Finally, after six weeks of enthralling cricketing action, Australia won their fifth World Cup defeating co-hosts New Zealand in Melbourne. The antipodean sides were the worthy finalists and Steven Smith – who has been in the form of a lifetime – hit the winning runs and gave the Aussies a moment to cherish.
In the final, the Australians successfully imposed the 'unfathomable size' of Melbourne Cricket Ground and beat their neighbours for that unprecedented haul of world titles. The Black Caps, after playing some tremendous cricket, failed to overcome the pressure of playing before a massive crowd at 'The G', and came short of claiming their first ever big title.
Let's look at the top ten moments of the ICC World Cup 2015 that may well define this edition of cricket's flagship tournament as one of the best in it's history.
Double Centuries – Chris Gayle and Martin Guptill set new batting benchmarks
Cricket becoming batsmen's game is definitely not a bane. There are few cries, but overall, it's all about bat hitting the ball. Probably the very design of the limited overs format demands it. But during this tournament, two batsmen set new benchmarks by scoring double hundreds.
West Indies' opener Chris Gayle made a mockery of Zimbabwean attack by hitting 16 sixes and 10 fours in a 147-ball innings, which resulted in the first ever double-hundred in a World Cup. His 215-run innings underlined the importance of hard hitting in modern day cricket and of course also highlighted the repercussions of new rules adopted by the cricket administrators.
Gayle was joined by New Zealand's Martin Guptill – another opener – in the double hundred club. Guptill's 237 not out off 163 balls showed the virtue of patience and ball-watching. He paced the innings to perfection, raising the tempo with each passing over, with majority of his 24 fours and 11 sixes coming towards the end of the innings.
Yes, there is a certain Rohit Sharma – who is bestowed with obscene talent – and the Indian batsman has two double hundreds to his name in the fifty overs' format.
Bangladesh stunned England, yet again!
It will not be called a shock, considering the state of affairs that prevailed in the two camps in the run up to the tournament. Bangladesh arrived Down Under with a stated aim to reach the quarter-finals, which they did with some pomp and style. But for the minnows to become one of the last-eight teams in the tournament, they needed to beat one of those so called 'top teams'. And England became the victim of that plan, executed rather pitilessly against the set norms.
English cricket, as they say, ceased to catch up with the rest of the world. Their precarious form and the bad management has been the talk of the town. However, under a new captain Eoin Morgan, they seemed to have nurtured a new found energy. They defeated India in the warm-up tournament — a tri-series also involving Australia, in Australia.
Once the tournament started, that misconception was soon put to rest. They suffered defeats against Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and only managed one win over Scotland before the Bangladesh fixture. And they lost, in some style. Chasing a target of 276 runs against the Bangla Tigers, they came short by 15 runs in one of the most spectacular matches of the tournament. It also put to bed any hopes of the Pommies qualifying for the next round.
New Zealand make first final with win over South Africa
Some clashes defined the tournament – the vigorous competitions amidst heroic victories and heightened sense of helplessness in losses. The first semi-final between two of the favourites produced a classic example of what it is like to be in a World Cup knock-out game. Both the sides had never qualified for the big final. And the moment was ripe for either of the sides to win a shot at the title.
Despite slight rain disturbances, the match-up produced one of the best games in the history of cricket as the Kiwis beat Proteas by four wickets on the penultimate delivery. As in other classic games, the Eden Park encounter had all the markings of great match, with the momentum swinging either way with its veritable pause.
South Africa, batting first, posted 281 runs after a reduced 43 overs play. The innings witnessed skipper AB de Villiers playing yet another innings of the highest order. His 45-ball 65 provided that much-needed impetus to their innings. But the real anchor came from Faf du Plessis, who played a patient 107-ball innings to compile 82 runs. Then, a late spike (49 runs from 18 balls) from David Miller provided their innings a surge which at one point seemed good enough for the knock-out.
New Zealand's chase started in best possible fashion. Playing in their favourite sporting ground — Eden Park — skipper Brendon McCullum set the fire-works on with a blistering 59 from 26 balls. Then, a brief slump in the middle overs put their stakes in jeopardy. Then a South African-born arrived in the centre to take charge of the proceedings.
Grant Elliot played the knock of a lifetime, wearing down fiery spells form Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn to win the match with one ball remaining. The final over, bowled by Steyn, produced a plethora of sporting upheavals with two spirited sides in the fray, with each side hoping for a maiden final appearance. Needing 11 runs to win the match, Elliott carded the fifth delivery over long-on for a six. Soon after, the spirit of cricket was marked by both tears and smiles.
