By: Chinmay Vaidya
All championships are equal, but not all champions are equal. Cricket is no different.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to pit these teams head-to-head on the pitch to sort out the best champion in the correct manner. I’d love to see 2003 Ricky Ponting’s plan to contain 2007 Adam Gilchrist in a hypothetical World Cup. How would 1979 Viv Richards fare against 1992 Wasim Akram? Would 2011 MS Dhoni outshine 1983 Kapil Dev? Sadly, we’ll never truly know.
As the sports world comes to a standstill in light of the coronavirus outbreak, let’s take a look back at World Cup championship teams and attempt to rank them based on their success at the tournament.
Only World Cup champions get ranked. Apologies to 1983 West Indies, 1999 Pakistan, 2003 India, 2011 Sri Lanka and 2015 New Zealand.
The first thing to look at when evaluating a World Cup champion is run differential. This is simply the total number of runs the team scored against the number of runs allowed. Because a chasing team cannot win by runs, there could hypothetically be a situation where a chasing team wins every game it plays and only gets a +1 differential. Luckily, that bridge doesn’t need to be crossed here.
Run differential gives us a general idea of how dominant a team was during its respective World Cup. Cricket has changed over the years and the World Cup is no different. The total runs scored and allowed has increased substantially over time as rules are modified, World Cup formats are changed and teams are built specifically for one-day internationals. 2007 Australia put together a total differential of 807 runs while 1999 Australia gets the designation of being the only team to win a World Cup with a negative run differential.
The next step is to look at run differential per game. This is a better indicator final indicator than total run differential for one obvious reason: teams in recent World Cups simply play more games to win the whole thing than older championship teams. 1975 West Indies and 1979 West Indies combined to play 10 World Cup games in their back-to-back titles. Meanwhile, 2007 Australia played 12 games in that tournament alone.
As you might expect, run differential per game is just the total run differential divided by the number of games played. Australia reigns supreme in this category. The 2007, 2003 and 2015 teams are the top three in run differential per game. 1983 India, 1992 Pakistan and 1999 Australia (with a negative run difference) are the bottom three teams.
The third step is to evaluate each World Cup squad and determine how many all-time greats played for that specific team. You may think this part of the process is subjective and it somewhat is, but here’s what I settled on: If a player sits in the top 10 of his team’s historical runs scored or wickets taken, he’s considered an all-time great.
It would be unfair to hold Viv Richards and his 187 ODIs to the same standard as Sachin Tendulkar’s 463 one-day matches. Instead, Richards get compared to his West Indies counterparts and Tendulkar to his Indian ones. Both get the designation of all-time greats, but the measuring stick takes into account their respective situation. In short, it’s easier to be recognized as an all-time great for some countries over others.
Some players appear in the top 10 for both runs scored and wickets taken, but they only get counted once. 1996 Sri Lanka didn’t have two Sanath Jayasuriayas on the field at the same time.
1999 Australia, as part of the country’s three-peat, gets a nice boost here. Despite a negative run differential, the team has seven all-timers. 2007 Australia leads the group with eight superstars while five teams boast seven greats. 2015 Australia and 2019 England are at a slight disadvantage here because many of their players are still active. 2015 Australia has four all-timers currently, but there’s a possibility for six other players to get this designation. 2019 England has five all-timers with five others waiting in the wings. This portion of the ranking is fluid as leaderboards change. Current designations are based on leaderboards as of the publish date.
The last part of our equation is to look at win percentage. This is simply the number of games a team wins en route to a World Cup title. Some teams have games with “no result” or were awarded a game by default. This still counts in the team’s game log. There is one exception here: 1999 Australia tied with South Africa in the semifinal, but advanced on Super Six tiebreakers. This result doesn’t go down as an outright win for 1999 Australia, but it still features in the team’s game log.
2007 Australia, 2003 Australia, 1996 Sri Lanka and 1975 West Indies all went through the World Cup with an undefeated mark. 2019 England, 1992 Pakistan and 1999 Australia are in the bottom three, although England’s win percentage is more reflective of a typical championship side than the other two.
After sorting all the teams in these categories, I ranked them based on their performance relative to each other. Total run differential was left out, but the other three categories were used. The rankings from each category create a final average for each team. Here are those results.
Here’s a closer look at each team, starting with 1983 India.
Run Differential Per Game: 4.5
All-Time Greats: Kapil Dev
Win Percentage: 0.75
One of the biggest upsets in World Cup history came in the 1983 World Cup. India, defending 183 against a West Indies team featuring more all-time greats than its previous World Cup winning squads, prevailed as Kapil Dev’s catch to remove Viv Richards swung the match. If India doesn’t win this trophy, the country likely doesn’t host the 1987 World Cup and may not become the cricket hotbed it is today. The 1983 squad might not be the best champion ever, but it likely inspired a nation like no other team could.
Run Differential Per Game: -3.1
All-Time Greats: Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh, Michael Bevan, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist
Win Percentage: 0.700
The first of three World Cup titles during Australia’s golden generation set the table for future dominance. Holdovers like the Waughs and Warne joined a group of youngsters to bounce back from a 1996 final defeat and capture the 1999 trophy. There was plenty of luck along the way, but champions also make their own luck as the semifinal against South Africa proved. Ponting, Gilchrist and McGrath would go on to be superstars.
