The ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 was a keenly followed event. Teams collided with one another in a contest of skills, raw power and sheer daredevilry that took fans and record keepers on an enthralling journey for a month and a half. It can be safely said that in totality, this was an amazing run fest where exploits with the bat were fashioned spectacularly by all test playing nations. Bowling performances didn’t lag far behind the glitzy batting show. This was a tournament set ablaze by balls that crushed the timber like tracer bullets, and some of the leading luminaries of world cricket made a name for themselves on cricket's most gigantic show.
More importantly, the surprise show by some of the associate nations truly captured the essence of the global competition. As Sir Richard Hadlee aptly described it, "the presence of Afghanistan in the ICC cricket world cup truly summarizes the success story of international cricket." The final stages of the game featured four of the strongest sides in world cricket, India, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, featuring in hugely anticipated clashes. Australia emerged at the top, claiming the World cup for a record fifth time. But this was not before some of the finest all round performances were seen from teams during the pool and qualifying stages. While the bat beat the cherry out of the bowl on many occasions, the cherry whistled past the timber many a time as well. We take a look at some of the most memorable performances that scripted the epic story of a hugely successful edition of ICC's Cricket world cup.
1) Ireland's rise in the World Cup :
Largely considered an average cricket playing nation with a reputation of taking test playing sides by surprise, this was by no means a less than average outing for the Irish. Their players played some high class cricket, demonstrating vast improvements in their batting and bowling departments and bolstered their international cricket record. John Mooney, skipper William Porterfield, Ed Joyce and Niall O'Brien all stood out with their performances and made facing them quite a contest even for established and experienced sides. Their memorable campaign started by upsetting the West Indies' tall line up that included some of the biggest stroke makers currently in the game. The Windies' total of 304 was not enough to curtail the Irish rampage, who calmly achieved passed it with around 4 overs to spare. The Irish batting was polished and made decent bowling attacks look brittle, doing well in their other pool clashes as well. Their willowers put up 300 plus totals on 2 occasions, the second coming against Zimbabwe, a formidable 331. Ed Joyce struck a confident 112 in that game. Another ton was compiled by Porterfield, who scored a world cup best of 107 against Pakistan. World cricket shall hopefully see more of Ireland in the near future, with the brave side looking sure to have a place in the next edition of the world cup.
2) Sangakkara and Jayawardene's exit from international cricket :
Two torch bearers of Sri Lanka's resurgence and domination in international cricket, seasoned campaigners Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene bid adieu to one day international cricket following their side's final game in this edition of the world cup, the quarter final against South Africa. Even though Sri Lanka failed to make it to the semis, they played some fine cricket during their pool clashes against Bangladesh, Scotland, Afghanistan, England and Australia, a game which they almost won thanks to the brilliance of their embattled genius- Sanga. While Jayawardene would have hoped for a far better campaign, not even scoring 200 runs in the tournament, his compatriot seemed to be in the form of his life, albeit in a losing cause. Sangakkara's form was threatening for all the bowlers, and at one time it seemed he would singlehandedly put Lanka in the driver's seat till the last leg of the tournament. But cricket is a game that needs the team to drive it together, rather than a lone batsman carrying the entire team, while driving the lap of his life. Kumar Sangakkara struck 4 back-to-back hundreds, against Australia, Bangladesh, England and Scotland, his tournament best of 124 coming against the Scots who were sent not exactly scot-free. Churning a mammoth tally of 541 runs, each of those came at the time when his team needed them the most. Fit, agile and determined to walk into the sunset with his head held high, Sangakkara performed richly even off the pitch, praising Sri Lankan cricket and the manner in which the team was lead by Angelo Mathews. The sterling careers of both Sri Lankan greats and the way they conduct themselves have left an unforgettable impression on the game and served as fine examples of why this is considered a gentleman's game.
