The potential for upset and shock is one of fascination in any sport.
In cricket, this relates mainly to opportunities for so-called associate members of the International Cricket Council to defeat one of the ICC’s 12 full members.
However, this is not exclusively the case, as a victory for a lower-ranked full member over a top-ranked one counts as an upset, especially if it happens in a Test match. As these are played only between full members, the opportunities for associate members to “giant kill” are limited to the shorter formats.
Analysis of all World Cups played in both one-day, or ODI, and T20I formats reveals that it is rare for a non-Test-playing associate nation to defeat a Test-playing one. In 12 ODI World Cups since 1975, there have been 13 occasions. This represents only 9 percent of the opportunities for so doing. Ireland, which became a full member in 2017, caused four upsets during its associate years.
In the 2007 ODI World Cup, Ireland shocked and eliminated Pakistan in a three-wicket victory in Jamaica. It was Ireland’s first win over a team with Test-match status. Another shock in that tournament was the five-wicket defeat of India by Bangladesh. This caused India’s elimination at the group stage, an outcome that has not subsequently recurred.
It is always a delight for the Irish to defeat England, at whatever sport.
It has more success at rugby than cricket but, in the 2011 ODI World Cup, its team beat England in a manner that will be remembered forever in Ireland. Staring defeat in the face at 111 for five halfway through its innings in pursuit of 328, Ireland was propelled to victory by Kevin O’Brien, who smashed 100 from 50 deliveries. This remains the fastest century in ODI World Cup history.
Kenya has also caused four upsets, including a shock victory in 1996 over the West Indies. In 2003, when the tournament was co-hosted by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya, it went further, defeating Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. These victories, coupled with a walkover against New Zealand, who forfeited the match owning to security concerns in Nairobi, elevated Kenya to the semifinals. This made them the only non-Test-playing nation to reach that stage of the tournament. There was no continuation of the fairytale, as India won by 91 runs. Kenya qualified for the 2007 and 2011 ODI World Cups, but not for those in 2015 and 2019.
The low proportion of victories for associate members over full members in ODI World Cups is matched by the proportion in T20I World Cups. In the eight T20I tournaments, associates have beaten full members on 13 occasions, or 11 percent of the matchups. In the inaugural T20I World Cup in 2007, Zimbabwe beat Australia with one ball to spare, whilst Bangladesh triumphed over the West Indies by six wickets, eliminating them from the competition.
The Netherlands has claimed four of the 13 victories over full members. These included two in the 2022 tournament over South Africa and Zimbabwe. Namibia beat Sri Lanka and Scotland beat the West Indies, making the four associate victories over full members the highest ever in T20I World Cups. In the same tournament, Ireland claimed another win over England by five runs in a rain-curtailed match. This was England’s only loss on the way to becoming champions.
Surprises are to be expected. Predicting them is difficult and explaining them can be even trickier. A stronger team may suffer injuries to key players, pitch or weather conditions may provide advantages to a less-strong team, winning the toss may prove crucial, or the stronger team may not be united on the day. In the 2014 T20 World Cup in Bangladesh, England’s team was in some disarray. By the time of the final group stage match it had failed to qualify for the semifinals. The Netherlands took full advantage of England’s discomfort to win by 45 runs.
The victory had echoes of a previous encounter in the 2009 T20I World Cup group match at Lords when the Dutch, needing two runs to win off the last ball, secured victory by virtue of an overthrow. Complacency was given as an explanation for the losses.
Associate nations have beaten full members outside of World Cup competitions. The latest of these victories was achieved on Aug. 19 by the UAE against New Zealand, who slumped to 65 for five, courtesy of 17-year-old leg spinner, Aayan Afzal Khan, who claimed career-best figures of three for 20. New Zealand rallied to 142 for eight in 20 overs, but the UAE powered to a seven-wicket victory, with 26 deliveries to spare. Muhammad Waseem, the captain, led the way with 55, whilst Asif Khan, batting at number four, scored an unbeaten 48.
This was the UAE’s third-ever international match against New Zealand and its first victory against them. It was also New Zealand’s first loss against a non-Test-playing nation in 39 matches.
This loss could have occurred in the opening match of the three-match series, when New Zealand totaled 155 for six. Aryansh Sharma made an impressive T20I debut for the UAE, scoring 60, but when his wicket fell on 115 at the end of the 15th over, the UAE’s innings fell away to 136 all out against experienced bowlers. In the final match, that experience was restored as the UAE were restricted to 134 for seven when chasing a target of 167.
There were no excuses from the New Zealand camp about their defeat in the second match and a denial that they had taken their opponents too lightly. Indeed, quite the opposite. After the match, its captain, Tim Southee, remarked: “A lot of the credit has to go to the UAE team. They outplayed us in all three facets.”
Although New Zealand did have its strongest squad available for the series, the UAE’s performance suggests that associate teams are becoming more capable of causing upsets.