Kumar Sangakkara's four successive hundreds
Personal exploits do matter in a tournament of such magnitude, which has some of the best players the game has ever witnessed. There were many stand out performances, but Kumar Sangakkara's batting display certainly led the pack. The veteran Sri Lankan batsman, playing in his final World Cup, was at his best.
In the tournament, the 37-year-old went on to make four successive hundreds, as consistency was personified. It's a cricketing feat which may never be matched or bettered. It is sad that the prolific run-scorer announced his retirement from the 50-overs format, along with his long-time companion Mahela Jayawardene.
The wicketkeeper-batsman started with a stroke-filled 105 not-out against Bangladesh in Melbourne, followed by a blistering 117 not out against England in Wellington, another majestic 124 against Scotland in Hobart and a relatively patient looking 104 against Australia in Sydney.
In the quarter-final against South Africa, the southpaw ended his World Cup outing in a losing cause, scoring 45 runs. However, on the personal front, he matched the likes of Sachin Tendulkar —who owns the record of scoring more than 500 runs in a single edition of World Cup.
His aggregate of 541 runs at an average of 108.20 from seven innings is a testament to his mastery. Despite being one of the best batsmen, he failed to win a fifty-over World Cup. He was a losing finalist at the 2007 and 2011 World Cups.
Tim Southee rocked England with a spell of 7 for 33
The New Zealand bowler described his seven-for against England as a 'bit of a blur,' but probably he did not know that his performance in Wellington was one of the best pace bowling performances in the history of cricket. Result - England were bowled out for a paltry 123 runs, with Southee scalping 7/33 from nine overs.
Bowlers taking more than five wickets is no rarity, but the 26-year-old's spell against England was special for one simple reason. His was a perfect display of fiery pace with immaculate line and length, right from the start.
It was also New Zealand's best ODI bowling effort, eclipsing his bowling coach Shane Bond's 6/19 against India. The brutality with which he dismantled English side was evident from the fact that it was Three Lions' third lowest total in this format of the game.
In all World Cups, Southee's figures stand third behind the great Aussie paceman Glenn McGrath (7/14 from seven overs, including four maidens against Namibia in 2003) and another Aussie Andy Bichel (7/20 from 10 overs against England in 2003). West Indies great Winston Davies was the other bowler to take seven wickets in a match in World Cup, against Australia in 1983.
New Zealand's one-wicket win over Australia
Neighbours are usually great rivals, thanks to a common proximity in everything they love or abhor. There are plenty of rivalries in sporting world between neighbouring countries, but the one between the two Trans-Tasman sides is unrivalled. Often played out with a dictum of big brother taking on not-so successful neighbours, any Australia-New Zealand clash is about everything. The fixture even has got a dedicated prize – Chappell-Hadlee Trophy.
Before the final, the two co-hosts met in a Pool A clash at Eden Park. It was one of the most eagerly awaited match-ups of the tournament, and as expected, it proved to be a thriller, with New Zealand winning by one wicket. The match in Auckland witnessed some of this World Cup's best individual performances.
Michael Clarke won the toss and gleefully opted to bat first, in the hope that a huge total would put the 'host' in pressure. But the Aussie script went horribly wrong once the Kiwi new ball pair of Tim Southee and Trent Boult began sending batsmen in a hurriedly arranged parade. Australia could only manage a relatively low score of 151 runs on the board.
Then, Brendon McCullum sensing something fraught in their chances, started the chase in a prolific manner — scoring 54 runs off 24 balls. But, in utter dismay of all those Black Caps gathered, Mitchell Starc toyed with the Kiwi middle and lower order, removing six wickets to give the four-time world champions a realistic chance to trounce their bitter neighbour.
But despite all the drama, Kiwis reached the target in 23.1 overs.
AB de Villiers obliterated West Indies attack with 162 runs off 66 balls
History repeats itself. This often-repeated adage was once again proven right in full daylight when South African skipper AB de Villiers obliterated West Indies attack at the Sydney Cricket Ground. AB's 162-run off 66 balls was spurred by 17 fours and 8 sixes. With that, AB also recorded his 20th ODI hundred.
The innings was all about records. Coming into the match, AB in the last six matches against the Windies had scores of 107 not out, 37, 81, 149, 19, and on one occasion, he did not bat. That knock of 149 was the innings where de Villiers smashed a hundred off just 31 balls for a new world record.