3) Brendan Taylor's 138 and exit from international cricket :
For some people, Brendan Taylor was a fine talent for a less than average side. For those who have followed his game closely, however, Taylor's brand of cricket was in a league of its own. The only Zimbabwean player who can be termed as a great, in the same bracket as stars like the Flower brothers and Alistair Campbell, Brendan Taylor's short lived career was a fine indication that a lot can be achieved in a short stint in the game by virtue of pure batting talent. Taylor made 433 runs in the entire tournament, the 4th highest overall, and his breathtaking knock of 138 of 110 came against the mighty Indians, an encounter which his team couldn't manage to pocket in their favour. For a side that lacked genuine batting talent, Taylor was the reassurance that all was not lost. In him they had a cool leader and an explosive batsman who played with maturity and grace. Always silent, expressive through his bat, Taylor's vivid game contained as many classical strokes as attacking and innovative shots, according to the changing needs of batsmanship. In a bid to add more flair and consistent rewards for his outstanding talent, Brendan Taylor has chosen the Kolpak path and announced his retirement from the national team to play for Nottinghamshire.
4) The English rout in the tournament of surprises :
At this point in time, only the gods know what has happened to English cricket. While their pre-tournament form wasn't much of a concern, their on-field performances in the world cup were mediocre at best. They seemed surprised to have somehow found their way into an international cricket tournament. Their bowlers were sent to all corners of the ground and their batsmen sent to the pavilion with an alarming frequency. Captain Morgan was a confused leader looking for some inspiration that never quite came his way. There wasn't a single stand out performer, save for Joe Root, who stood tall and tragic against Sri Lanka, amidst the debris of the English team around him. Tired, exhausted and even seemingly incompetent, the English were finally sent packing by Bangladesh, a side not many would have considered a foil to the English. Steven Finn's hat trick against Australia was the only memorable souvenir for England in an otherwise dismal campaign, and even that went down as the most expensive hat-trick in ODIs thus far.
5) The Starc and Boult show :
They say that cricket is now a batsman's game, but which batsman would cheerfully take strike against New Zealand's Trent Boult and Australian Mitchell Starc? Both incredibly effective pacers took 22 wickets a piece, the most of the tournament, and bowled their respective sides to many a memorable triumph. While the final was mostly a one-sided encounter, again thanks to an all-important 1st over wicket from Starc, the last time these two sides locked horns, at Auckland in their pool A clash, fast bowling thundered over batting. Boult ate into Australia's top order with a magical spell of 5 for 27, reducing the team to merely 151, but Starc retaliated by almost stealing New Zealand's thunder with an incredible performance of 6 for 28. Ripping yorkers, slower back-of-the-hand bouncers, and unplayable inswingers catapulted their game into a spectacle of fast bowling artistry. Both bowlers emerged as the trump cards for their respective sides and left quite an impact, given this was their first world cup appearance.
6) Indian fast bowling :
One of the true highlights of India in this year's world cup was its superb fast bowling performance. Even more remarkable, it came in the absence of the leading pacers: Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The pace trio of Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Mohit Sharma sent the best batting orders packing, and much of India's world record of claiming 70 wickets in 7 consecutive games has to be credited to their bowling might. They weren't up on the speed charts with the likes of Starc, Steyn and Boult, but were as effective as any top notch bowler in batting friendly conditions. In total, the three claimed 48 wickets between them: 18 for Yadav, 17 for Shami, and 13 for Mohit.
7) A superman called AB de Villiers :
South Africa may not have won their most coveted prize, but they left a lasting impact on fans and other teams who later turned avid admirers of their superb brand of cricket. South Africa's spirit of triumph rests on the ability of their playing eleven to generate moments of magic on the pitch. Even in their tragic semi final loss to New Zealand, perhaps the most closely contested and watched game of the tournament, they not only removed their “chokers” tag, but made their superman AB a darling of worldwide media. They came so far in the tournament thanks to the massive contribution of their captain De Villiers, who seemed to be in the form of his life. During most of his innings, in the pool clashes or the later stages, De Villiers never seemed to be under pressure. The kind of form he commanded made South Africa seem like an opposition playing with 12 players. He achieved his career high score of 162* of 66 balls against the West Indies. Or rather, against Jason Holder, who was creamed for 64 runs of his last 12 deliveries during South Africa's innings. Innovative, brutal and unrelenting, De Villiers was keen to make a mark in his second world cup appearance for South Africa and he did more than that. Off the field, he came to the rescue of his side taking the entire blame for their ouster on himself, and during his thrashing of the Windies, showered praise on his opponents, saying that Holder was a fine leader who will grow into a valuable player in the coming days. During his exploits at the crease he was unmistakeably a genius, and off the pitch a symbol of respect and adulation. It is safe to assume that AB was the most loved star of the entire tournament.
