The best and the worst of England

England has been in three World Cup finals and has finished runner-up on all the occasions. Vijay Lokapally looks back on the team's fortunes through eight editions of the event.

Though never the glamorous team of world cricket, England has an outstanding record in the World Cup, making the final thrice, but sadly faltering on all occasions.

England has the distinction of compiling totals of 300-plus on three occasions, and incidentally all at home when the World Cup matches were competed on a 60-over-a -side basis.

India's debut in the World Cup was disastrous when the 1975 tournament opened with a match at Lord's and England slammed 334 for four. England's most disappointing moment also came in this edition, when defending a paltry 93, it allowed Australia to recover from 39 for six and win, courtesy Gary Gilmour who took six for 14 and smashed an unbeaten 28 in testing conditions at Headingley.

Beating Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand on the way to the 1979 World Cup final only showed the resilience that England had acquired over the years. But the title remained elusive as England ran into a belligerent Viv Richards and Collis King. The pair hauled West Indies out of a shaky 99 for four with a stand of 139 in 21 overs — a decisive partnership that took the match away from England.

Playing host in 1983, England did well to make it to the semifinals, with totals of 322 for six against New Zealand at the Oval and 333 for nine against Sri Lanka at Taunton in successive matches showing that the team was in tremendous form. But it bowed to the eventual champion, India, in the semifinal in Old Trafford.

England's best was reserved for the sub-continent fans as the World Cup travelled to new venues in 1987. An upset of sorts at Gujranwala in Pakistan gave an indication of England's strength as it tamed the mighty West Indies. The feat was emulated in Jaipur when battling for survival, the West Indies, finalist in all previous editions, lost and crashed out of the tournament.

England's best was to come in Bombay. Against all odds, it beat the defending champion and strong favourite India in a contest that saw Graham Gooch construct a century that stood out for its craft. He used the sweep to great effect and sent a nation into gloom with his excellent batsmanship.

But the sweep caused England's self-destruction in the final at the Eden Gardens in Calcutta.

England was cruising and Australian skipper Allan Border seemed to have run out of ideas. And then came a lease of life for the Aussies as Mike Gatting perished to an unwise reverse-sweep off Border and England's hopes of a World Cup triumph receded with his dismissal. The ultimate margin, seven runs, proved that Gatting's silly act had indeed cost his team the match.

When the World Cup travelled to Australia and a new format greeted the teams, much was expected of England. It did not disappoint and made it to the final again, but capitulated to Pakistan in the title-clash, once again choking at the summit.

It was ironic that England lost to an opponent that had recovered from `death'. In the league match in Adelaide, Pakistan had been skittled out for 74 and England was 24 for one when the heavens opened up. The split point enabled Pakistan to stay in the competition. It went on to win the crown, leaving England frustrated again for the third time. The Cup was marked by Zimbabwe's stunning nine-run victory over England in Albury.

The 1996 World Cup was a most forgettable event for England as it never recovered from a crushing defeat at the hands of New Zealand in the tournament opener in Ahmedabad. Even though England made it to the quarterfinals it was hardly a force and was shut out by Sri Lanka, which went on to become the champion.

The worst moment for England lay in store in 2003 when the World Cup was hosted by Africa. The eighth match of the tournament became a victim of politics and England forfeited its match to host Zimbabwe in protest against Robert Mugabe's policies.

It was a difficult period for world cricket and the situation was similar to 1996 when the West Indies and Australia refused to travel to Sri Lanka because of security concerns.

The English team was savaged for its decision that made a mockery of the tournament but the players had no regrets. The team beat Pakistan in Cape Town, but a crucial toss left England loser in Durban against India. Hussain and his men almost defended 204 against Australia in Port Elizabeth. But they allowed the opposition to recover from 135 for eight.

That loss in Port Elizabeth signified England's journey in the eight editions of the World Cup. It was always good, but not good enough to clinch the decisive battles.