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Home > Cricket > World Cup 2003 > News > Report

West Indies beat South Africa by 3 runs

Pritam Sengupta | February 10, 2003 03:38 IST

Visits to tarot card readers never figure very high on the to-do list of cricket captains and coaches. After the first match in the first World Cup on the African continent, though, they should be giving their laptops and sound cards and all that a bit of a break, and thronging the hotel room of Ma Prem-whatever, who is part of the television team that is trying its best to help some 500 million Indians understand just what it is about cricket that turns the other 500 million Indians into such mad, raving idiots.

Anyway, this is what happened. Somewhere between the start of telecast and the start of play, which these days can accommodate another 50 overs on its own, Ma Prem came on and spread out her cards on the table and asked the studio guests to join in the manufactured excitement that is part of the cricket package.

Question No 1 was obvious: "Which way will the South Africa-West Indies match go?" Ma Prem mumbled something that suggested that the collected predictions of the pundits was part of her in-flight reading.

And so it went on, this build-up. Somewhere towards the end of the segment, a former Test player -- and there are enough in South Africa just now to simultaneously stage a veterans' World Cup -- butted in and asked the even more obvious question: "How do you think Brian Lara will perform today?" The operative word was ‘perform'? Whether Ma Prem heard it or not, it is not for us to guess. And, as Girilal Jain used to say, let us not let that detain us here.

But, apropos of the ex-Test star's query, Ma Prem looked squarely into the cameras, put on the kind of smile that only the pleasure of somebody else paying you to come to Cape Town and see cricket can produce, and said with all the sincerity she could muster: "Brian Lara will look spectacular today." The operative word clearly was ‘look'. In the context of the kind of lookers who now bring us cricket coverage, it was spot on, and the producers must have been delighted when they heard the word.

Either it proves what a crazy game this is, that even the most glorious certainties can be turned on its head. Or, it proves how anybody can have an opinion on cricket that validates itself somehow or the other, in some way or the other, at some time or the other.

But, to the credit of the producers who brought her on, Ma Prem proved both in the space of 99 overs. First, South Africa demonstrated why this is such a funny game that only one side is left laughing in the end. But before that, as Ma Prem had bravely and rightly predicted, Brian Lara had looked truly spectacular. Who could have predicted either possibility without the help of tarot cards?

For months, we had been told by any cricketer who had held a bat or a ball but never a pen for his country that this World Cup could have as well been played by just two countries: Australia and South Africa. For months, we had been told about the home advantage that South Africa boasted. And hadn't the South Africans themselves made a big song and dance about their being crowned as Test champions?

As for Lara, the designated "flawed genius" of international cricket hadn't held a bat for months. He hadn't taken part in an international match for months. Add all the usual cue cards that come out the moment Lara steps out of the tent -- messy personal life, the attitude problems, Sachin Tendulkar's comparative drive and focus and all that -- and it seemed that there was only way to go for the tournament opener.

For most of the first few overs, it seemed all was going as the South African think tank had drawn up on its spreadsheets. Probably because of the occasion, probably because of the bowling, Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds could barely manage to get the ball off of the square. If we had been told that the first 15 overs were going to prove crucial, the left-handed duo patted down maiden overs one after the other.

Thirty-seven balls produced the round figure of two runs from the bat of the two. Was this the same Gayle whose hurricane knocks in India just months earlier had tirelessly restored puns and rhymes to their rightful place in newspaper headlines? As Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini tightened the noose, it seemed as if another piece of conventional wisdom -- that the pacemen would decide this World Cup -- would come good.

The Indian with the closest view of the action avoided the temptation of coming up with the first dubious decision of the tournament, but Darryl Harper couldn't as Hinds "snicked" one from Pollock to Mark Boucher. Not shortly thereafter, when Chris Gayle played on to a Pollock delivery that should have been picked up from the boundary, making it 7/2 in the seventh overs, it seemed like another piece conventional wisdom -- that the first 15 overs would decide the tournament -- was about to crumble.

