It was semi-final evening at the Sydney Cricket Ground as England attempted to reach their third final in four successive World Cups. South Africa, who had returned to international cricket after an exile of over 21 years only six months earlier, had performed beyond expectations to make it to the semi-finals. They were now the sentimental favorites.
A fascinating battle unfolded. England put up a challenging total. The South Africans made a game bid to overhaul it. As the match built up to a dramatic climax, down came the rain. Then followed one of most bizarre controversies of the World Cup, and the game ended as a damp squib.
It is said that the game of cricket often makes fools of even the masters. The experts who made the already infamous rule regarding the reduction of overs due to interference by the weather were made to look silly. The utterly foolish rule was seen in all its magnified ignominy here, and it mined an exciting match. It also showed how television can rule sports, and sometimes destroy them. But more of this later as England steadily built up a good score. Graeme Hick played a glorious inning, stroking 83 off 90 deliveries with nine boundaries. England notched up 252 for six in an innings shortened by five overs.
South Africa built up a steady momentum. Opener Andrew Hudson, the hard-hitting allrounder Adrian Kuiper, and star fielder and unorthodox batsman Jonty Rhodes, in particular, helped make a match of it. Gladstone Small created a minor flutter getting two important wickets in the middle. At 206 for six, the potentially world-class allrounder Brian McMillan was joined by wicketkeeper Dave Richardson. They added 25 priceless runs and were still together with 22 required off 13 deliveries. At this very interesting juncture came the rain.
When play resumed, the authorities decreed that South Africa had only one delivery left to play, which meant that two overs had been scrapped. But the “target score” rule did not reduce the number of runs required. Now South Africa had to score those 22 off one delivery. It could not be a more tragi-comic situation. South Africa were indeed robbed by the rain-rule. True, they were behind on run-rate and even if the conventional system was adopted and only one ball was to be bowled, they would have still lost as they would have had to score ten runs from that delivery. But this farce finally proved how utterly ridiculous the rule was. Peter Roebuck lamented: "This was an episode damaging to cricket, especially its traditional notions of fair play."
The incident brought to the fore two facets. One, that this rule was a blunder. The other, that play could not be extended even by ten minutes to bowl the two final overs because the telecast had to be terminated at a given time. This could only be to the detriment of the game. Instead of allowing a ridiculous situation where a team was given one ball to score 22 runs, surely the remaining two overs could have been bowled. And it was not getting dark, for the dazzling floodlights silhouetted the Sydney skyline as the South Africans sadly packed their bags.
England: 252 for 6 wickets (45 overs), South Africa: 232 for 6 wickets (43 overs) (CWC 1992)
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