To celebrate the start of the Cricket World Cup, Wisden Cricket Monthly editor-in-chief Phil Walker and magazine editor Jo Harman have produced an A-Z of all things World Cup-related in partnership with, brimming with cult heroes, memorable moments and a few entries that made the cut by the "barest of margins"...


A is for… Aravinda

Bow-legged and hook-nosed, 5ft-nothing in his best spikes and decked out in random bits of kit from the team bag, Aravinda de Silva exhibited a kind of dishevelled, Chaplin-esque genius through much of the '90s that, what with him being Sri Lankan, meant he was taken for granted – until one night in Lahore when the full sweep of his magics was revealed. It was 1996, and Sri Lanka had found themselves in the World Cup final, only to face, wait for it, Australia.

The bad people batted first, got a few, and then kicked sand in the face of Sri Lanka’s top order. It’s 23-2 when our guy waddles out, pads round his ankles, borrowed bat in hand. This is Sri Lanka, remember; with four wins from five full tournaments before this one. Three hours later, Aravinda’s strummed the most beautiful hundred you’ve ever seen, taking them to a victory that remains to this day the most exquisite in World Cup history.

B is for… Boycs & Brears

White shirts, red balls, bushy sideboards, grumpy patrons: welcome to World Cups in late-'70s England. We’re back at Lord’s again, where the last vestiges of imperialism dictate that finals must be held – and Viv Richards has already swaggered to 138 not out, scooping his final ball into the Tavern to take West Indies to 286 from their 60 overs.

In reply, England’s freewheeling openers, Geoffrey Boycott and Mike Brearley, come barrelling down the steps to unfurl their full repertoire of leaves, blocks, nurdles and prods across 130 time-elasticating minutes, inching the score along to 129 before Brears, clattering along at a strike rate of 49, finally gives up the ghost. Boycs follows him soon after, his 57 from 105 balls containing the grand total of three boundary fours, all of which leaves the middle order (Gooch, Gower, Botham et al) with too much to do, and England’s awful record in finals has begun: before the 2019 watershed, it would read played four, lost four.

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C is for… Crowe

Martin Crowe prepares to play for New Zealand
Martin Crowe prepares to play for New Zealand at the Cricket World Cup Getty Images

Ah, Martin Crowe, the stylist’s stylist, strands of bandana dangling down his back, a touch player so filthy that he came with an R rating. The New Zealander, cousin of Russell, was the batter of the 1992 World Cup, beginning with an immaculate ton against Australia and strolling towards another in the semi-final before a hamstring twang restricted him in the final overs. Crowe’s injury gave Pakistan’s batters a puncher’s chance, and by that stage Imran’s boys were throwing haymakers at will. New Zealand have still never won it. In retirement, Crowe turned his beautiful mind to writing on the game.

D is for… Democracy (Death of)

The 2003 World Cup was politically hot. Staged in Africa for the first time, the build-up played out against the worsening situation in Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe. On the eve of the first match, prominent Zimbabwe players Andy Flower and Henry Olonga got together. They could no longer stand aside. On the eve of the first match, they released a statement mourning the "death of democracy" in their country. Hours later, they took to the field at Harare, a stone’s throw from Mugabe’s residence, with strips of black insulating tape wrapped around the shirts on their upper arms. "One white Zimbabwean and one black one operating together gave the message the most eloquent balance," Flower would say, breaking his silence years later.

The protest, broadcast around the world, put England, who were due to face Zimbabwe in Harare, in a desperate position. Captain Nasser Hussain was recast as diplomat-negotiator, managing the British government’s entreaties to boycott the game, against the ICC’s threats to nail them if they did. At the eleventh-hour, England pulled out of the fixture, thus forfeiting the result to leave their World Cup hopes in tatters, while Flower and Olonga would flee for South Africa amid a slew of death threats. Hussain later wrote that they "proved to be great men by what they have done".

E is for… Eden Gardens

Indian cricket’s spiritual home in Kolkata was destroyed by their own fans at the fag-end of a disastrous semi-final against Sri Lanka in 1996. With India 120-8 chasing 252, the fans began chucking bottles onto the field and setting fires in the stands. The game had to be abandoned, with Sri Lanka handed the win by default. In the messy aftermath, the house of skipper Mohammad Azharuddin – who had been fiercely criticised for fielding first – had to be placed under armed guard.

F is for… Floppy Hats

No better sight in cricket than the floppy sunhat – from the sublime of Graham Gooch’s iconic white floppy in the heat of Chennai in 1987, sweeping India’s spinners to secure England a place in the final, to the ridiculous of Sultan Zarawani, UAE skipper, swaggering out to face an unbridled Allan Donald in his own grey number. A disgruntled Donald duly banged one in halfway down, and Zarawani, not known for his prowess against the short ball, ducked right into it. He emerged a little groggily to take his place in World Cup legend, cheerfully retiring after the tournament to spend more time with his fleet of expensive cars.