8) Martin Guptill's exploits :
New Zealand owed much of their success as a stand-out side to their batting, the only area where a Trent Boult or Tim Southee didn't make a mark. While McCullum was forever daring and attacking, sending the best bowling attacks to all parts of the ground, and Corey Anderson took disciplined bowling to the cleaners, it was Martin Guptill who emerged as the star performer. One of the last classical batsmen in the game, Guptill's game is charmed by his relentless commitment to serve Kiwi batting by taking much of the batting responsibility in his own hands, and those are safe hands without a doubt. His career best came against the hapless Windies, who were sent blazing to all corners of the ground during that breathtaking 237 run show that led New Zealand to their overall best total of 393 runs. That perfectly timed off drive complemented the hoicks over deep square leg. Guptill opened the innings with the attacking McCullum and when their Spartan returned to the pavilion, became the dangerous striker, carrying his bat for all 50 overs. He emerged on top with 547 runs and took his side to their first ever finals, that they tragically lost to Australia. For a long time to come, Guptill will be remembered as a calm, responsible and resilient performer for a truly transformed Kiwi side.
9) Shikhar Dhawan's form :
India was one of the strongest contenders for the 2015 World Cup, playing fine cricket consistently. They were undefeated until bowing out thanks to a heavy semi-final defeat at the hands of the unsparing Aussies. Their progress all the way into the semi-final stage was due to the great batting form of their batsmen, with classy opener Shikhar Dhawan leading from the front. Dhawan's place in the playing eleven was a matter of much discussion among caustic critics, but he firmly responded with tough answers using his bat. He collected important runs ever so beautifully courtesy those big heaves over mid wicket and the polished drives. His personal best in the world cup, 137 against South Africa, saw him take the challenge to world class bowlers including Steyn and Morkel, and he never backed down. Against Pakistan and Ireland, he held one end, giving India the kind of starts needed to post imposing totals and chase comfortably. Responding coolly in most games after the one against the Proteas, he kept on scoring at a run a ball, compiling 412 runs, the highest for any Indian batsman in this World Cup. One wonders: if Dhawan hadn't gifted away his wicket in that crucial game against the Australians, India might have been in for a stellar show. With all his grace and concentration in tense situations, Dhawan leaves the tournament putting up a solid show, which will only put him in good stead in the remainder of the year for India.
10) Grant Elliott, New Zealand’s unlikely hero :
When one considers the New Zealand team, focus tends to rest on the likes of seasoned veterans like Brendon McCullum or Daniel Vettori, or new found charmers like Boult and Anderson. But it was one 36 year old Grant Elliott who made perhaps the most lasting impact on the team's memorable campaign. With a thin frame that doesn't inspire much confidence, he jolted the confidence of the best bowling attacks, in particular South Africa and Australia. Batting from the middle order, Elliott stuck 2 memorable knocks in the semi-final and final. His heroics first came through against the Proteas, where his unbeaten 84 run knock ended with a six off Steyn, on the penultimate delivery in the last over, sending the Kiwis through to the finals. His batting resonates with a sense of calm that matches his monk-like figure, and his urgency to collect runs never seems to feature the sense of wildness or brashness associated with most modern run makers. The South Africa born lad first lead to South Africa's ouster, and then played the role of a lone hero during his team's disappointing show in the final where he once again made a stand-out score of 82, contributing richly to the side's meagre 183 run total. For a long time to come, he will be regarded as one of the most underrated batsmen of world cricket, whom the Kiwis can depend on for many a rescue act.