The 1987 edition was the Kiwis’ Worst Performance in a World Cup. Without the services of the great Sir Richard Hadlee, sidelined with an ankle injury, the Kiwis lost four out the six games played, losing two times each to defending champions India and on-the-rise Australia. The outcome could have been worse, had Dave Houghton managed to convert his epic 142 into a victory for Zimbabwe in the Kiwis’ first league match – New Zealand scraped home by 3 runs, an identical margin to their defeat at the hands of the Aussies a week later. Needless to say, they did not progress to the semis.
1996 was a bit of an anti-climax after the fabulous run in 1992, with the Kiwis finishing 3rd in Group B with three wins and two losses. They ran into a resurgent Australian side in the quarterfinals, and though Chris Harris hit a career-best 124-ball 130, it was nullified by a combination of Mark Waugh’s elegant century at the top, and an audacious 5th wicket partnership between Steve Waugh and Stuart Law, that saw the Aussies canter home for an easy victory.
From 1999-2007, New Zealand’s World Cup appearances had a somewhat fixed pattern. Fleming was the batting mainstay, emerging as the country’s highest run-scorer in the 2003 and 2007 editions, and second highest, behind Roger Twose in 1999. The team relied heavily on one pace spearhead, while other bowlers rallied around him. If it was Geoff Allott in 1999, then Shane Bond stamped his authority over the next two events.
Others chipped in, but one common feature was that the Kiwis faltered, and fell heavily, when it mattered the most. They made it to the semi-finals in 1999 and 2007, where the Blackcaps were thrashed by Pakistan and Sri Lanka respectively. India inflicted a similar ignominy in 2003, albeit a stage earlier, shooting out the Kiwis for 146 in their final Super Sixes encounter and then cruising to victory by 7 wickets.
The 2011 edition was similar in some aspects, while being different in others. Fleming was no longer around, but his responsibilities were almost equally divided between usual openers Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill. Tim Southee took over from Bond, and the all-rounders, led by Jacob Oram, contributed significantly. A difference I noticed was the unusual dominance during the league stage.
After an early mauling at the hands of Australia, the Kiwis thrashed Pakistan and Sri Lanka by 100+ margins. In subcontinental conditions; quite an achievement. They also brushed aside the minnows with ease, almost raising visions of a 1992 encore, perhaps extended by two more wins. When the Kiwis choked South Africa in the quarter-final, they established themselves as genuine contenders to the greatest crown in One Day International (ODI) cricket. Sadly, their tragic tryst with semi-finals remained unchanged as Sri Lanka, who they defeated easily 10 days ago, sailed home to a comfortable victory, shattering a dream which has only been ‘semi’ realized.
The man could have been planted atop this list purely on the basis of his game-changing strategies during the 1992 World Cup, but his genius captaincy couldn’t overshadow his outstanding contributions to the team as a batsman. Besides emerging as the tournament top scorer in the Kiwis’ best run in a World Cup tournament, the right-hander was most consistent in their worst, in 1987.
Crowe was instrumental in their only victories during the disastrous edition, both over Zimbabwe, and it was his dismissal in the final over in a must-win game against Australia, that sent the team plummeting into ravines of self-doubt before rising like a phoenix, under his captaincy, four years later.
If Crowe was the eccentric genius, Fleming carves a niche for himself as the calmest presence in the New Zealand team through the late 90s and the 2000s, something he continues to exude as the head coach of the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League. The only New Zealander to aggregate 1000+ runs in the World Cup, Fleming defied most clichés in cricket; he flourished when entrusted with captaincy and his batting in the tournament was a rising graph throughout.
His best World Cup innings, which ESPN Cricinfo hailed as the innings of his lifetime, came in 2003 – playing the South Africans on home turf against a line-up comprising Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, Allan Donald and Jacques Kallis, the elegant southpaw’s 134* made short work of the 307 run target (revised to 229 in 39 overs), and miraculously kept Kiwi hopes alive in the tournament.
Fearsomely fast, Bond, at his peak, was among the best bowlers in the world, but an injury-prone body and a single professional indiscretion put paid to what could have been long and fulfilling career. He was, however, the Kiwis’ bowling spearhead during the 2003 and 2007 World Cups, picking up 30 wickets in 16 matches an average of 17.
