07 October 2012 - 11:20am IST
by Dileep Premachandran in Colombo
What does it take to win a
World Cup final? Jodie Fields, the captain of the Australian women’s team,
reduced it to the bare basics after her side’s semi-final win against West
Indies: bat better, bowl better, field better. But within those parameters,
what is it that you have to do to see off a formidable opponent? The great
sportsmen and women often talk of the P word. Pressure does funny things to
even the greats. Campaigns that had been near perfect till then unravel in the
final, with victory just one big push away.
Down the years, several
ICC finals have been decided by once-in-a-lifetime individual performances,
displays of such grandeur that the opposition’s best-laid plans were shredded.
There have also been a few occasions when a team won because almost everyone
contributed in some way. India (ICC World Cup 1983), Australia (ICC World Cup
1987) and Pakistan (ICC World Cup 1992) come to mind right away.
The team batting first has
won most of the 50-over World Cup finals, with scoreboard pressure eventually
killing off the run chase. At the ICC World Twenty20, though, only India in
2007 has won the title after batting first. It’s not hard to analyse why. It
kept wickets in hand for a final push that realised 27 runs in two overs.
In 2009 and 2010, Sri
Lanka and Australia were stymied by poor starts. Sri Lanka slipped to 32-4
inside the Power Play and never quite recovered. Pakistan kept wickets in hand
to ensure that the chase was a formality.
The pattern was repeated
in 2010 when Australia slid to 45-4 in the tenth over before recovering to post
147. By the time England lost its second wicket, Kevin Pietersen, it had 118 on
the board. Victory was clinched with a whopping 18 balls to spare.
Keeping wickets in hand
was also central to India’s success at the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. It lost
Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag early, but Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli
ensured that the middle-order would have a proper platform from which to
exploit the middle and death overs.
Ultimately though, there’s
not much you can do if someone chooses the big occasion to unveil a freakishly
special performance. Collis King averaged just 23 from 18 One-Day Internationals,
but in the ICC Cricket World Cup 1979 final, he smashed 86 from 66 balls to
demoralise England. Viv Richards won the plaudits for a magnificent unbeaten
138, but King’s blitz was as central to a second successive West Indies win.
Bowlers have had their
moments too, with Wasim Akram’s destruction of England’s middle-order (1992)
and Joel Garner’s unplayable yorkers (1979) part of folklore. In 1999, Australia
was so good as a unit that Pakistan’s innings lasted only 39 overs.
Invariably though, it’s
the batting feats that people tend to recall first. Clive Lloyd’s 82-ball
century set up a West Indian win in the first ICC Cricket World Cup final
(1975) and Richards followed suit with that epic effort in 1979. In 1996, when
Sri Lanka won its first ICC title, it was Aravinda de Silva’s beautifully paced
hundred that anchored the chase. In 2003, Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn made
sure that India could chase only shadows, and four years later, Adam Gilchrist
played an innings of incandescent brilliance.
At the ICC Cricket World
Cup 2011, Mahela Jayawardena scored one of the classiest hundreds ever seen on
the big stage. Nine times out of ten, it would have won the trophy for his
team. That night, however, his counterpart, MS Dhoni, responded in kind, with a
power-packed 91 that sealed victory with eight balls to spare. On the big
occasion, the big players usually turn up.