G is for… Gavaskar

The godfather of Indian cricket didn’t much fancy the World Cup, and on opening day in 1975, opted against even attempting to chase down England’s 334 in 60 overs, sitting on his bat for four agonising hours to finish 36 not out from 174 balls. No one quite knew why. Certain rumours circled that he was protesting against selection, others that he felt the team had been disrespected. Whatever the reasons, it was a grim scene.

Ted Dexter, on commentary, demanded formal censure, while the India team manager GS Ramchand duly found his tongue, telling the Daily Express: "It was the most disgraceful and selfish performance I have ever seen… his excuse [to me] was, the wicket was too slow to play shots, but that was a stupid thing to say after England had scored 334. The entire party is upset about it. Our national pride is too important to be thrown away like this." Years later, Sunil Gavaskar said he couldn’t really explain it either.

H is for… Haryana Hurricane

India fans storm the pitch as they win the Cricket World Cup final in 1983
India fans storm the pitch as they win the Cricket World Cup final in 1983 Getty Images

AKA Kapil Dev, whose steepling catch running back from square leg to dismiss Viv Richards in the 1983 final (yep, at Lord’s again) helped take India to an improbable maiden World Cup win, transforming the game’s popularity overnight. The rest is history.

I is for… Ireland

"Every now and again someone wakes up and simply has the best day of their life," wrote Graeme Swann in his autobiography. "Kevin O’Brien was that guy against us." At Bangalore in 2011, no one gave Ireland a sniff after they were reduced to 111-5 in reply to England’s 327-8, but from that seemingly hopeless situation blossomed a knock for the ages – with the match all but gone, O’Brien, the beefy 26-year-old all-rounder from Dublin, decided to chance his arm. As the wheels came off for England in the field, he reached his century in just 50 balls, the fastest hundred in the tournament’s history.

When O’Brien was finally dismissed for 113 in the 49th over, having scripted the highest successful run-chase in a World Cup, he’d hit 13 fours and six sixes. "I remember at one stage looking up and I was 80 off 40 balls, and I was like, 'Where did that come from?'" said O’Brien. "It was pretty surreal." For Ireland, it was another prize scalp which helped set in motion Ireland’s promotion to Full Member status in 2018. Sadly, they won’t be back in India for this one.

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J is for… Jayasuriya

Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana, freewheelers both, changed the face of white ball batting across a few wild weeks in 1996. Striking at 131 and 140 respectively, they marmalised new-ball attacks in the opening overs en route to Sri Lanka’s spectacular triumph in the final. Jayasuriya was the main man, making 221 runs in the tournament, including a superb 82 (44) in the quarter-final against poor old England, whose cohort of honest medium-pacers wasn’t quite the thing on a flat one at Faisalabad.

K is for… Kenya

The Simbas have made five appearances at the World Cup, making their mark at their debut tournament in 1996 when they turned over a star-studded West Indies side at Pune. But it’s their exploits in the 2003 edition, when they served as co-hosts with South Africa and Zimbabwe, for which they’re best remembered, defeating Canada, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe during their fairy tale run to the semi-finals – the only time in the tournament’s history that a non-Test nation has reached the last four.

There’s been little for the Kenyans to cheer since, though. In 2004, their talisman Maurice Odumbe was banned for match-fixing and disputes between the national board and senior players led to an alarming decline, with Kenya losing their ODI status in 2014 and failing to qualify for the World Cup the following year. At the time of writing, they are ranked 29th in the ICC’s T20I rankings, below Jersey, Kuwait and Bahrain.

L is for… Lloyd

A two-time World Cup-winning captain, Clive Lloyd masterminded West Indies’ triumphant campaign at the inaugural tournament in 1975, hitting a majestic 102 from 85 balls at Lord’s – his first and only ODI century – to lay the foundations for a 17-run win over Australia. Four years later, 'Supercat' led from the front once again, averaging 61.50 across the tournament to make it two in two for the Windies, humbling England in the final. One of the game’s great captains, he turned the previously disjointed Caribbean islands into a cohesive, world-conquering force.

M is for… Margins (the barest of)

Jos Buttler runs out Martin Guptill in the Cricket World Cup final 2019
Jos Buttler runs out Martin Guptill in the Cricket World Cup final 2019 Getty Images

The greatest finish to the greatest game, capped by the greatest piece of off-the-cuff commentary. Ian Smith used to keep wicket for New Zealand before taking tup the mic, and it was his fate to be there at the most heart-breaking sporting moment in their history. Jason Roy has gathered and arrowed a throw on the bounce to Jos Buttler, who breaks the stumps with Martin Guptill, sprawling, two yards short.

