#5 Viv Richards
Arguably the most feared batsman of his time, Sir Vivian Richards, after a forgettable 1975 WC, one in which he made his ODI debut as well, dominated the next three between 1979-87, finishing with an aggregate of 1013 runs at a batting average of 63.31 (surprisingly, the only other batsman with an average above 60 among top-25 run-scorers in the 50-over WC is Rahul Dravid) and an SR of 85.05, and would have been placed much higher on this list but for his equally good performances outside of the WC.
The Antiguan’s first dominating innings in a WC could not have come at a better time – during the final of the 1979 edition, against hosts England. After West Indies were put into bat in bowler-friendly conditions and pressed on to the back-foot after the relatively cheap dismissals of the celebrated opening duo of Desmond Haynes and Gordon Greenidge, Richards strode out to the middle with his trademark swagger and pulverized the English attack into submission with an unbeaten 138, to help post a strong total of 286 in 60 overs, one which the famed Caribbean pace battery defended with ease to lift the biggest title in limited overs cricket for the second successive time.
The ‘King’ was at his most devastating in the 1983 WC, especially towards the business end of the tournament: scores in his three innings leading into the final read: 119(vs. India), 95*(vs. Australia) and 80*(vs. Pakistan, in the semi-finals). Halfway into the final, against India, at Lord’s, the score was eerily similar to what their sub-continental neighbours had put up: India were 183 all out as compared to Pakistan’s 184/8. West Indies’ chase also began in a similar manner, with both openers back in the hut with not many runs on the board.
On the previous occasion, Richards’ 80* saw the Caribbean team romp home to an 8-wicket victory, and he looked set to repeat the show, having bludgeoned 33 off just 27 balls, with seven boundaries. When he mistimed a short-arm pull off Madan Lal – such was the power of the man that even the miscue went miles into the air, the ball appeared destined to crash into the mid-wicket boundary after a couple of bounces, but Indian skipper Kapil Dev, in a supreme display of elegant athleticism, sprinted several yards from his position at mid-on and held on to the over-the-shoulder catch to bring about the moment acknowledged by many, including Cricinfo, as the turning point of the match.
The remaining West Indian batsmen, except Jeff Dujon and Malcom Marshall, who put up a brief resistance, collapsed in the face of incisive medium-pace bowling, to allow India to lay their hands on the coveted trophy for the first time.
Richards was equally disdainful during the 1987 WC – his final appearance on the biggest stage, aggregating 391 runs, which included his highest score of 181, in a WC, against a hapless Sri Lankan bowling attack. He followed it up with a half-century against England and two more against Pakistan, facing a pace attack that comprised Imran Khan at the peak of his skills and a tearaway quick Wasim Akram.
While the Caribbean batting line-up continued to be star-studded, their famed pace battery was visibly depleted, with only Courtney Walsh and Patrick Patterson making an impact. It was a disappointing outing for third seamer Winston Benjamin, and, with Curtley Ambrose’s international debut still a few months away, the Caribbean attack failed to invoke the fear they were famed for, and their earlier-than-expected exit probably marked the beginning of the end of the dominance of West Indian cricket on the international stage.
Overall Score: 4239.4
WC Score: 5384.5
#4 Sachin Tendulkar
Akin to Glenn McGrath in the bowling list and Richards in this, arguably the greatest ODI batsman of our generation and the highest run-scorer in the 50-over WC history, Sachin Tendulkar finds himself in the bottom half of this list, in spite of outstanding WC performances, because he has been almost as good throughout his illustrious career in lesser ODI engagements, as well.
While the young Tendulkar made his mark in his very first WC, in 1992, held in Australia-New Zealand, finishing inside the top-15 run-makers of the tournament, with scores that included a quick-fire 54* against arch rivals Pakistan and a couple of 80s against Zimbabwe and the Kiwis, it was in the 1996 edition, held in the sub-continent, that the maestro really stamped his class over the marquee event.
He topped batting charts, scoring 523 runs with the help of two centuries, and looked completely at ease on a treacherous Eden Gardens pitch during the infamous semi-final against Sri Lanka, till his freakish dismissal set the tone for the ugly collapse and the uglier crowd reaction that followed.
Tendulkar may not have been at his run-scoring best at the 1999 WC when he was possibly at the peak of his batting abilities, which, in my opinion, were at its zenith during the Sharjah Storm a year earlier; however, his sheer passion for his country and towards the game was highlighted when he returned a day after his father’s funeral to smash a century against minnows Kenya, which the Guardian hailed as ‘idolatry.’