Run Differential Per Game: 2.2
All-Time Greats: Inzamam-ul-Haq, Wasim Akram, Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Waqar Younis, Ijaz Ahmed, Saleem Malik
Win Percentage: 0.6
While not as talented as Pakistan’s runner-up squad in 1999, the 1992 team is similar to Australia’s 1999 team in terms of cricket history. Khan placed his faith in young stars like Akram and Younis, who delivered a World Cup title. Akram’s two “unplayable” deliveries in the World Cup final remain legendary. This team is actually tied with 1999 Australia in overall average.
Run Differential Per Game: 32.72
All-Time Greats: Eoin Morgan, Joe Root, Liam Plunkett, Chris Woakes, Adil Rashid
Potential Additional All-Time Greats: Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali, Johnny Bairstow, Jason Roy, Jofra Archer
Win Percentage: 0.727
It took a futile 2015 World Cup campaign to overhaul England’s entire infrastructure, but the change paid off. England dominated world cricket for a good portion of two years before capturing a World Cup at Lord’s with a collection of young stars. If all goes according to plan in the next four years, England’s golden generation will have quite a resume.
Run Differential Per Game: 9.25
All-Time Greats: Steve Waugh, Allan Border, David Boon, Dean Jones, Craig McDermott
Win Percentage: 0.875
This Australia team didn’t come out of nowhere, but it certainly wasn’t pegged as a title favorite. Boon and McDermott were the stars for Australia in this campaign. A thrilling final against England at Eden Gardens was the cherry on top for Australia’s strong effort.
1975 West Indies
Run Differential Per Game: 10.8
All-Time Greats: Viv Richards, Desmond Haynes
Win Percentage: 1.000
The first World Cup champions ever didn’t have the firepower of the 1979 team, but dominated the tournament with an undefeated record. Richards and Haynes weren’t the stars they would become yet.
Run Differential Per Game: 57.55
All-Time Greats: Michael Clarke, Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Shane Watson
Potential Additional All-Time Greats: Steven Smith, Aaron Finch, David Warner, Mitchell Marsh, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazelwood
Win Percentage: 0.778
Clarke did his best Steve Waugh impersonation leading a group of young stars to the title on home soil. Warner and Smith rose to the occasion and Starc cemented his case as the best fast bowler in the world by leading the wicket count. There were a lot of up-and-coming stars on this team as the potential all-time greats list shows. This was Australia coming out of the shadow of a golden generation and making an impressive statement.
1979 West Indies
Run Differential Per Game: 35.2
All-Time Greats: Viv Richards, Desmond Haynes, Gordon Greenidge, Michael Holding, Joel Garner
Win Percentage: 0.800
This team had a better roster than the 1975 squad and Richards arrived on the world stage, but it was Greenidge who would end up being the surprising superstar by leading the tournament in runs. Holding and Garner terrorized opposing batsmen to give the West Indies back-to-back titles.
Run Differential Per Game: 13.33
All-Time Greats: Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli, Virender Sehwag, MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh
Win Percentage: 0.778
Similar to England’s transformation from 2015 to 2019, the 2011 India team represented a shift in the country’s sporting infrastructure after the 2007 debacle. Dhoni’s leadership and Yuvraj’s aggression led the way for India, which also featured borderline all-timers in Suresh Raina and Ashish Nehra. Tendulkar playing in his last World Cup was the only motivation this team needed to get the job done.
1996 Sri Lanka
Run Differential Per Game: 31.4
All-Time Greats: Arjuna Ranatunga, Chaminda Vaas, Muttiah Murlitharan, Kumar Dharmasena, Sanath Jayasuriya, Aravinda de Silva, Roshan Mahanama
Win Percentage: 1.000
The start of Sri Lanka’s golden generation came with this World Cup title. Ranatunga and de Silva were spectacular in the final, but it was youngsters like Vaas, Jayasuriya and Murlitharan would carry the momentum from this championship run forward. Jayasuriya would go on to be one of the best all-rounders ever while Murlitharan became arguably the best bowler ever.
Run Differential Per Game: 64.0
All-Time Greats: Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Michael Bevan, Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Brad Hogg
Win Percentage: 1.000
Not quite the best Australian team ever, but it’s very close. The 1999 holdovers added Lee and Hayden to dismantle the rest of the field en route to a second straight World Cup title. Australia’s massive 359 in the final was punctuated by Ponting’s spectacular innings.
Run Differential Per Game: 67.25
All-Time Greats: Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Glenn McGrath, Brad Hogg, Michael Clarke, Nathan Bracken, Shane Watson
Win Percentage: 1.000
Australia entered this tournament having last lost a World Cup match on May 23, 1999. That wouldn’t change after this title campaign, cementing Australia’s golden generation with a three-peat and the 2007 team as the most dominant champion ever. Every player was at or near his peak and contributed in meaningful ways with Gilchrist’s masterclass in the final sealing the title.