Up in the Lord’s media centre, bent double over the desk, Smith finds the perfect words for the maddest time. "England have won the World Cup by the barest of margins." Eleven unimprovable words, as indelible as the moment itself, delivered by the undisputed commentator of the tournament. "The two Ians – Smith and Bishop – should be made to commentate on the last half hour of every cricket match," Nasser Hussain later tweeted.

N is for… Netherlands

Bas de Leede knew what was needed, and what was at stake. Chase down Scotland’s 277 inside 44 overs at Bulawayo, and his country would be at their fourth World Cup. He’d already shot out five Scottish batters with his seamers; now he proceeded to play one of the most gutsy ODI knocks of the century. His 123 from 92 balls nailed the chase, booked the Netherlands a place at the big show and made him just the fourth player in ODI history to take a five-for and hit a century in the same game. You may not have seen much of Bas yet. You will do soon.

O is for… Over (as in All Over The World)

Dave Stewart used to be one half of Eurythmics. By 1999, he’d settled into the paunchy middle years, his best work behind him, when cricket came a calling. His brief? To pen a rousing anthem for the World Cup in England, capturing all the colour and vibrancy of this most beautiful of games. So Dave got to work. Cricketers wear white, right? (Not in this tournament, but no matter.) And who else wears white? Why, the inmates in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest!

Thus, a plan was hatched to stage the video in, well, an asylum, and for Dave, naturally enough, to break the inmates free. He then drives them all – plus a single, random woman that Dave has seized from her front garden – to an abandoned rec somewhere for a chilly, overcast game of bat and ball. "The sun is up," sings Dave plaintively over a strangely muted carnival chant. "The sky is red. No grey clouds inside your head. Heroes come and heroes go. A wise man watched the river flow." The message is a little confused. As indeed was the timing of its release: England were already knocked out of the tournament by the time it hit the shops. Copies remained unsold.

P is for… Pyjamas

The '92 World Cup hit different. There wasn’t much that this one didn’t have going for it. Most of the matches were in Australia, the spiritual soul of ODI cricket since Kerry Packer’s late-'70s revolution, with the rest in New Zealand. It had pinch hitters, spinners opening the bowling and fielding from another planet. It had leg-spinners altering the course of big matches, and reverse-swing clinching them. It had two white balls, one at each end, for fast bowlers to wreak havoc with. It had South Africa’s readmission after 22 years in the sporting wilderness, expanding the show to incorporate a ninth team, and it would all end in Melbourne: in a night-time coalescence between Pakistan and England, beamed around the world for the very first time.

In just about every conceivable way, this was a portal into cricket’s future, and nowhere was it more obvious than the attire: the whole thing was a riot of black screens, white balls and garishly coloured pyjamas. The shirts, regularly reprised as retro kits, are truly iconic.

Q is for… Qualifiers

If you want real jeopardy, don’t watch the World Cup – watch the qualifiers. This year’s stress-fest took place in Zimbabwe across two weeks of unending drama, after which the Netherlands and Sri Lanka emerged as the only two teams to make it to the showpiece. Left on the canvas, diminished as never before, were the cricketers of the West Indies, once the most dominant team in the game, now reduced to bit part actors on the other stage. Ditto Scotland and Ireland, both of whom missed out on final qualification.

R is for… Rain Rules

Rain on the window at a Cricket World Cup warm-up match
Rain and cricket. Cricket and rain. The ultimate partnership. Getty Images

The shot itself was coolly played: in the midst of a tropical downpour, South Africa’s Mark Boucher, believing his team to be ahead of the rain-adjusted required score, rolled his wrists on a Murali off-break, smothering the spin, no dramas at all. Only in the moments after the shot did the reality reveal itself that South Africa actually still needed one more run; as it was, they were merely tying with Sri Lanka – and a tie would see them dumped out of their own tournament.

The umpires scampered off seconds after Boucher’s desperate miscalculation, and with the rain setting in, they never got back on - South Africa were out of their own event before the knockout stage. And all this after the shocker in 1992, when an 11-minute break for a shower combined with a terribly thought-out rain rule to reduce South Africa’s target against England in the semi-final from 22 from 13 balls to 21 from one. Though blameless in 1992, the 2003 error was all on them.

S is for… Shoulders

In the exultant scenes following India’s second world title in 2011, the great Mumbaikar Sachin Tendulkar was hoisted onto the shoulders of his teammates one last time. One of the players beneath him was Virat Kohli, a young pup making his way in the game, with an eye for a soundbite as sharp as his back-foot punch. "Sachin Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years," he told the cameras. "It is time we carried him on our shoulders." In that moment, the torch was passed, and a thousand endorsement contracts drawn up.