The master blaster rewrote WC history in 2003, when he crunched 673 runs, which is, till date, the highest amassed in a single WC. Such was his dominance that he was more than 200 runs clear of the batsman next on the highest run-scorers list in that edition. Tendulkar’s signature was scrawled over the breadth of the tournament – he scored only a single century, but had crossed 80 on four more occasions, which included the physically testing 98, against Pakistan (yes, the one in which he uppercut Shoaib Akhtar for a six) where he battled cramps and probably the best ever pace attack of our sub-continental neighbours, for the match-winning knock. He faltered at the last hurdle, in the tournament final at Johannesburg, losing the battle against another WC behemoth, Mcgrath, to sign off India’s brilliant run thus far on a disappointing note.
After India’s short and unhappy campaign in the 2007 WC, the diminutive batsman returned for the 2011 instalment in the Indian sub-continent, in the twilight of a fantastic career, amid customary allegations against his dwindling form and questionable fitness. The man who always let his bat do the talking, went, perhaps unknowingly, one step further this time – not only did he emerge the second highest run-scorer in the tournament but also inspired the young generation of Indian cricketers, led by Player-of-the-Tournament Yuvraj Singh, himself battling cancer, to desperately seek the most coveted trophy for the man who had conquered almost every other silverware there was to be won.
It was something they did achieve, and history was written the second time in the country.
Overall Score: 3865.7
WC Score: 5067.4
Differential: 1201.7#3 Sourav Ganguly
The man who, in my opinion, deserves the maximum credit for turning around the fortunes of an Indian team tottering from the match-fixing saga of the late 90s and ushering in a golden era in Indian cricket, Sourav Ganguly, while performing admirably over the course of his ODI career, took his game to a different level altogether in the 1999 and 2003 editions of the WC.
The elegant southpaw scored 1006 runs in a mere 21 innings; to put things in perspective, this is at par with Richards (1013 runs in 21 innings) and significantly superior to some of his more worshipped peers, Adam Gilchrist (1085 in 31), Steve Waugh (978 in 30) and Kumar Sangakkara (991 in 28). The Prince of Kolkata made an impact on his World Cup debut itself, against South Africa at Hove, where he made 97 runs before getting run out, in a losing cause.A couple of matches later, when India met Sri Lanka at Taunton, it was the first WC meeting between the two sub-continental giants after the 1996 semi-final fiasco, and emotions were bound to be high, especially on the Indian side. After Sadagoppan Ramesh fell early, Ganguly was joined by Dravid, and what followed was the translation of pent-up emotions into run-scoring of the highest order, with elegant as well as agricultural hits to all parts of and over the boundaries. The blitz yielded a 318-run partnership for the 2nd wicket, hailed by the Guardian as ‘the thrilling feat, in tandem,’ with Ganguly playing one of the best-ever WC knocks (183), and Dravid not too far behind, scoring 145. India racked up a humongous 373 and crushed the Islanders by 157 runs in what must have quelled, to some extent, the painful memories simmering over the past four years.
The southpaw was the second highest run-scorer in the 2003 WC, behind Tendulkar, and while it could be argued that his tally was boosted by three centuries against the weaker nations, there is no denying the fact that Ganguly raised his game, both as batsman and skipper, to steer India to a step short of what would have been the nation’s greatest moment since the summer of 1983, when Kapil Dev held aloft cricket’s greatest trophy at the Mecca of the game.
Even during India’s nightmarish campaign in the 2007 WC, Ganguly, himself fraught with issues arising out of his tumultuous relationship with then coach Greg Chappell, gave India a fighting chance against Bangladesh in their opening encounter and continued his penchant of feasting on minnows with an 89 against Bermuda. However, he could not prevent India’s ignominious exit in the opening round, ending his short but glorious WC career on a low.
Overall Score: 3023.2
WC Score: 4330.7
#2 Mark Waugh
One of the most stylish cricketers to have graced the game, Mark Waugh had an excellent record in WCs, especially the 1996 and 1999 editions. After a mediocre 1992 WC in home conditions, Waugh was at ease on sub-continental pitches in the next instalment, scoring 484 runs at an average of 80+, including three centuries, to finish behind Tendulkar as the second highest run-scorer in the edition.
While all of them were important, the most crucial was against New Zealand in the quarter-finals at Chennai, where, facing a stiff target of 287, the right-hander’s calm 110, which Cricinfo acknowledged as one of the top performances of the tournament, took Australia beyond the 200-run mark, after which he passed the baton to brother Steve, who, along with Stuart Law, guided the team home with a little more than two overs to spare.