That was when Ma Prem hit pay dirt. Out walked Brian Lara, with a bat that bore the three letters that even the partially visually challenged have learnt to spot: M-R-F. Why this wasn't hyped before the tournament, when so much else is, is a mystery. Whether it was plain humility on the part of the sponsor, or the lesson learnt from the Steve Waugh experience -- Tugga couldn't put bat to ball in the first few matches after the bat deal was announced -- it's difficult to guess. And as Girilal Jain had said, we shouldn't let it detain us.

But if Lara needed a bit of the Tendulkar magic to pull the Windies out of the coals, this was the closest he could lay his hands on it.

It almost didn't help. Lara's first scoring stroke was an outside edge off Ntini that barely managed to stay out of the reach of Jacques Kallis at slip. This is the kind of moment when the Tony Greigs of the world presciently say, "Is this the spot of good fortune that Lara needed? Is this is the moment that is going to decide the course of the match?" so that it can be duly used in replays over and over again, leaving us in utter awe about their timing.

To Ma Prem's good luck, anyway, it was. Lara, in the steadying company of the inexplicable Shivanarine Chanderpaul, first saw off Pollock and Ntini, and then stepped on the pedal as Alan Donald and Kallis came on. The have-a-blast-in-the-first-15-overs theory was consigned to the dustbin. But the other piece of conventional wisdom that it pays to occupy the crease, accumulate the runs, and retain wickets, was strictly adhered to.

While Lara drove and cut and flicked and "made batting look so easy" with his use of the crease, Chanderpaul shuffled around as nervously as a chappal-wearing ticket tout at a cinema hall -- and like the latter, avoided getting caught. To Lara's cheese, Chanderpaul was chalk. Screeching. But the pair had achieved their basic aim to stem the tide. They had added exactly 100 when Lance Klusener began the 31st over.

Chanderpaul leant back and cut it to behind point for a brace. 102 off 142 balls. But as he tried to guide another, the ball kicked. Chanderpaul tried to get the bat out of the way, got a faint edge and edged to Mark Boucher standing up. No more painful 34 runs were scored on the day, but in his own unique way, Chanderpaul had underlined his utility. He had departed just when it seemed it was time for the tempo to be upped.

Carl Hooper walked in and began batting with as much ease as one who had played 31.3 overs at the practice nets. Still, the slow start meant that after 43 overs at 198 for 3, a target no one larger than 240 loomed on the horizon even at six an over. Then two things happened. First, Hooper departed after a run-a-ball 40. He went across his stumps and flicked over midwicket. But he flicked it too well, holing out to Kallis running from the line and diving to latch on.

That heralded the arrival of Ricardo Powell. Exactly two overs in the Master's company were enough to rub off on the young pretender. With Ramnaresh Sarwan for company, Powell unleashed a barrage of shots that quickly exposed South Africa's presumed strength in this tournament: its bowling. Shaun Pollock, whose first eight overs had cost 20 runs, conceded 23 in his ninth over as Powell went hell for leather.

The Powell-Sarwan partnership notched up 50 runs in half as many balls, but more importantly, the last ten overs had fetched the West Indians 110 runs. In the end, as a 220-240 score suddenly became a 280 score, it underscored the essence of the West Indian batting. Sure, the brilliance of Lara and Powell stood out. But without Chanderpaul and without Sarwan, where would the target have been, especially in the context of the eventual result?

The score line fell by a run as the West Indians were penalised for running one short. But, more importantly, the clinically precise South Africans -— between them the bowlers bowled only six extra balls -- had been docked one over for slow over-rate. How crucial would this prove in the end, given the last-ball finish?

Ma Prem had been right, Lara had "looked spectacular". But a cruel thought passes through the mind: on top of his own form, on top of the criticism that he doesn't perform as well on the big stage, on top of the expectations from the public, on top of the tough pool in which his side finds itself, will Lara's stand-out knock when it mattered most put that much more pressure on our very own Sachin Tendulakar?

Not too many ways have been unveiled to humankind on chasing targets of 280 or more. So, Herschelle Gibbs set out to do so in the only way he and the rest of the hit-over-the-top-in-the-first-15-overs crowd knows. Two spanking cover drives lit up the possibility that the South Africans might have the target for a light after dinner snack. After all, hadn't we been fed some more conventional wisdom on their ability to chase under the lights?

Pedro Collins can look every inch the weak link and he did for a while. But Mervyn Dillon produced the edge that put the brakes on the galloping South African run-rate. But it was only when Hooper drew Boeta Dippenaar out, Kallis drove too hard at a Collins' delivery angling away, Jonty Rhodes chopped one onto the stumps, and Pollock drove uppishly did the possibility that West Indies could pull it off appear real.

It speaks for the kind of batting line-up that the South Africans possess that every batsman arriving at the crease was greeted by the commentator with the standard line: "He can be very dangerous on his day." Tony Grieg chose this occasion to officially announce fighting qualities of Mark Boucher at school to the world, and the wicketkeeper did not disappoint with a six and a four that had the mark of a real boucher.

All the while, Klusener looked oddly and ominously restrained. The frame looked slightly more well rounded than in 1999. The eyes crinkled as he adjusted to the lights time and again. But when Boucher left and Nicky Boje came in, Klusener step on the gas. If the first six did not convince organisers that stadiums should be equipped with MRI centres, the other four sixes that followed surely must have.

He should have perished during the carnage. But Collins overstepped on the line after taking the catch, off Gayle -- insult to injury, that, since Gayle had earlier in that over been carted for two huge sixes.

When the aforementioned Collins -- who must by then have been wishing he could rub some brand name vanishing cream on himself -- came on to bowl the 48th over, it seemed like Carl Hooper was courting disaster. But Collins lived up to the expectations of his captain, if not the doomsayers, conceding less than a run a ball in his final over. One over to go, eight to get. Boje managed to get off the strike to Drake off the first ball. Seven runs to go, five balls to come.

But, as inexplicably as the last run he ran in the 1999 World Cup semifinals, Klusener hit hard at a low full toss, holing out to Hooper in the deep. Two balls later, Ntini followed. With two balls to come, and seven runs to go, a win was still theoretically possible. But was it practical with Donald at the other end? It wasn't.

In the end, the Windies victory might not do very much to their entry into the Super Six, although the West Indies will carry extra points by virtue of having beaten a qualifier. But, what the South African defeat means, as Ma Prem will surely take note, is that it is the unpredictability of this great game that makes it so riveting.

Two days ago, Pollock was assuring the world that not too much should be read into the side's defeat to Western Province in a practice match. Only last night, the old firm of Sunil Gavaskar & Co were reassuring the unwashed millions back home that not too much should be made of India's defeat to Kwazulu-Natal. Really?

The West Indian performance also has a significant lesson for India. Klusener dented Hooper's and Gayle's final figures, and the duo ended up giving away 123 runs. But they also grabbed four crucial wickets that really slowed the pace of the South African innings. Is there a lesson for the Indian team management that is pondering over whether to play Harbhajan or Kumble?

The end may have been more than disappointing to the home crowd that had Nelson Mandela and Thomas Mbeiki in the ranks. It may have also disappointed the organisers. But if the World Cup is about the world, look at the bright side -- could there have been a better start to cricket's quadrennial showpiece: scintillating batting from one of the masters of the modern era, super tight bowling, and a last ball finish?

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Number of User Comments: 62

Sub: Lara is genious, windies are back with a bang

Kudos to lara. I clearly expected this to happen. They were very close to win in the champions trophy, but at the last ball they ...

Posted by jayashankar

Sub: well sorry to read the poem or statement

please dont do this to cricket.. we dont have tv to see the match so atleast write something which make good sense for everyone of ...

Posted by pranav

Sub: undesireable

I can not beleive that this is wrtten with sense of some wisdom or humour It looks like that the writer has some wisdom or ...


Sub: worst and most stupid report read ever

hi more hazy than unclear, more stupid than stupidity and more dumb than dumbest ---- is Mr pritam if he will like this kind of ...

Posted by animesh

Sub: Oh GOd!!

Sir..i was abt to call up my english teacher !!! plz be simple in explaining simple things.. the only thing i waqs able to make ...

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