of 11-0-38-5, and sending England hurtling at 194 all out.
5-38 v England, 1979