World Cup 2015 Review March 30, 2015

Best innings of the tournament - Guptill, Smith, Shenwari

Among the many glittering innings in the 2015 World Cup, five stood out

The one-man show: Samiullah Shenwari single-handedly took Afghanistan to their first World Cup win © ICC

Samiullah Shenwari
96 v Scotland, Dunedin

It was a wildly seesawing day for Afghanistan. They let Scotland get away from 144 for 8 to 210. In reply, they slipped from 85 for 2 to 97 for 7. Samiullah Shenwari, who had come in at 46 for 2, could well have been back in the hut too. On 20, Majid Haq had dropped him in the slips.

Eventually, it was Haq's bowling that Shenwari would target as Afghanistan neared their target, but that was a while away. There was rebuilding to do, and Shenwari would do it patiently. He added 35 in 68 balls with Dawlat Zadran, and brought up his half-century shortly after that partnership ended. It had taken him 113 balls to get there, but Scotland were nervous. Shenwari wasn't celebrating. He had bigger things on his mind. At the other end, Hamid Hassan was simply looking to stay put, and doing a great job of it.

Shenwari's moment arrived in the 47th over, which began with 38 required from 24 balls. Bang, bang, bang. Haq's offspin disappeared for three sixes in three balls, all over cow corner. Next ball, with four to get for his century, Shenwari went for another big hit and picked out deep midwicket. Distraught, he remained slumped just beyond the boundary rope, head in his hands, but Hassan and Shapoor Zadran ensured his efforts wouldn't go unrewarded, calmly picking off the 19 runs Afghanistan needed for their first ever World Cup win.

Brendan Taylor
138 v India, Auckland

India had won their first five matches in the group stage, all by convincing margins, and when Brendan Taylor walked in at 13 for 2, which soon became 33 for 3, another easy win seemed imminent. Taylor, who had just announced he would be signing a three-year Kolpak deal with Nottinghamshire, was playing his final game for Zimbabwe.

Taylor was in sparkling form, and in his previous match had made a brilliant 91-ball 121 against Ireland, which had brought Zimbabwe to within six runs of chasing down 332. Now, against a better attack, he played with the same sense of authority and showed the same disdain for the spinners, whom he swept and reverse-swept whenever he felt like.

Taylor and Sean Williams batted with freedom, putting on 93 and ensuring Zimbabwe barely took any time wallowing over the loss of those early wickets. Taylor only grew more aggressive after the partnership ended, and hit his first six in the 34th over, launching R Ashwin over cow corner.

Two more sixes came off a Mohammed Shami over in the Powerplay, the first a ramp over third man that made him the first Zimbabwean to make back-to-back World Cup hundreds. Then Taylor took Jadeja to the cleaners - 4, 4, 6, 4, 6. At 232 for 4 in 41 overs, Zimbabwe seemed set for a monster total, but Taylor's dismissal in the next over precipitated a collapse that ended at 287 all out. It wasn't enough to win Zimbabwe the game, but it stretched India's batting more than it had ever been till that point in the tournament.

Martin Guptill
237* v West Indies, Wellington

Before the World Cup, Martin Guptill's place at the top of the order seemed under threat. He had averaged under 28 in his last 28 matches, during which time pretty much every other New Zealand batsman had looked in the form of their lives. Yet the selectors kept faith in him, and in New Zealand's final group-stage game he repaid them with an important hundred in a tricky chase against Bangladesh.

But he wasn't done yet. Far from it. Grassed on 4 by Marlon Samuels at the start of the quarter-final against West Indies, Guptill cashed in like no man had done before in an ODI innings. By the third over, Guptill had struck three fours, all of them driven down the ground with the straightest of bats.

Over the 50 overs of New Zealand's innings, West Indies kept seeing that straight bat over and over again. They kept giving him balls to drive, and he kept hitting them to the boundary. Sometimes he closed his bat face a little and drove through the on side. Sometimes he extended his follow-through and landed the ball in the stands. Once he even hit the roof.

The century came up in the 35th over. Plenty of time still left. How far could Guptill go? He would go farther than any New Zealand batsman before him. Guptill went from 100 to 150 in 23 balls, and from 150 to 200 in 18 balls, the landmark coming up with another straight drive for four, off Andre Russell. Four batsmen had made double-centuries before Guptill, and Chris Gayle had done it in the same tournament, but this was a World Cup quarter-final. This was something else.

Grant Elliott's six sparked off wild celebrations at the Eden Park © Getty Images

Grant Elliott
84* v SA, Auckland

This was New Zealand's seventh World Cup semi-final. So far they had lost six out of six. Brendon McCullum had raised hopes of ending that run by giving New Zealand the blazing start they needed in a revised chase of 298 in 43 overs. Now, at 128 for 3, they needed a cool head in the middle of a deafening, jam-packed Eden Park.

The selectors had reckoned Grant Elliott was that man, when they recalled him a month before the World Cup, at 35, after two years out of the New Zealand side. Now their judgment was on test, in a World Cup semi-final, against the country of Elliott's birth.

First ball he faced, Elliott calmly lap-swept Imran Tahir for four. No nerves. New Zealand lost the set Ross Taylor, but Elliott and Corey Anderson kept in touch with the required rate. Anderson made the muscular hits, while Elliott relied on placement, opening his bat face to steer Vernon Philander through cover point, shuffling across to whip Morne Morkel over the short boundary at square leg, stepping inside the line to lift Tahir over extra cover to bring up his fifty.

New Zealand enjoyed a couple of slices of luck, including a dropped catch off Elliott in the penultimate over when two fielders collided, but lost Anderson and Luke Ronchi as the match reached its denouement. Twelve to get from one over. Daniel Vettori squeezed a yorker to the backward point boundary, the batsmen stole a couple of byes, and it came down to five from two balls. Dale Steyn sent down a length ball, in the slot, and Elliott swung it away over long-on. Eden Park erupted. New Zealand were in a World Cup final.

Steven Smith
105 v India, Sydney

The big players usually seize the big moments in World Cups, and while several batsmen put their hand up for Australia at various stages, it was Steven Smith, their No. 3, who gave them their backbone with a run of five successive 50-plus scores, including one in each knockout game.

In the semi-final, Smith walked in after the early dismissal of David Warner. He had tormented them over the summer, but over the course of the World Cup India's bowling attack had grown in rhythm and confidence, and had bowled out all seven of their opponents so far. Maybe things would be different this time.

They were, in a way, but they weren't. India weren't bowling particularly badly, and at one end were making Aaron Finch scratch and scrabble for his runs. Smith, though, was batting on a different planet. Umesh Yadav kept banging it in short, but he had the field for it, and still Smith pulled him away for three fours in an over.

Smith motored along, bringing up 50 in 53 balls and collecting runs with great ease, using his feet to the spinners, walking across the stumps to the quicks, working the ball wherever he pleased.

Australia took the batting Powerplay early, in the 33rd over, and Smith immediately switched gears, clipping, swiping and pulling Mohammed Shami for two fours and a six in one over to reach his hundred. Australia were well on their way to a match-winning total. In terms of impact, this innings was up there with Ricky Ponting's in Johannesburg in the 2003 final.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo