Last week, I wrote the part 1 of this article detailing the individual performances that were overshadowed by other brilliant performances in the World cups from 1975 to 1992. I felt that it is the duty of a true cricket fan to make the effort to dig deeper and bring such forgotten gems out to public view.
In part 2 of the article, I list down the overshadowed performances during the World cups from 1996 till 2015.
1996 World Cup
Asanka Gurusinha’s fifty in the Finals
When people speak of the 1996 World cup, Aravinda and Jayasurya are the names that they would talk about. If pushed to dig a little deeper, they may talk about Arjuna’s captaincy or about those brilliant QF matches. How many will remember a gentle giant’s role in the top order for Sri Lanka? Asanka Gurusinha is that gentle giant and his fifty in the final (307 runs in the tournament) steadied the Sri Lankan ship and helped Aravinda play that magnificent match winning innings.
In the finals, Sri Lanka had lost both their openers cheaply and we all know that Australians are past masters in applying the pressure. In fact, Mark Taylor had pulled off such a job in Mohali a few days earlier in the second semi-finals against WI. However, Asanka’s gritty innings stopped any further damage to the SL innings. It was him, who took on Shane Warne, when Warne came into bowl. He used his left-handed advantage to take on the master spinner and never allowed him to settle down. Sri Lankans did not allow Warne to settle down throughout the match and broke the back of the Australian bowling. For his role in the finals and in the tournament for Sri Lanka, I would like to remember Asanka as the unsung hero of this World cup.
1999 World Cup
Neil Johnson – The second best all-rounder
The 1999 World cup is fondly remembered for that great semi-finals between Australia and South Africa, and Lance Klusener’s devastating lower order batting, throughout the tournament. However, Zimbabwe was the surprise package of the tournament reaching the super six stage with highest number of points from their group. This was made possible by some excellent all round performances by a forgotten player, Neil Johnson.
In this section, I want to highlight his brilliant all round performance against the South Africans, which was a massive upset in that tournament. Johnson opened the batting and bowling for Zimbabwe. He scored a fantastic 76 and enabled Zimbabwe to reach a reasonable total. When it came to bowling, he picked up the key top order wickets of Kirsten and Kallis cheaply to ruin the SA run chase. He finished with 3 for 27 runs, engineering a massive coup in the tournament. His brilliant century against the Aussies in a losing cause at Lord’s to take Zimbabwe very close to clinching a semifinal spot. He received 3 Man-of-the-match awards in the tournament. Well done Neil, wherever you are today!!
2003 World cup
Andrew Symonds’s century and the Australia never-say-die attitude
Australia’s run up into the 2003 World cup was full of bad news. Shane Warne had been banned for a year, Darren Lehman was suspended and Michael Bevan was injured. Any team with this kind of news at the start of the tournament would have sulked and gone to their team astrologer or psychic for some advice.
To compound these mishaps, Australia found themselves in a bad position against Pakistan in their opening match, losing their top 4 for about 80 runs. Andrew Symonds, who had not yet established himself in international cricket, was the next man to join his captain, Ricky Ponting. Ricky had earlier insisted on taking Symonds to the World cup, even though Symonds had been struggling to find his feet in the international arena. However, Symonds paid back his Captain’s faith in the most telling manner. Symonds put on an important partnership with Ponting and then hammered the Pakistan bowling in the latter part of the innings to notch up a brilliant 140+. Australia won the match with ease and this performance served as a warning shot to all the teams that the Aussies are in no way diminished, whoever is playing or not.
The famous Aussie grit was on display again during the matches against England and New Zealand. Michael Bevan and Andy Bichel conjured up some later order batting magic to save the Aussies from terrible positions.
Ricky Ponting dazzled in the finals and made it look like it was yet another World cup where the Aussie juggernaut steam rolled their opponents. But, if you dug a little deeper, you will see that it was also those brilliant performances of grit and flair from the likes of Symonds, Bevan, Bichel that won the Aussies their Cup.
2007 World Cup
For most Indians, at least I, 2007 World cup was the least memorable World cup. After India’s early exit, I watched most of the matches as though I was participating in a funeral procession. However, despite my somber mood, the Australian fast bowling in that tournament made me sit up and watch the matches in delight.
McGrath, Tait and Bracken shared most of the wickets to fall and never let the opposition get into the match. Except for the group match against South Africa, which was a high scoring duel, this trio ensured that the opponents were all but decimated. As it happens at most times in Cricket, it was the batsmen who ran away with the laurels. Hayden, for the most part, and Gilchrist in the finals. However, it was the work of this splendid trio that ensured that Australia never had to sweat in any of their matches. Their performance in decimating the South Africans in the semifinals, was a fitting reply to Graeme Smith’s bravado before the match.
2011 World Cup
Gautam Gambhir, Zaheer Khan and that magical century from Mahela
2011 World cup conjures up the image of Dhoni’s six to finish the finals and the all-round dazzling performances of Yuvraj. However, there were two unsung heros in this Cup for India. One was Gautam Gambhir and the other was Zaheer.
Gautam’s 97 in the finals, has been totally overshadowed by Dhoni’s innings. It was Gauti who withstood the initial collapse that saw Viru and Sachin get dismissed for low scores and take India to safety. It is sad that he missed his hundred that night.Again in that tense chase against Australia in the QF, Gautam scored an important fifty to shepherd the Indian batting performance. However, a brain fade moment resulted in his run-out.
Indian bowling unit during the World cup was quite ordinary. Had Yuvraj not stepped up with the ball, Dhoni would not have won the World cup with that weak bowling attack. Zaheer Khan was the pillar that kept the bowling edifice standing during most of the games. Barring those death overs in the finals, Zaheer bowled with variety and took important wickets in every match. It was around this time that he started bowling his knuckle ball (slow ball) as well.
All those glorious scenes from the second half completely erased from the memories of people, that brilliant century Mahela scored for Sri Lanka. Frank Sinatra must have sung his song “Killing me softly”, only to be used later to describe this innings of Jayawardane. This was an innings full of silken touch and hardly a shot in anger. It gives me goosebumps as a cricket fan, whenever I think of Mahela’s glorious batting performance at the Wankhede.
2015 World cup
Australia speed trio
Starc, Johnson and Hazlewood made it easy for Michael Clarke during this World cup. Australia had Steven Smith in prime form with the bat. However, as a batting unit they were not world beaters, capable of knocking out the opposition. It was this trio that made the Australian batting card look much larger than it actually was.
Their spell in the semi-finals needs special mention, when they took the wind out of the Indian batting unit that was in top form throughout the tournament. Again, in the finals, Starc took the fight out of the Kiwis, when he knocked out the stumps of McCulum in the very first over of the match.
Cricket is a team sport, yet gives enough space for individuals to shine on their own as well. We tend to glorify and remember those magical batting performances most times and some brilliant bowling performances as well at times. However, the batter who played out a rough bowling spell during a key passage of play, or the bowler who kept it tight on a flat wicket or that fielder who stopped boundaries with his athleticism often gets forgotten in the course of time. Even, support batting performances that enabled the main batsman to score those big runs, is also lost to time. As true cricket fans, it is our pleasure to dig into the history of our glorious sport and recognize the Gurusinhas, the Neil Johnsons and the Symonds of the world, who made telling contributions to their team’s success at the highest stage. There is immense satisfaction in singing the tunes of those unsung heroes.
Tell me what you think about my list of overshadowed performances (parts 1 and 2). If you have your own entries, please add them to the comments section. It will only add flavor to this song and glorify those remarkable, yet unsung, performances.
As you read this article, try to remember what you were up to when these marvelous cricketers put up their show. Try to recreate those scenes and for some moments get lost in the nostalgia. For, I did that and ended up writing my book, Life in the Sunshine, about the lives that we lived alongside these great sportsmen and the great sport. If you would like to read it, please order it using this link on Amazon