The Pool B clash became another record-breaking match with AB registering fastest ODI 150 off 64 deliveries. Thanks to his innings, South Africa posted second highest total ever in World Cup after India's 413/5 against lowly Bermuda at Port of Spain in 2007. The score of 408/5 was also the highest total ever made in Australia.
South Africa, thanks to AB's onslaught scored in the sequence of: 10, 8, 18, 12, 16, 18, 11, 11, 6, 13, 13, 11, 7, 34, 14 and 30 runs in the last 16 overs. West Indies eventually went on to lose the match by 257 runs. In a way, AB de Villiers individual score of 166 not out was more than the West Indies' grand total of 151. AB won by 15 runs!
Australia ended India's unbeaten run at the World Cup
After a dismal tour of Australia ahead of the World Cup, India wanted to make amends by beating the Aussies in their own den. But it wasn't to be. The Australia-India battle has often been fought on various fronts including in the media and among fan circles.
The build-up to the semi-final clash in Sydney was intense. Past and present players, experts et all provided their bona fide previews and suggestions. Predictions, crystal ball gazing was at an all-time high. After all, cricketing world was witnessing two of the strongest contenders of the World Cup.
The match, despite its projected intensity, ended with a loud unsatisfactory thump with Australia thrashing the defending champions by 95 runs. With the defeat, Mahendra Singh Dhoni's Men in Blue failed to emulate Ricky Ponting's all-conquering Aussie team which played two back-to-back finals. It also ended India's 11-game unbeaten run in the World Cup dating back to 2011.
There were many individual match-ups but at the end, Australia's success to get Virat Kohli early in his innings and India's failure to contain Steve Smith proved decisive.
'Associate' Ireland humiliate 'Full Member' West Indies
Whenever an Associate side beats a Test team, the world of cricket receives a rude wake-up call. But this gentleman's game continues to be a sport of two halves with unequal set-ups – one with full status and another with limited access to whatever the game has to offer. This division (of class) undermines cricket bid to become a truly full-fledged global sport.
And once again, cricket received yet another wake-up call. This time Ireland shocked West Indies on the greatest stage of cricket. The manner in which the two-time world champions were obliterated, left a gaping hole in the future plans of International Cricket Council (ICC), which plans to extend their reach to new pastures.
The match at Nelson might go down as a shock to cricket, but if we look little closer, it was long coming. Because, Ireland's win was augmented by their consistency while taking on the Test teams and their hunger to perform. Hungry, that's the word! In contrast, the Carribean side with their illustrious past, seemed more than content to be there, mere travellers without any target or plan. Stories of in-fighting have been doing the rounds for the once formidable side. Whereas, nobody cared for what the players from Ireland would do after their return from the World Cup.
Motivation galore as Afghanistan beat Scotland by 1 wicket
Continuing the Associate team narrative, the 2015 World Cup saw gutsy performances from the so-called part-timers. Against all odds, they won hearts whenever they took the field, in endless defeats and occasional wins. And one part of the story should be dedicated to the team from Afghanistan. The ghost of war lurks in every corner of the streets of Afghanistan, where waking up to see another dawn is a success story in itself. But they have yearned for something more than mere living.
In an astonishing feat of will and grit, Afghanistan qualified for the flagship tournament through the ICC qualifiers. With majority of their players living in refugee camps, their rise to cricket's biggest stage was unparalleled, to say the least. During the tournament, they gifted fans in the war-ravaged country memories to be proud of, by winning their first ever World Cup match.
In a Pool A match in Dunedin, they survived some anxious moments to beat fellow minnows Scotland by one wicket with three balls remaining. And the hero of the match was Samiullah Shenwari, who stood tall amidst the pile scoring a hard-fought 96 runs off 147 balls.
Some of the other notable moments of the World Cup included Pakistan's Wahab Riaz's stunning spell against Australia's Shane Watson. Riaz bowled a flurry of short balls with heart to terrorise Watson and was unlucky not to get the wicket, although the batsman pulled a ball towards the deep fine-leg region and Rahat Ali missed a sitter. Aussies prevailed and went into the semis but Wahab got his name into a classic World Cup tale by bowling one of the best spells ever.
India beat arch-rivals Pakistan in their opening game of their campaign to get on top of the mother of all battles. This was the sixth time India beat Pakistan and that too quite convincingly in a World Cup.