On This Day, 1992: South Africa’s farcical World Cup exit

On March 22, 1992, South Africa failed to book its berth in its maiden World Cup. The team was done in by the application of finicky rules, writes Peter Roebuck.

The scoreboard tells the story as England wins a controversial rain-affected semifinal against South Africa at the SCG in Sydney, Australia.   -  Getty Images

In one of the most shambolic finishes of this illustrious game, South Africa was robbed of an opportunity to reach a World Cup final at the first time of asking. Seldom can so much harm have been done to any game by the application of finicky rules by authorities who plainly knew no better.

Was there not one person in power capable of saying "Stop the rules, get out there and get on with it?"

World Cups come once every four years, and some of these players will never return. Both they and their supporters deserved better from a game willing to take their honest dollars. It was an utter disgrace.

So far it has been a World Cup notable chiefly for its innovative tactics and bright young players. Over the weekend, two other facts emerged. So outstanding was the umpiring of Steve Bucknor and David Shepherd in Auckland that both deserve to stand in the final, regardless of their nationality.

So pathetic was South Africa's over-rate in Sydney that it was obvious that far heavier punishments need to be imposed.

It can scarcely be doubted Pakistan has the momentum. Its cricket in Auckland was a confusing mixture of inspired, banal and abysmal. It hardly seemed possible for a team bowling so many full tosses, fielding so carelessly, batting at times so tentatively, to win a hit in the park, let alone World Cup semifinal.

As he surveys his team, Imran must sometimes echo [like Duke of Wellington, who said of one battalion: "I don't know if they frighten the enemy but by God they frighten me.]"

Maybe Imran and his team prefer to lead an adventurous life. Certainly they have played better cricket since they all started arguing with each other and everyone else. But amidst their glaring mistakes, they have contributed some dazzling periods. Mushtaq Ahmed bowling with daring and cunning against New Zealand, and Inzamam entering to play an innings so thrilling as to stand beside Martin Crowe's effort, and no praise could be higher.

Inzamam may discover it can be the fate of a young Pakistan batsman either to be told to score 10 an over or to be run out. or both. They are a mercurial team, and even without Waqar Younis, probably the most gifted bowler around.

As he stands at mid-on, all calm eminence, Imran must wonder why he puts up with Javed Mianded, with Salim Malik and with Aaqib Javed, and his slower ball. By the finish of semifinal, he must have remembered the answer.

New Zealand gave of its finest but it too found the pressure enormous, in a more Anglo-Saxon way. Missing Crowe's captaincy, the bowlers did not keep their nerves and so a valiant campaign reached its end in front of an appreciative crowd who sensed, I fancy, that their men excelled themselves.

After 10 days of struggle, and leading a team as strapped and hobbling as a beaten army, after losing Robin Smith and suffering an unfortunate dismissal, Gooch will have found satisfaction in seeing his batsmen play so vigorously against opponents probably still pinching themselves, still trying to realise that it is not, as philosophers sometimes insist, merely all a dream, a shadow life.

South Africa batted far better than it bowled, although it was not allowed to bowl well as Graeme Hick.

Dermott Reeve, Neil Fairbrother and in particular, Alec Stewart seized the moment with batting of calculated power. Stewart's straight driving and his astonishing hook to the distant ladies stand will remain etched in the memory and he is a much better player than most of us imagined even two months ago.

Having bowled its overs so slowly, South Africa deserved to lose, although it too had fought a splendid campaign.

This article was first published in the Sportstar magazine dated April 4, 1992.

  Dugout videos