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Feature

India vs England at World Cups: From Amarnath's heroics to a Bairstow broadside

We look back at five crunch encounters between India and England on the biggest stage

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
08-Nov-2022
India helped to knock England out of their own tournament in 1999  •  Getty Images

India helped to knock England out of their own tournament in 1999  •  Getty Images

From Sunil Gavaskar's go-slow at Lord's in the very first World Cup fixture in 1975, to Yuvraj Singh's six sixes off Stuart Broad at Durban in 2007, and their famous tie in 2011, England and India have faced one another in several memorable matches on the biggest one-day stages. Only on a handful of occasions, however, has either team's tournament fate rested on the result. Here, ESPNcricinfo revisits their five make-or-break encounters down the years.
World Cup semi-final, 1983 - India won by six wickets
If, by common consent, India's World Cup final victory against West Indies was the result that changed the course of cricket's history, then their semi-final scuttling of the hosts England at Old Trafford was perhaps the first inkling that something significant was afoot. On a slow, low surface with plenty in common with the subcontinent, India's unassuming array of canny medium-pacers made their hosts toil for runs - a mere 213 of them across 60 painstakingly strung-out overs. England remained confident that a potent attack led by Botham, Willis and Dilley could yet carry the day, but Mohinder Amarnath and Yashpal Sharma anchored the chase before Sandeep Patil romped to victory with a freewheeling half-century. Kapil Dev had already played the tournament's most evocative innings to rescue India from ignominy against Zimbabwe in Tunbridge Wells, but that match had been missed due to strike action from the BBC's camera crews. The semi-final and final, by contrast, were beamed in full fidelity to an Indian nation that watched as one - the first pan-national sporting event, following the popularisation of colour TV for the 1982 Asian Games. For England, it was the moment that the World Cup cut its apron strings. The mother country had hosted the first three tournaments since 1975, but India's triumph emboldened their bid for the 1987 event, and the seeds of the modern game had been sown.
World Cup semi-final, 1987 - England won by 35 runs
England versus India at the Wankhede Stadium, with a place in the World Cup final in Calcutta at stake. The only way such a prospect could possibly have been any more tantalising for the hosts was if Pakistan could also have made it through their own semi-final, against Australia in Lahore. History chose the less romantic pay-off, however, and it was the Aussies who eventually bested England for the first of their five titles … with a little bit of help from Mike Gatting's ill-timed reverse sweep along the way. But there had been no complaints about such cross-batted antics while Graham Gooch was sweeping all before him in Bombay three days earlier. England batters have not traditionally been renowned for their playing of spin, but Gooch had learnt his trade on uncovered county tracks in the 1970s, and trusted his technique to carry the day against India's left-arm spinners Maninder Singh and Ravi Shastri. He was aided by some less-than-proactive captaincy from Kapil, who persisted with a more classical ring of fielders in the covers for the ball turning away from the right-hander, but Gooch kept hitting the many gaps on the leg side instead. He had one key let-off, when Kris Srikkanth at backward square spilled a top-edge off Shastri, but his 115 from 136 balls proved more than enough, as India struggled to 219 all out in reply, with only Mohammad Azharuddin's 64 from 74 providing any lasting resistance.
World Cup Group A, 1999 - India won by 63 runs
In England's catalogue of World Cup horrors, the slow, agonising unravelling of their home campaign in 1999 offered a particularly comprehensive brand of humiliation. Every incremental detail of a chaotic month - on the field and off - came to a head in a grim and protracted denouement against India at Edgbaston, where, over the course of two rain-interrupted days, a mounting sense of unease gave way to an unconditional surrender. Going into the contest, England knew they were cutting things fine after a crushing loss to South Africa, but with three wins in the bank to India's two, they were theoretically better placed to seal the third qualification spot … especially with the mighty South Africans expected to do a number on Zimbabwe, the other team still in the running. India, however, knew from their own three-run loss to Zimbabwe that a team powered by the Flower brothers, Heath Streak and Neil Johnson would be no pushovers, and when their seamers cashed in on a lunchtime downpour at Chelmsford to defend 234 with ease, the jeopardy at Edgbaston went off the scale. Chasing an eerily similar 233 for victory, the same band of drizzle reached Birmingham in the 19th over of England's chase. Moments later, Nasser Hussain fell for 33, and nine balls after that, play was suspended for the day. England went to bed dripping with angst at 73 for 3, and when Graham Thorpe - their best remaining hope - fell victim to a leg-sided lbw from Javagal Srinath, their fatalism took hold. Another Srinath yorker to Alan Mullally sealed the match and India's progression to the Super Sixes, as a pitch invasion from a largely Indo-centric second-day crowd confirmed that the carnival of cricket would carry on just fine, even though the hosts had quit the party early.
Champions Trophy final, 2013 - India won by five runs
Another result that changed the course of history, although not immediately, and perhaps not as obviously as had been the case with India's previous title-fight in England 30 years earlier. It's easily forgotten now, given the ignominy to come at the 2015 World Cup, but right up until the moment that their tactics were shown to be obsolete, Alastair Cook's one-day team seemed to be a match for any team in the right conditions. With a Test-match-themed attack, led by James Anderson and Stuart Broad, and with calm, accumulative batting from Cook, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott, they offered up Mourinho-style anti-cricket, not least in their semi-final against South Africa, when they throttled the contest inside the first 20 overs before knocking off their chase at a rate of 4.5 an over. But then, after winning the toss in the final and choosing to go down the same route at an overcast Edgbaston, the heavens opened and the tone of the contest was transformed. When play finally got underway more than five hours later, it was as a 20-over match, and while England had their chances, India's IPL savvy meant they were better prepped for the crunchy closing stages. Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara had the chase in hand with 20 needed from 16, but when Ishant Sharma bagged both in the space of two balls, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja shut down the final overs to deliver MS Dhoni his clean sweep of ICC one-day titles. For England, the wait for their first 50-over success went on, but had they got over the line for this mini-World Cup, it's hard to imagine how they could ever have evolved in time for the main event in 2019.
World Cup group stage, 2019 - England won by 31 runs
Sure enough, by the spring of 2019, Morgan's men seemed to be the finished article going into their home World Cup. The team had shed the reticence that had held England back at every tournament since their near-miss in 1992, and in the preceding months, they had set about embracing the pressure of being favourites. Their name was on the trophy, if only they could keep playing with the positivity of the previous four years. But then, after an early setback against Pakistan ramped up the jitters a touch, back-to-back defeats to Sri Lanka and Australia had left England's semi-final prospects hanging by a thread. With Virat Kohli's India unbeaten at the top of the standings, and itching to deliver the knockout blow at a packed and rapt Edgbaston, Jonny Bairstow then let rip in a sponsor's event, telling the assembled journalists that the media was "waiting for England to fail". It required a crisis meeting to get their minds back on track. David Young, the team psychologist, encouraged the team to address their vulnerabilities and embrace the fact they were no longer feeling bulletproof. And in keeping with his fiery character, no one took the message more to heart than Bairstow, whose 111 from 109 balls underpinned a cathartic innings of 337 for 7 - not riches by England's pre-World Cup standards, but a score on the board nonetheless. Still the jitters remained as India took the game on through Rohit Sharma's century and a belligerent 66 from Kohli, but with 10 an over needed in the final 11, and seven wickets in hand, Rishabh Pant fell to a flying catch from Chris Woakes on the midwicket boundary, and a magnificent contest tilted inexorably in England's favour. They still needed to beat New Zealand to ensure their place in the last four, but that part of the bargain was now back to being a formality - for their group-stage encounter, at least…

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket