Top 5 World Cup Underachievers: Part 1 – Bowlers

After compiling lists for World Cup (WC) specialists, it is time to look at the mirror image – players who faltered when playing on the greatest stage in cricket. Part 1 looks at the bowlers who could not achieve the potency they did in their other One Day International (ODI) engagements.

Interestingly, two out of five bowlers on this list are from South Africa, and with two more Protea greats, Allan Donald and Makhaya Ntini knocking at the door, it perhaps explains why the talented bunch has not yet won a WC,  a failure normally associated with their batsmen ‘choking’.

#5. Shaun Pollock

Shaun Pollock burst onto the scene as a very promising all-rounder, and while his batting statistics may not do justice do the alleged talent he possessed, the right-hander ended up as the 5th highest wicket-taker in ODI history, with 393 scalps. He was, however, a bit of a let-down in WCs, with only his ER over the marquee tournament matching up to his impressive overall figures.

The right-hander plodded through most of his four WC appearances, a far cry from the strike-bowler status he maintained in other ODI engagements. His best showing in a Cup was as captain, in 2003, at home, when he appeared to be in rhythm throughout, picking up 8 wickets at an average of 21.5, before the Proteas’ disastrous campaign ended with a flabbergasting confusion regarding the Duckworth-Lewis par score in a must-win game against Sri Lanka, resulting in his sacking from the top job.

Towards the fag end of his career, Pollock’s pace dropped significantly, but he still managed to bowl nagging lengths to prise out wickets in regular ODI engagements, but found the going extremely tough when again confronted with the WC, this time the 2007 edition, finishing outside the top-25 wicket-takers in the tournament, to sign off with a whimper.

#4. Harbhajan Singh

Though not exactly known for setting the ODI stage on fire, except perhaps the 2001-02 season, where, buoyed by a successful Test series against Australia, he picked up 29 wickets at a sub-20 average, Harbhajan Singh’s WC career would still be considered abysmal, managing only 20 wickets, with part-timer-like average and SR of 40.4 and 57.7 respectively.

While he did a decent job in the 2003 World Cup, picking up 11 wickets on South African pitches not conducive to spin bowling, it was his performance in the 2011 WC, on home soil, which ended up being a major disappointment, and perhaps drew the curtains on his ODI career (he only played 3 more ODIs after that, till date). His only performance of note came against South Africa, when he picked 3 wickets, though conceding 53 runs, and could only add 6 more scalps in his other 8 outings, finishing with a bowling average of 43.33. His high point in the tournament came when he picked the crucial wickets of Umar Akmal and Shahid Afridi in the semifinal, but not before the pacers and Yuvraj had derailed their chase.

Where Harbhajan was relegated to keeping an end tied up in 2011, Yuvraj Singh stepped up to the occasion and picked 15 wickets to don the strike spin bowler’s mantle.

#3. James Anderson

It may come as some consolation to Indian fans, that our wrecker-in-chief during the recent Test series in England, James Anderson, has not been able to bully his way to success in the marquee ODI tournament, picking just 22 wickets in 19 games, with an Average of 38.0 and SR of 44.4.

Like Harbhajan, the Englishman was very effective in his first WC, in 2003, where he picked up 10 wickets in only 5 games, before England’s early exit, at an impressive average of 22.5, including two 4-wicket hauls. His WC woes began from the 2007 edition, where he went wicket-less against Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and West Indies. Strikes against teams like Bangladesh, Canada, Ireland and Kenya enabled him to finish the tournament with 8 wickets, at 41.12 apiece.

The worst was yet to come. Anderson had a nightmarish start to the 2011 WC, getting thrashed for 91 runs, against India, for the worst bowling figures by an Englishman in WCs – the same month, just prior to the WC, he was carted around the park for exactly 91, by Australia, in a painful coincidence for the man from Lancashire. This time around Anderson could not even pick wickets against Bangladesh and Netherlands, with England’s early exit possibly providing him respite from the torturous tournament.

#2 Daniel Vettori

Daniel Vettori made his debut just after the 1996 World Cup and was not given a single game in the 1999 edition, when New Zealand laid faith in an all-seam attack en route to the semi-finals. His unhappy association with the WC, therefore began in 2003, where, despite being economical, the bespectacled cricketer could just manage 2 wickets in 7 matches, with a ghastly average of 129.5.

He had a much happier outing during the 2007 WC in the Caribbean, where he picked up 16 wickets at a very respectable average of 27.9. While several of his wickets were against weaker oppositions like Canada, Ireland and Kenya, Vettori’s 3-wicket haul against the host nation was instrumental in a victory in the Super Eights, though the Kiwis could not make it beyond that stage.

The Caribbean sojourn could not however be replicated in the 2011 WC in the Indian sub-continent, where, as captain, Vettori’s tournament haul of three wickets, two of which were against Zimbabwe, in conditions tailor-made for spin bowling, was inexcusable.  He continued to be economical, going at just 3.6 runs per over, but his inability to pick wickets was a major factor in the Kiwis yet again faltering at the second-last step of the greatest tournament in cricket.

#1 Jacques Kallis

Probably the greatest all-rounder of our era, Jacques Kallis not only makes it to this list on account of his stand-alone bowling performances being superior to several specialist bowlers, but also tops it because of the huge dip in output when playing in a WC.

Though the burly all-rounder made his debut in the 1996 WC, he was hardly used as a bowler, sending down 13 wicket-less overs against the Netherlands and UAE. In 1999, Kallis found the seaming tracks in England much more to his liking, and this was easily his most productive WC, picking up 8 wickets, all of them against top Test teams, which included a devastating opening spell against Sri Lanka that accounted for their top three batsmen with hardly any runs on board.

Kallis continued to be a huge disappointment with the ball in the 2003 and 2007 editions as well. All of his 3 wickets in the former came against the Indian Ocean islanders, who were perhaps single-handedly responsible for bringing some respectability to the Capetonian’s WC figures, in the famous tied match which ejected the Proteas from the tournament. Kallis continued to be below par in the 2007 WC, picking just 5 wickets at more than 50 apiece.

Skipper Graeme Smith handled him well in the 2011 edition, using him in short bursts as a change bowler, and he did break a few crucial partnerships, registering acceptable bowling figures for the first time in his WC career.

This article was first published in Sportskeeda: