When the Proteas choked

The 1999 semifinal between Australia and South Africa was an epic and the after-effects of that clash are felt even now as the tag ‘chokers' continues to linger with the Proteas. K. C. Vijaya Kumar picks five best matches of the World Cup.

Matches that stretch nerves and shorten nails have been a regular motif in the World Cup. The gladiatorial contests that have acquired legendary status over the years are many and the following clashes are surely top of the charts for their sheer drama and lingering memories.

Australia vs South Africa, 1999, semifinal, Birmingham, June 17.

This was an epic and the after-effects of that clash are felt even now as the tag ‘chokers' continues to linger with the Proteas. Australia struggled to 213 after Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald grabbed five and four wickets each. The destructive Adam Gilchrist was dismissed for 20 by Jacques Kallis but Australia recovered some lost ground thanks to a 90-run fifth-wicket partnership between Steve Waugh and Michael Bevan.

South Africa too struggled with a wobbly top-order before the lower middle-order — Kallis, Jonty Rhodes, Pollock and Lance Klusener — weighed in with timely contributions and the chase was truly on. With Shane Warne (four for 29) and Glenn McGrath in its ranks, Australia did not cede its tight grip despite Klusener's whiplash shots (31 not out, 16b, 4x4, 1x6).

It all boiled down to the last over bowled by Damien Fleming. Klusener clouted two fours to level the scores while last man Donald watched from the non-striker's end. Four deliveries to go, one run to win. Fleming looked distraught. An icy-cool Steve Waugh packed the in-field, well aware that a wicket and a resultant tie would mean that his men are through to the final by virtue of having a better net-run-rate in the Super Six stage. Klusener drilled the next delivery straight to Darren Lehmann who failed to throw down the stumps. No run. More nerves. Lots of chat.

The fourth delivery of the final over was a mix of agony and ecstasy depending on which team you supported. Allan Donald ran, paused, dropped his bat while Mark Waugh relayed the ball to Fleming, who in turn flicked to Gilchrist to do the rest. The match was over but it lives on as a classic. The Australians were through to the final, which they eventually won.

The scores: Australia 213 in 49.2 overs (M. Bevan 65, S. Waugh 56, R. Ponting 37, S. Pollock five for 36, A. Donald four for 32) tied with South Africa 213 in 49.4 overs (J. Kallis 53, J. Rhodes 43, L. Klusener 31 not out, H. Gibbs 30, S. Warne four for 29). Australia won on the basis of a better run-rate in the Super Six stage.

India vs West Indies, 1983, final, Lord's, June 25.

David quelling Goliath is a fantasy that often finds expression in the sporting world and India's World Cup triumph in 1983 at the expense of the fancied West Indies, is truly the biggest upset in the annals of the premier tournament's history. Kapil's Devils as the Indians were fondly referred to, stunned the world with their all-round skills and sheer belief.

Squaring up against the two-time champion at Lord's, India was expected to keel over. Kapil, however, had other ideas like competing hard and giving the best a run for their money. In his mixture of Haryanvi and English, the Indian skipper exhorted his troops on despite his batsmen posting a meagre 183 that rode on Krishnamachari Srikkanth's ebullience (38) while the West Indian pace-quartet cut a swathe of wickets. In a low-scoring match, Srikkanth was the top-scorer and the value of those runs can never be under-estimated.

During the chase, the sporting gods hinted at an upset when Balwinder Singh Sandhu bowled that dream ball which cut back while Gordon Greenidge shouldered arms. The Caribbeans struggled to breathe easy though Vivian Richards seemed in a terrible hurry to finish the match. His 33 (28b, 7x4) paused as a cameo as Kapil Dev watched the ball like an eagle and pouched the swirling miscued shot against Madan Lal.

That catch won the match for India and with Mohinder Amarnath's dibbly-dobblers testing the tail's patience, Clive Lloyd's men were bowled out for 140.

That triumph changed the game forever. Lesser teams believed that they always had a chance against stronger opponents and the economics of the game soon rode piggyback on Indian fans and finances. India's World Cup triumph in 1983 remains a seminal moment in the nation's history and for the Seventies and Eighties children, ‘where were you on June 25, 1983?', remains a pet question that evokes joy and pride.

The scores: India 183 in 54.4 overs (K. Srikkanth 38, S. Patil 27, M. Amarnath 26, A. Roberts three for 32, M. Marshall two for 24, M. Holding two for 26, L. Gomes two for 49) bt West Indies 140 in 52 overs (V. Richards 33, J. Dujon 25, M. Amarnath three for 12, Madan Lal three for 32, B. S. Sandhu two for 32).

India vs Pakistan, 1996, quarterfinal, Bangalore, March 9.

The atmosphere crackled with drama and intensity. India against Pakistan on the cricket turf has a certain allure that defies description. There was the baggage of history too to contend with as Javed Miandad's last-ball winning six off Chetan Sharma at Sharjah in 1986 proved to be a signpost that ushered in diverse emotions on either side of the Wagah border.

And when the two Asian teams squared up against each other at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in the quarterfinal, the air was surcharged with excitement. India posted 287 for eight in 50 overs with Navjot Singh Sidhu's 93 and Ajay Jadeja's fiery 45 (25b, 4x4, 2x6) that knocked out Waqar Younis, gifting cheers to the fans.

