Biggest upsets in ICC World Cup history

This year’s mega event will be held in India

October 01, 2023
Ireland's Kevin O'Brien guided his side to a legendary win against England in the 2011 World Cup. — ICC

From a team not even having a full Test status thumping a World Cup winning side to Kenya going all the way to the semi-final, the ICC Cricket World Cup has given us some of the biggest upsets and moments to appreciate the beauty of the sport where a giant can be toppled by an underdog.

This year's World Cup will be the 13th edition of the mega event as 10 teams will go head-to-head for the elusive title across 10 venues from October 5 to November 19, with the Narendra Modi Stadium — the biggest stadium in the world — in Ahmedabad hosting the tournament opener and the final.

With teams like India, Pakistan, England, South Africa and others being in red-hot form, we might witness one of the greatest World Cups of all time, especially on batting-friendly Indian wickets where high totals would be expected in every match.

As we wait for the mega event to kick off, let us revisit some of the biggest upsets in the history of mega-events that left the fans stunned.

Bangladesh vs Pakistan (1999)

One of the best Pakistani sides, that played the final of that event after beating the likes of Australia, New Zealand and West Indies during their journey, was toppled by Bangladesh, which was playing their first-ever World Cup and was not even granted full Test status by then.

Although the match was a dead rubber but Bangladesh managed to put 223 for nine in 50 overs and as soon as their innings were over, it became evident that Pakistan, on a difficult wicket, will struggle during their chase.

After losing five for just 42 in 12 overs, the Green Shirts couldn’t stand on their feet and were eventually all out for 161 runs. While that defeat did not do much harm to the Men in Green, it was significant for the Bangladeshi side and marked a turning point for their cricket.

Bangladesh's supporters storm the field after their country beat Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup. — AFP

Kenya vs Sri Lanka (2003)

Whenever people talk about the biggest underdog story in the history of cricket, World Cup in particular, the name of the Kenya national team along with the year 2003 will always be mentioned.

Kenya’s fairytale run in the 2003 World Cup saw them going all the way to the event’s semi-final. The Simbas did that with their hard work and determination. During their run, they met with the mighty Sri Lankan side, that won the World Cup just seven years ago.

Batting first, Kenya could only score 210 for nine in 50 overs and with the Lankan side, having many top batters, were confident about chasing that. However, the Islanders met with Collins Obuya’s magic, who bagged five for 24, helping his side remove all the visitors’ batters for just 157 runs, recording one of the biggest wins in their cricket history.

Kenya players run across the field holding the national flag after thumping Sri Lanka and shocking the cricket world. — Reuters

Ireland vs Pakistan (2007)

Pakistan and Ireland locked horns in a Group D encounter on March 17, 2007, which is known as St Patrick’s Day, a religious and cultural event that is celebrated in Ireland.

The rainy conditions in Jamaica allowed the Irish pacers to create chaos for the Pakistani batters who were all out for just 132 runs in 45.4 overs. Out of 11, only four players in the Green Shirts scored in double digits.

The Irishmen were given a revised target of 128 runs in 47 overs courtesy of rain. The newcomers were sure to struggle on rainy conditions and in front of Pakistan’s threatening bowling attack, but Niall O’Brien orchestrated the run-chase and was named the Player of the Match.

The unexpected win was no less than a shock for the cricket fraternity, as Ireland made their way to the Super Eight of the tournament, while Pakistan were out from the first round.

Irish players celebrate after stunning Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup. — AFP

Bangladesh vs India (2007)

One of the best Indian squad, consisting of match-winners and world-beaters like Yuvraj Singh, Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and many others, couldn’t stand against Bangladesh’s bowling attack of Abdur Razzak, Mashrafe Mortaza and Mohammad Rafique.

It all started with Ganguly opting to bat first on a bowling-friendly wicket of Trinidad, which turned out to be one of the worst decisions of his captaincy, as India not only lost the match but were also out of the mega event with the defeat.

India were all out for just 191 runs, with the skipper and Yuvraj top-scoring with 66 and 47 runs, respectively. Mortaza, Rafique and Razzak wreaked havoc with the ball and took all 10 wickets.

During their chase, Tamim Iqbal provided his side a blistering start, scoring a quick 50 with nine boundaries. Although the Bengal Tigers struggled while batting, Mushfiqur Rahim and Shakib Al Hasan provided the much-needed stability for their side, scoring 56 and 53 respectively, which ultimately were match-winning knocks.

That was Bangladesh’s biggest win of their cricket history, leaving shock waves in the cricketing world as they eliminated one of the tournament’s favourites.

Bangladesh beat India in the 2007 World Cup, recording one of the most memorable victories in the history of their cricket. — AFP

Ireland vs England (2011)

In what was turning into a certain defeat for Ireland, Kevin O’Brien’s resilience, bravery and courage converted that into one of the most unforgettable wins in World Cup history.

Ireland and England took on one another in the 2011 World Cup in Group B match. Solid knocks by Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell guided their side to a massive total of 329. During their chase, the Irish batters failed considerably and were 111-5 in 24.2 overs with a heavy defeat on the cards. 

However, coming in to bat at no. 8, O’Brien came as a saviour for his side and played arguably the best innings of the 2011 World Cup by scoring 113 off just 63 deliveries, his knock included 13 fours and six sixes. The Irishman anchored the colossal target that was chased in 49.1 overs, with John Mooney hitting James Anderson for a four.

Kevin O'Brien became the Man of the Day for Ireland as he led his side to a historic chase against a prolific English side. — ICC

Wasay Qayyum is a sports journalist at Geo Super.