Bond had an affinity for Australian scalps and took his game up several notches when facing the best in the business. When the teams met during the 2003 edition, at Port Elizabeth, Bond’s 6-23 annihilated the Aussie top order and restricted them to 208, but an inept batting performance saw the Kiwis crumbling for 112, a record low in the tournament’s history. He traded sporadic brilliance for superior consistency in the 2007 tournament, picking up wickets in every single game to elevate the Blackcaps into the semis for the fifth time, where they would succumb to newfound last-four nemesis, Sri Lanka.
Oram may raise a few eyebrows on being included in this list, but the highest wicket-taker for New Zealand in World Cup history raised his game spectacularly when playing on the highest podium. While the burly all-rounder was consistent across all three editions he participated in from 2003-11, he was at his best in 2011, garnering 12 wickets at an average of 18 and strike=rate of 25.
Oram was instrumental in one of the country’s most memorable Cup wins, over South Africa in the quarter-final, where, defending a modest 221, his 4-wicket haul stopped the Proteas in their tracks and booked Kiwis a spot in their sixth World Cup semi-final.
Other top performers: Mark Greatbatch, Scott Styris, Chris Harris
Against South Africa (2011 WC) – Won by 49 runs
The World Cup specialists took on the perennial chokers in a high-voltage clash at the Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur in the tournament quarterfinals. Chasing 221, the South Africans were cruising at 108-2 when the hero of the day, Oram, used his height to good effect to pluck a blinder at deep mid-wicket to dismiss the well-set Kallis.
That was the turning point in the match, and the South Africans never quite recovered. Though AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis attempted a repair job, the looming ‘chokers’ tag came to the forefront as the remaining batsmen capitulated without reaching double figures. The Proteas were shot out for 172 and the Kiwis added one more feather to their giant-slaying hat, worn with particular grandeur in set-piece tournaments.
Against Australia (1999 WC) – Won by 5 wickets
The Australians were entering a phase of absolute World Cup dominance but were to stutter twice, in the initial phase, before extending their reign over the signature event. The Kiwis took on them at Cardiff, and, after being asked to field, unleashed the short-lived brilliance of Geoff Allott, who took 4 wickets to limit the Aussies to 213.
In reply, the Australian bowlers priced out the top four Kiwi batsmen for less than 50 runs, but a superb 148-run stand between Chris Cairns and Roger Twose sealed a famous victory over their fierce rivals.
Against South Africa (1992 WC) – Won by 7 wickets
As highlighted earlier, this match was memorable as the first instance of perfect realization of Crowe’s innovative strategy, which resulted in the obliteration of a very talented South African team. The manner in which the strong Protea batting line-up was stopped before the 200-run mark, followed by Greatbatch’s and Latham’s ruthless exploitation of the first 15 overs, marked a turning point in the game’s history.
Against Zimbabwe (1987 WC) – Won by 3 runs
For once, this match was memorable due to the exploits of an opposition team member, as Dave Houghton, fighting extreme humid conditions in Hyderabad, racked up 142 runs to almost single-handedly bring the Africans to the brink of victory, chasing 242, before a blinder of a catch by Crowe (again!) ended his brilliant innings. The game was not over yet, as medium-pacer Iain Butchart played the innings of his life to keep Zimbabwe in the hunt till the final over, before his run-out off the 4th ball clinched a rare victory in the 1987 tournament for the Kiwis.
Against England (1983 WC) – Won by 2 wickets, with 1 ball remaining
On an inconsistent pitch, David Gower made an almost run-a-ball 92, stamped with trademark languid elegance, but the Kiwi pacers, led by Sir Richard Hadlee and Lance Cairns, took 3 wickets each to bundle out the Englishmen for 234. At 75-4 and 151-6, the Kiwis looked down and out. However, Jeremy Coney held one end up, and in Hadlee, he found an able ally. The two put on 70 runs for the 7th wicket before Willis cleaned up Hadlee. With four runs required off the last over and two wickets in hand, John Bracewell held his nerve to hit the fifth delivery for a boundary for a memorable win.