Pakistan however raced ahead briefly with a terrific start as skipper Aamer Sohail and Saeed Anwar picked their spots with ease. Sohail spanked Venkatesh Prasad for four, words were exchanged and unable to control the adrenalin, the Pakistan captain got too ambitious and was castled by the lanky seamer. The rest tried to chip in but failed and the sad sight was that of an ageing Miandad trying his best to tweak in a miracle. It was not to be and Miandad got run out and the visiting team was bowled out for 248.

Recalling the clash, Anil Kumble, who, along with Prasad, claimed three wickets each, said: “It was the best match of that World Cup.” From a fan's perspective, localite Prithvi said: “The stands were packed and after the match, we roamed the streets and everyone was celebrating.”

The scores: India 287 for eight in 50 overs (N. S. Sidhu 93, A. Jadeja 45, S. Tendulkar 31, Md. Azharuddin 27, Mushtaq Ahmed two for 67, Waqar Younis two for 67) bt Pakistan 248 for nine in 49 overs (A. Sohail 55, S. Anwar 48, S. Malik 38, J. Miandad 38, R. Latif 26, Prasad three for 45, Kumble three for 48).

Pakistan vs New Zealand, 1992, semifinal, Auckland, March 21.

Imran Khan's glory-hour in Australia during the 1992 World Cup would never have happened but for a podgy youngster named Inzamam-ul-Haq, who stayed calm and delivered bruising blows under pressure against New Zealand in the semifinal in Auckland.

Until then the Black Caps were the dark horses of the tournament and captain Martin Crowe unleashed some innovative moves like using Mark Greatbatch as a power-hitter in the opener's garb besides unveiling off-spinner Dipak Patel as an opening bowler. In the semifinal, Crowe led from the front with a measured 91 that unfortunately paused with a run out.

Greatbatch was dismissed early by Aaqib Javed but the blow was softened by Crowe's elegance as New Zealand scored 262 for seven in 50 overs. Pakistan's pursuit struggled upfront as Aamer Sohail fell early and Imran made a laboured 44 while consuming 93 deliveries. Wily Javed Miandad (57 not out) played his part well but when it boiled down to 123 from 15 overs, it was Inazamam, who did the star-turn. Inzamam caned the attack all over the park with the fervour typical of youth and his 60 (37b, 7x4, 1x6) was a pointer to the rich raw talent that resides in Pakistan's hinterland.

A lost-cause was turned around and Pakistan won with an over to spare though Inzamam was out before the final flourish. Pakistan went onto win the World Cup but for sheer thrill, its semifinal clash ranks way above its other jousts in the tournament.

The scores: New Zealand 262 for seven in 50 overs (M. Crowe 91, K. Rutherford 50, W. Akram two for 40, Mushtaq two for 40) lost to Pakistan 264 for six in 49 overs (Inzamam 60, J. Miandad 57 not out, R. Raja 44, Imran Khan 44, W. Watson two for 39).

India vs Pakistan, 2003, Pool A match, Centurion, March 1.

If ever one man imposed his will and ensured that his team won a key match with minimal fuss in World Cup history, it had to be Sachin Tendulkar (98), who dented Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup. The match like any tussle between India and Pakistan had an extra edge and the sheer noise-quotient at the neutral venue that was high on diaspora from the two nations, meant that a slice of grand theatre was just around the corner.

Saeed Anwar set a frenetic pace with his 101 and though the middle-order failed, handy contributions by Younis Khan and Rashid Latif helped Pakistan score 273 for seven. It was a total that usually bequeaths pressure in the environs of the World Cup and it was time for Tendulkar to sign in his mix of genius and audacity.

Walking in with Virender Sehwag, Tendulkar was keyed up for the big moment.

Shoaib Akhtar's self-esteem and first over were dismissed with disdain. Tendulkar stood on his toes, his bat cut a lightning arc and the ball sailed over square third-man for a six. It was a shot that drilled a hole through Pakistan's confidence. Tendulkar then struck two fours with nicety and power that derailed the Rawalpindi Express.

Tendulkar's 98 (75b, 12x4, 1x6) was an innings of class, composure, urgency and dominance. Sehwag and Mohammad Kaif played their bit-parts but Tendulkar was the pivot around whom the chase headed towards a fruitful conclusion.

A snorter from Akhtar finally terminated the master-class while the maestro struggled with cramps. Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh then eased in the Indian victory that seemed ingrained right from the moment Tendulkar walked in to the cheers of a 22,000 strong crowd at the SuperSport Park.

For the sheer scale of colliding talents, passionate crowd, mini-battles and the presence of a cricketing super-hero living up to his top-billing, the match will always be rated as a classic though it did not have that cliched last-ball-finish.

The scores: Pakistan 273 for seven in 50 overs (S. Anwar 101, Younis Khan 32, R. Latif 29 not out, Zaheer two for 46, Nehra two for 74) lost to India 276 for four in 45.4 overs (S. Tendulkar 98, Yuvraj Singh 50 not out, R. Dravid 44 not out, Md. Kaif 35, W. Younis two for 72).