Big missed opportunities in World Cup history

Passion running high
The 1996 World Cup semifinal between India and Sri Lanka had to be abandoned following crowd violence. The Lankans won by default. Reuters

The ICC World Cup is the biggest prize in world cricket. The greatness of a player is often gauged by his exploits in the tournament and the pressure on the payers to perform on the biggest stage is immense.

Legends are made and big boys are separated from the lesser ones during the marquee event.

While some thrive on pressure, numerous others press the panic button at the crunch. Onmanorama picks four such instances.

Gatting's reverse sweep – 1987 final

Co-hosts India and Pakistan were the favourites to win the 1987 World Cup, which was the first edition of the tournament to staged outside England. However, Alan Border's Australia and England under Mike Gatting had other ideas as they got the better of Pakistan and India respectively in the semifinals to set up a title clash at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata.

Australia made 253/5 after electing to bat with opener David Boon top-scoring (75). England were cruising at 135/2 when a well-set Gatting (41) decided to play a reverse sweep off Border's very first ball.

All he could manage was a top edge which was pouched by Greg Dyer behind the stumps.

This proved to be the turning point in a hard-fought final, which the Aussies edged by seven runs.

The English and Gatting in particular were let to rue the injudicious shot as England fell in the final for the second time.

India's decision to chase – 1996 semis

India had come into the 1996 World Cup semifinals full of confidence after downing arch-rivals Pakistan in a high-voltage quarterfinal clash.

The whole country expected India to get past Sri Lanka at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, which was captain Mohammad Azharuddin's lucky venue.

Azhar had led India to memorable triumphs in the Hero Cup (1993) and the Wills World Series tri-nation tournament the following year at the Eden Gardens.

However, the Indians were made to pay for a tactical blunder as they invited the Lankans to bat first on a newly-laid track.

The Indian think tank felt that the Lankans will chase down almost any target and hence it was better to let them bat first.

India had failed to defend 271 against the same opponents at a relatively small Feroz Shah Kotla ground in New Delhi in an earlier group game with Sanath Jayasuriya firing on all cylinders.

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka reigned supreme in the 1996 World Cup. AFP

But the Indian team forgot the basic lesson that batting would get tough on a new wicket as the match progressed and that the Lankans had a number of spinners in their ranks.

India got off to a perfect start as the dangerous opening pair of Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana fell in the very first over.

But a classy 66 by Aravinda de Silva and a patient 58 by Roshan Mahanama took Lanka to a competitive 251/8

In reply, the hosts lost their way after Sachin Tendulkar (66) was run out by an alert Kaluwitharana behind the stumps and they slumped to 120/8 from 98/1.

The Eden crowd could not digest the fact their team was on the verge of being knocked out and they resorted to bottle throwing and set the seats on fire.

The crowd trouble resulted in match referee Clive Lloyd awarding the match to the Lankas, who went on to triumph over Australia in the final at Lahore.

Gibbs drops the Cup – 1999 Super Six match

You are bound to taste success in every field if your basics are strong. However, in the sporting arena the less flashy ones are likely to come second in popularity as compared to daredevils who keep the crowd entertained almost all the time. South African Herschelle Gibbs was one such cricketer who stole the heart of the spectators with his blistering batting and electric fielding.

Gibbs made a smashing hundred as South Africa scored 271/7 in a crucial Super Six match against Australia at Leeds in the 1999 edition. Gibbs, however, cut a sorry figure later in the day as he hastily threw the ball away before having full control of it after Australian captain Steve Waugh offered a chance off Lance Klusner.

Waugh made most of the reprieve and went on to smash an unbeaten 120 as Australia scored a five-wicket win to progress to the semifinals.

Australia under Steve Waugh delivered at the crunch to emerge triumphant in the 1999 edition. AFP

Though the media was quick to portray that Waugh had told Gibbs that he had just dropped the World Cup, the Aussie legend clarified in his autobiography that the exchange was not exactly the same.

The two teams played out a thrilling tie in the semifinals, but it was the Aussies who marched into the final since they had won the earlier clash between the two sides.

Proteas get the calculations wrong – 2003 group match

Mark Boucher
Mark Boucher was at the crease when the 2003 World Cup group match between South Africa and Sri Lanka was stopped due to rain. AFP

South Africa were widely tipped to clinch their maiden World Cup on home soil in the 2003 edition. But the Proteas were off to a disastrous start as they lost to both the West Indies and New Zealand. However, they only needed a win over Sri Lanka in their final group match at Durban to seal a place in the Super Six. Chasing a victory target of 269, the home side had reached 229/6 in 45 overs when rain stopped play. Mark Boucher hit a six off Muttiah Muralitharan and played out the final ball off the over thinking they were ahead on Duckworth/Lewis (D/L) method before the umpires took them off the field.

However, the Proteas got it all wrong as they had only reached the D/L par score and the match ended in a tie resulting in their shock exit.

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