T is for… Tigers (Cornered)

Pakistan’s triumph in 1992 was intrinsically Imran Khan’s. He was old by cricketing standards, pushing 40. He had run the show with as near as anyone got to complete autonomy in Pakistan cricket and achieved, in the words of his biographer Christopher Sandford, something akin to a sporting miracle, "transforming the perennial cabaret turn of the international circuit into the hyper-aggressive fighting unit that would lift the World Cup".

The turning point had come against Australia, in a must-win game following a sluggish first few matches. Imran emerged for the toss in a T-shirt bearing an image of a tiger about to pounce. Play like this, he had told his team, pointing to his chest, and Pakistan would win the tournament. Two weeks later, his prophesy would come to fruition.

U is for… Upsets

In 2007, when Bangladesh beat India to knock them out, the financial consequences of India’s early exit were so dire that the powers-that-be sought to change the format to protect cricket’s one true megapower from being caught short again. Upsets may not be good for business, but they remain the most tantalising part of a world tournament. Ever since a data systems manager called Duncan Fletcher masterminded Zimbabwe’s defeat of Australia in 1983, the game has thrived off its giant-killings. This year, Afghanistan and the Netherlands lurk in the shadows, ready to pounce.

V is for… Veletta

Mike Veletta, anyone? No? Unmasked revolutionary blowing up the establishment at Eden Gardens? His 31-ball 45* in Australia’s innings in the '87 final, helping them up to 253, must go down as one of the great World Cup cameos. In reply, England fell seven runs short – Mike Gatting’s wonderfully awful reverse sweep to spark the collapse will never be forgotten – and though Micky V didn’t do much else after that, he could always say that he lit the fuse on Australia’s World Cup story.

W is for… Woolmer

An innovative all-rounder in a playing career which included 19 Tests and six ODIs for England, Bob Woolmer went on to become a groundbreaking coach for Warwickshire, South Africa and Pakistan. A progressive thinker who championed the reverse sweep and the use of computer analysis, his South African side came agonisingly close to reaching the final of the 1999 World Cup, losing out to Australia in a dramatic semi-final at Edgbaston, after which Woolmer resigned from his post. He returned to international cricket with Pakistan in 2004, serving as their head coach at the 2007 World Cup, but tragedy struck on 18th March, the day after his team had been knocked out of the tournament following a shock defeat to Ireland, when Woolmer was found dead in his hotel room at the Pegasus Hotel in Jamaica.

Jamaican police opened a murder investigation after a pathologist’s report claimed the 58-year-old had died of asphyxia via manual strangulation, but it was later found he had been suffering from health problems and had died of natural causes. "As a coach and mentor, Bob Woolmer had everything," said Mohammad Yousuf, who played under Woolmer for Pakistan, speaking on the 15th anniversary of his death. "He was a top motivator and would always back his players. He was a great guy and a great coach. Bob Woolmer will remain the No.1 coach in the world."

X is for… X

Ten teams. Ten. Not that many, is it? Not especially worldly. There used to be more, but the suits put paid to that. After all, fewer teams means less chance of an upset, right? And the big teams staying around for longer means more of that lovely advertising revenue. One of the few consolations of that politically limp decision is, at least, clarity of format: this time everyone plays everyone, and then it’s your semis, before the final on 19th November, to be held at that 130,000-seater stadium in Ahmedabad, the one named after India’s current prime minister – a figure, incidentally, you are likely to see quite a lot of over the next two months. At least in four years’ time we’ll be back up to the dizzying heights of 14 teams.

Y is for… Yellow

Australia celebrate winning the Cricket World Cup final in 1999
Australia win the Cricket World Cup final in 1999 Getty Images

Five times, the Aussies have won it. That’s three times more than anyone else. Three times in a row from 1999 to 2007, with the other two basically won by accident. They go into this one with multiple injuries, one good spinner (Adam Zampa, who’s just equalled the record for the most runs conceded in an ODI) and a messy top order. They’ll probably win it.

Z is for… Zulu

The 1999 World Cup was a peculiar tournament. South Africa and Australia were easily the best teams, and in the vast hulking form of Lance Klusener – 'Zulu' to his mates – the Proteas had their trump card. Across a chilly month in early summer, Klusener singlehandedly patented the barrelling finisher role in ODI cricket, smashing 250 runs from 214 balls with five not outs to propel South Africa into a showdown against the Aussies at Edgbaston.

The semi-final is pure folklore. Australia looked to have the game sewn up before Klusener battered the seamers for 31 from his first 15 balls to bring the scores level. With four balls remaining, he skewed a drive past Damien Fleming and set off for the winning run only to find his partner Allan Donald rooted to the spot. Klusener was almost level with Donald at the non-striker’s end by the time Donald set off. Adam Gilchrist completed the run out – via a relay throw involving Mark Waugh and Fleming – to secure a tie, and Australia sailed into the final by virtue of their superior net run rate. "I could have maybe been a little more patient," Klusener later said. "But hindsight is a brilliant science."

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