Though the 1999 edition belonged almost exclusively to his brother, who not only made 398 runs at an average of close to 80 but also was involved in a couple of gritty battles with South Africa, the only team, which, on paper, appeared to have enough firepower to surpass the Aussies, Mark’s contribution was no less significant – his 375 runs as an opener ensured that the team rarely got off a poor start and gave his opening partner Gilchrist the extra leeway to attack opposition bowlers with unbridled gusto.
The right-hander’s most important knocks came in the Super Sixes: his 83 against India shepherded the rest of the team, none of whom reached 40, to a strong total of 282, which was enough for a 77-run victory. In the very next game, facing up to possibly the strongest ever Zimbabwean bowling attack, comprising Heath Streak, Henry Olonga, Neil Johnson and Paul Strang, Mark cracked his only century of the tournament to take Australia over the 300-mark, which the African nation could not overhaul.
In his last WC game, against Pakistan in the final at Lord’s, Mark had the best ‘seat’ in the house to watch the Gilchrist show as the left-hander’s swashbuckling half-century tore into the low victory target of 133. He himself scored 37* to usher in a decade of Australian domination with respect to WC triumphs, where they would go onto win three tournaments on the trot.
Overall Score: 3026.0
WC Score: 4424.3
#1 Herschelle Gibbs
Known more for flirting with controversy than realizing the immense potential he was touted to possess, Herschelle Gibbs perhaps played to the best of his ability only when the calling was of the highest order. Ironically, though, his brilliant batting during the WCs was often marred with heartbreaks in which he was usually a central figure.
The Capetonian turned in a solid batting performance during the 1999 WC, but his finest hour with the bat, against Australia in their Super Sixes encounter at Headingly, where his 101 was the backbone of a challenging score of 271, soon transformed into his darkest when his premature celebration on ‘catching’ Steve Waugh, off Lance Klusener, led to the ball dropping the ground and the catch being disallowed.Waugh, then on 56, went on to play probably the best innings of his ODI career, his 120* helping the Aussies over the line with two balls to spare and cementing a place in the semi-finals, once again against the Proteas. The Australian skipper is known to have famously remarked to Gibbs: “I hope you realise that you’ve just lost the game for your team”. Had he replaced ‘game’ in the sledge with ‘World Cup’, Waugh would have been right on target, because the tense semi-final – which ended in a tie on account of the dramatic mix-up between Klusener and Allan Donald in the final over – resulted in the Aussies qualifying for the final on account of their victory over the Africans in the Super Sixes: an outcome that is bound to have haunted Gibbs for several years to come, though he himself denies it, as reported by The Australian.
Gibbs was at his absolute best during the 2003 WC at home, scoring 384 runs at an unbelievable average of 96.00, finishing 5th among top run-scorers in the tournament, while playing at least 4 games fewer than those above him on that elite list. Two of the right-hander’s best innings of the tournament, however, came with the customary heart-break now commonly associated with him in the context of a WC – Gibbs’ spectacular 143 against New Zealand, in the opening round, which propelled his team to 306, was nullified by Stephen Fleming’s 134, which inflicted a defeat on the Proteas in the rain curtailed and Duckworth-Lewis (D/L) implemented match.
The method devised by two English statisticians, Frank Duckworth and Tony Lewis, still followed today, has never been too kind on the South Africans, dating back to their WC debut in 1992, when the highly talented and enthusiastic bunch of cricketers saw their target against England, in the semi-finals, being revised, as if by magic, from a very gettable 22 off 13 balls, to a stiffer 22 off 7 balls, till finally settling down on the impossible 22 off 1 ball, all within a few moments of brisk calculations based on D/L.
The dual force of D/L and ‘tied game’ was to hit the Proteas hard a few games later, in a must-win encounter against the Sri Lankans in Durban. Set a target of 268, Gibbs beautifully negotiated a rampaging Chaminda Vaas en route to a well-constructed 73; however, after his dismissal, the Proteas displayed yet another instance of brain-freeze, when Mark Boucher blocked the last legal delivery of the match, with the batting team on 229 – the specified D/L score at the end of the 45th over.
What Boucher, and apparently everyone in the South African team management, were not aware of was that the required D/L score shared by umpires is always the ‘par’ figure, i.e., the runs required to tie the match, not win it. The match ended as a tie, and the host nation was subject to the ignominy of an early exit.
While Gibbs did return for a solid, if not spectacular showing, in the 2007 WC, one in which the Proteas were ousted in the semi-finals by the unstoppable Australians, the right-hander’s associations with his team’s bizarre exits in the past is likely to override his tremendous contribution when playing at the highest level of the game.
Overall Score: 3008.2
WC Score: 4906.4
This article was first published on Sportskeeda: