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SK Flashback: Genius stars in a Proteas horror show in the opening face-off of the 2003 World Cup

ANALYST
Humor
262   //    Timeless

Everyone hopes that a big tournament, or a series, gets off to an exciting start. And when it involves the hosts and a superstar in the opposing side, the expectations soar sky high. This is exactly what happened at Cape Town in 2003 in arguably the best organized World Cup so far.  

It was an exhilarating Brian Lara master class as hosts South Africa went down in a close finish.
It was an exhilarating Brian Lara master class as hosts South Africa went down in a close finish.

Brian Lara reveled in his second successive face-off with the South Africans in cricket’s One-day extravaganza, reeling off a century of pure genius. The hosts though also had to rue their own sloth, for their slow over-rate caused one priceless over to be taken off their innings in this riveting opening encounter. This blunder contributed to their shock defeat, which was a huge setback to their campaign.

It was Lara’s match. Yet, at the start, the tag of second-favourites rested easily on Shaun Pollock’s men. The long-limbed skipper and the Malcolm Marshall-wannabe Makhaya Ntini might have pored over the legend of the last Nizam of Hyderabad. They were as thrifty with their bowling as the wealthy Deccan ruler was miserly with his coins. The tentative West Indies openers Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds could not score off the first three overs. By the time they crawled agonisingly to seven, Pollock had put both out of their misery. Lara walked right into the middle of this drama at 4 for one. He was dropped the first ball by Jacques Kallis at second slip off Ntini. The West Indies lurched to 12 for two after 10 overs. But the Proteas’ joy was short-lived. Lara ensured that the South African dream did not take off, just as he had crushed it in the 1996 quarter-finals.

Lara took one’s breath away as he often did. Amazingly, this was his first international innings after a debilitating illness. Soon he shifted into second gear and then effortlessly into overdrive. An audacious straight six off the ageing Allan Donald and a delightful flick over mid-wicket off the slowing Lance Klusener bore his hallmark. Lara put on 102 for the third wicket with Shivnarine Chanderpaul and 89 with skipper Carl Hooper. He departed after a stunning 116 off 134 balls with 12 fours and 2 sixes. Ricardo Powell and Ramnaresh Sarwan fired the final shots in an unbroken stand of 63. Powell crashed 40 off 18 balls with 5 fours and a six, and Sarwan hit 32 off 15, with two hits to the ropes and two over it. Even Pollock was roughed up, being smashed for 23 runs off one over.

The hosts began steadily with Gary Kirsten the anchor, as usual. Then wickets tumbled and alarm bells were ringing at 160 for six. Mark Boucher led a revival along with Klusener. Boucher fell for 49 at a-run-a-ball. Nicky Boje provided admirable support. Klusener was lucky when Pedro Collins stepped on the rope while catching him. The pair put on 67, and at 271 for seven it was anyone’s game. Klusener was on strike with 8 runs to win off four balls. But his pull off Vasbert Drakes was pouched by Hooper. His 57 off 48 balls, with 5 sixes and a boundary, was in vain. South Africa lost by three runs. 

Dr. Ali Bacher, who played a lot of cricket at Newlands, gave an insight into Klusener’s dismissal: “A tricky south-easterly wind holds the ball in the air and even big hits become catches at deep mid-wicket and deep cover.” There is indeed a thin dividing line between success and failure, sometimes even a bit of breeze. The last word on this opening thriller must also come, appropriately, from Dr. Bacher: “I couldn’t have asked for a better game. But only one result would have been apt for such a magnificent occasion: a tie”. It might indeed have been a tie had South Africa bowled their overs on time.

West Indies: 278 for 5 wickets (50 overs), South Africa: 275 for 9 wickets (49 overs) (CWC 2003)

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