Twilight heists and chewed nails
Australia v Pakistan , Centurion, 2009
By the end even Ricky Ponting was chewing his nails as Pakistan fought back and muddled the plot. Australia had to win to make sure of entering the semi-finals. On a sluggish pitch, their fast bowlers restricted Pakistan to a modest 205. Tim Paine and Shane Watson rushed off the blocks before Ponting, in the company of a confident Michael Hussey, the only batsman to record a half-century in the match, put Australia in a winning position.
Then Ponting was pouched spectacularly by Shoaib Malik in the deep and Pakistan sniffed an opportunity. When the final ten overs started, Australia needed 36. Rana Naved-ul-Hasan bowled a match-turning late spell, first uprooting Hussey's stumps with a penetrating yorker, and he followed that with two maidens. Mohammad Asif, playing his first match in almost two years, showed he could still toy with batsmen outside the off stump - James Hopes and Cameron White may still be working out how Asif got the better of them in one over. And Umar Gul, who had not bowled after the 15th over of innings, returned to shoot the yorkers in like an expert marksman.
The climax was reserved for the final over: Australia needed five runs. Gul returned to bowl suffocating lengths to Brett Lee and Nathan Hauritz. One run was needed from the final ball. Gul pitched it full and wide. Hauritz missed. Lee charged for the bye. Kamran Akmal picked up the ball for an underam throw. He missed. Lee dived. And Australia gained a berth in the semi-finals, edging out India.
New Zealand v Pakistan, Nairobi, 2000
Before Chris Cairns delivered the one-handed six that fetched New Zealand their first world title, New Zealand had to get past Pakistan in the semi-final. Pakistan, winners of the 1992 World Cup and runners-up in the 1999 one, were favourites. Interestingly, it was New Zealand that Pakistan had jumped over in the semi-finals of both those World Cups.
Saeed Anwar cracked his second century in three days even as the rest of the specialist batsmen failed. The allrounders, Abdul Razzaq and Wasim Akram, restored parity with a run-a-ball 59-run partnership late in the innings to raise a challenging 252. They were stopped from running riot at the end by left-arm quick Shayne O' Connor, who recorded the best bowling figures in the tournament with 5 for 46.
No team had chased more than 250 until then in the tournament. New Zealand's task looked difficult at 15 for 2, but Roger Twose and Nathan Astle stood solid in a 135-run third-wicket partnership. Three quick wickets in the middle overs left the match in the balance, with New Zealand needing 66 runs from final 12 overs with four wickets in hand. Without Cairns, sitting out injured, it was a stiff challenge. But Craig McMillan, who had played a key role in his team's first win in the tournament against Zimbabwe, anchored New Zealand to safety in the company of Cairns' replacement, Scott Styris. The two stitched together an unbeaten 68-run alliance to help New Zealand reach the final.
Australia v West Indies, Mumbai, 2006
A match full of drama. West Indies had been rudely pushed aside by Sri Lanka in a nine-wicket defeat in their previous game. Australia were playing their first match of the tournament. Having elected to bat, Brian Lara surprisingly decided to drop himself down the order. Perhaps Lara was not confident about his middle and lower orders, that had crumbled against Sri Lanka. At any rate, his plan worked.
Along with the spirited Runako Morton, he wrested control back from Australia as the duo put together a 137-run fifth-wicket partnership, with Lara dominating Australia's slow and medium-pace bowlers effortlessly.
But was 234 going to be enough? After 20 overs, Australia were 81 for 4, though Adam Gilchrist was still around, playing an uncharacteristic grinding knock. Nudges and pushes replaced his trademark flat-batted monstrous hits as Gilchrist, in the company of Michael Clarke, built a winning platform. A target of 64 from the final ten overs meant Australia were favourites.
The Australians were distracted by Chris Gayle getting in Clarke's hair - chatting to him, and at one stage, even throwing the ball in his direction, which resulted in a couple of overthrows. Both teams were playing with high intensity and neither wanted to back off.
Then Gilchrist was run out and Dwayne Bravo teased Clarke with a slower delivery, accepting the return catch. With 21 needed from 14, Michael Hussey attempted a wild swing and lost his off stump to Jerome Taylor. The next ball Taylor bowled full into Brett Lee's pads and appealed animatedly. Jimmy Adams on TV said: "A man fixing a pipe could not be plumber than that."
Taylor was on a hat-trick on his first ball of the final over of the match. Brad Hogg tried to clear the square-leg boundary but was beaten by the fierce pace and was bowled. It was West Indies' first hat-trick in ODIs, and had secured them a thrilling ten-run victory.
South Africa v West Indies, Colombo, 2002
Wisden called it the "best finish" of the tournament. And what a cliffhanger it turned out to be, with the match being decided off the very last ball. Not one of the West Indies batsmen reached a fifty, after Shaun Pollock* had put them in to bat. South Africa's top order then surrendered meekly in turn, allowing West Indies to retain their hopes. However, Jonty Rhodes and Boeta Dippenaar maintained the pressure with clever placements and hard running between the wickets. But once Carl Hooper, the West Indies captain, broke their 117-run partnership by getting rid of both in the space of three deliveries, the pendulum swung in West Indies' favour.
South Africa, who were penalised for a slow over rate and had to achieve the target in 49 overs, didn't choke this time. With 13 needed from the final over from Merv Dillon, Pollock walloped a six over long-on. There were a few jitters then as he and Lance Klusener departed in quick succession.
With three runs needed off the final ball, Dillon bowled it full outside Nicky Boje's leg stump. The umpire declared it as both a wide and a bye. Alan Dawson then managed a thick edge off the last delivery to secure a two-wicket victory.
England v West Indies, The Oval, 2004
At 147 for 8, chasing 218 for a victory, West Indies were staring down the barrel. The Barbadian pair of Courtney Browne and Ian Bradshaw, England supposed, could not pose much of a danger. But over the next hour, England went from being unconcerned, to being alarmed, before being robbed.
Marcus Trescothick was the only England batsman who found his groove on a pitch that was relatively dry and hard as he scored a spectacular century. The rest of the English batsmen failed. Brian Lara took two amazing catches, including a low one-handed take of Andrew Flintoff at short midwicket, which he plucked like a strand of grass.
The West Indies top and middle order didn't make an impact, leaving Browne and Bradshaw to script an miraculous escape. When Bradshaw, the 30-year-old greenhorn, joined his Barbados captain Browne with 15 overs left, West Indies still needed 71. "What is your plan?" he asked Browne, and was told to just stay calm.
Bradshaw batted like a No. 3 rather than the No. 10 that he was. Browne, too, was not afraid to swing even if it meant he would miss. England's captain Michael Vaughan grew restless as the Caribbean pair grew stronger with each over. With 35 required off the last seven, and the light deteriorating, Vaughan checked with the umpires if they wanted to postpone the rest of the match to the next day. The West Indies pair politely declined the offer.
With nine needed off the final ten, Browne's leading edge against a listless Darren Gough, flew over point for a boundary. And Bradshaw sealed the fairytale with a classic square drive on a bent knee, against Alex Wharf. It was a signal for the Caribbean to erupt.
June 8, 07.29GMT: The captain of South Africa in the match against West Indies in 2002 in Colombo was Shaun Pollock and not Hansie Cronje as had been mentioned. This has been corrected
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo