That top bowlers win you matches is no secret in cricketing circles. Over the years, some World Cup matches have been sparkled up by the way one bowler has taken the opposition by the scruff and shaken them into submission.Picking 10 superlative bowling performances in World Cup history isn’t the easiest of tasks and it is hard to be objective about it. In other words, Glenn McGrath wouldn’t make it to the list in spite of holding the record for the best bowling spell in World Cup history, reason being, it would be unfair to call that spell against Namibia better than Shane Warne’s spell against South Africa in ‘that match’ at Edgbaston.Similarly, spells against top Test playing nations, in tournaments, where they had played really well, should always justifiably rank higher than other spells. Here, we try to pick a few amazing spells, those which had a lot more significance than the digit in the wickets column.
#10 Shane Warne - 4/29 vs South Africa (1999)
This spell makes it to the list over a lot of other options for the sheer significance and impact of the spell in one of the greatest games of all time, leave alone the World Cup. Shane Warne picked up match figures of 4/29 in 10 overs in the semi-finals of the 1999 World Cup at Edgbaston, Birmingham.
More importantly, it were the wickets of Herschelle Gibbs and Gary Kirsten after a solid opening partnership, followed by those of Hansie Cronje, the skipper and eventually Jacques Kallis at 175-6 to turn the match around all over again. The match ended in a tie and Australia went through to the final based on their league match win over South Africa.
#9 Venkatesh Prasad - 5/27 vs Pakistan (1999)
At Old Trafford, Manchester, India set Pakistan a modest target of 227. India still managed to win the match by 47 runs, thanks once again to Venkatesh Prasad, Pakistan’s nemesis in 1996 as well.
Prasad picked up match figures of 5/27 in 9.3 overs including 2 maidens. He accounted for the wickets of Saeed Anwar, Saleem Malik, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Moin Khan and Wasim Akram, after Javagal Srinath picked up the first two wickets to apply the brakes on the Pakistani chase. It was the third best bowling spell at the 1999 World Cup.
#8 Sir Richard Hadlee - 5/25 vs Sri Lanka (1983)
Against Sri Lanka, at Bristol, in the 1983 World Cup, Sir Richard Hadlee performed a demolishing act with match figures of 5-25 in 10.1 overs, including 4 maidens. Although considered minnows, Sri Lanka boasted of decent batting lineup that included Arjuna Ranatunga, Roy Dias and Duleep Mendis.
On a decent strip, Hadlee accounted for three of Sri Lanka’s top six, before coming back to clean up the tail and ending any chances of resistance. New Zealand won the match comfortable, chasing the score down in just the 40th over.
#7 Collins Obuya - 5/24 vs Sri Lanka (2003)
Collins Obuya, one of Kenya’s most well-known all-rounders, inspired one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history and walked into the record books. Buoyed by home support at Nairobi, Obuya picked up match figures of 5/24 in 10 overs with his leg-spin, including the critical ones of Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara and Aravinda de Silva.
Sri Lanka were eventually all out for 157 runs, chasing 211. The spell had even eclipsed the great Mutthiah Muralitharan’s spell of 4/28 in the first innings.
#6 Glenn McGrath - 5/14 vs West Indies (1999)
By the time Glenn McGrath finished his first spell, it was already game-set-match for Australia. With overall figures of 5/14 in 8.4 overs with 3 maidens, McGrath had picked the first three West Indian wickets, in a league match in the 1999 World Cup at Manchester, including the prized one of Brian Lara.
West Indies were, thereby, reduced to 20-3 in the 9th over and never recovered from it. Eventually dismissed for 110, with McGrath coming back and picking a couple more at the end, ending a 22-run 10th wicket partnership.
#5 Ashish Nehra - 6/23 vs England (2003)
On the bowler-friendly pitch at Durban, England were set a decent target of 251 by India. It proved to be plenty as the English were dismissed for a mere 168, courtesy Ashish Nehra’s fiery spell. Nehra in 2003 was one of the quickest bowlers at the World Cup, surprisingly crossing 140 kph on a regular basis.
In this match, where he returned match figures of 6/23 in 10 overs with 2 maidens, he accounted for the English middle order including their skipper Nasser Hussain and key batsmen Michael Vaughan, Alec Stewart and Paul Collingwood on a pitch that was offering swing and seam.
#4 Winston Davis - 7/51 vs Australia (1983)
In many ways, Winston Davis’s absence from the 1983 final became a talking point because of this superlative performance, that is to date, the best spell by a West Indian at the World Cup. A man, who lost out a major chunk of his career to the great pace battery of Holding-Marshall-Garner-Roberts, Davis returned match figures of 7/51 in 10.3 overs, as Australia were dismissed for 151 chasing 253.
After the openers were back in the pavilion (one retired hurt, another bowled by Roberts), Davis wreaked havoc, running through the Australian middle order creating a record at that time for World Cup spells, that would stand the test of time for 20 years.
#3 Shane Bond - 6/23 vs Australia (2003)
Against eventual champions Australia, Shane Bond, one of the fastest bowlers in cricket history with one of the cleanest actions, let loose a lot of fire in a crucial Super Six match. At Port Elizabeth, Bond returned figures of 6/23 in 10 overs with 2 maidens to restrict a powerful batting line-up to 208 in the 50 overs.
Bond was unplayable on that day, all 6 dismissals were a credit to the bowler – either leg before wicket, bowled or caught behind/in the slips. New Zealand lost the match though, unfortunately, with Brett Lee bowling another dream spell for Australia picking a 5-fer and the Black Caps bundling out for 112.
#2 Andy Bichel - 7/20 vs England (2003)
Australia weren’t successive champions in three World Cups for nothing; they always managed to find unlikely heroes in the toughest of situations. In a pool match during the 2003 South Africa edition, it was Andy Bichel who won the day for them against arch-rivals England.
So impeccable was his line and length that day, that of the seven wickets, five were dismissed either bowled or caught behind. Bichel ended with figures of 7/20 in 10 overs. Chasing 205, Australia were down to 135-8 when Bichel walked in.
Bichel scored a 38-ball 34, in a 73-run unbeaten partnership with Michael Bevan, making this one of the finest all-round World Cup performances of all time.
#1 Gary Gilmour - 6/14 vs England (1975)
A left-handed swing bowler, Australia’s Gary Gilmour did England in with a once-in-a-lifetime spell against the English at Leeds, in the semi-finals of the first World Cup in 1975. Gilmour, whose injury and sudden drop of form meant his ODI career was cut short, picked the first six wickets to fall for England, reducing them to 6/36. He collected match figures of 6/14 in 12 overs with 6 maidens, in one of the most economical spells ever bowled at the World Cup.
In many ways, this was ‘his’ match, as he came back with the bat, top-scored with 28 runs and won the match for Australia who were making a heavy meal of a small target of 94, in a match in which just two Englishmen and three Australians had reached double digits.