Remembering the Great Battles
Australia versus South Africa, Semi-final, World Cup 1999
How old was I when the greatest cricket match in world cup history, and possibly the greatest match of all time, was played? Barely nine or ten. Yet I still remember the frantic run by the bat-less Alan Donald to get to the other side and Lance Klusener running to the pavilion sensing the tie, equal to a defeat, without looking back with the Aussies going wild in celebration. That is a match to remember, a match to watch on YouTube ten times.
The 2nd semifinal of the World Cup 1999 was branded with the word 'awesome' before it was even played. Australia and South Africa were playing limited over cricket as it was meant to be, broadening the horizon and totally revising the way of batting in the first 15 overs of field restrictions. The super-six match between the two teams was equally terrific and fueled the fire, with South Africa just making it to the last four after a clinical performance and strokes of luck that has been eluding them ever since the 1992 World Cup.
Australia was put in to bat by South African skipper Hansie Cronje and they were in trouble from the very first over. Shaun Pollock was at his scintillating best, troubling the batsmen every now and then, checking the runs and picking up wickets at regular intervals. The Aussies were reeling at 68 for 4 with Mark Waugh, Gilchrist, Ponting and Lehmann back in the dressing room. Then came the resistance from Steve Waugh and 'the finisher' Michael Bevan, who each scored half centuries and took Australia to a fighting total of 213. The South African fast-bowlers were fiery: Pollock picked up 5 for 36, Donald 4 for 32 and Kallis 1 for 27 in their respective ten over spells.
The total, however, was proving to be quite an easy affair for the SA batsmen, before Warne came into the fray. He took 4 wickets giving away just 29 runs in his ten overs and SA too was struggling to take the match home. But they had one Lance Klusener, who snared many matches for them with his outstanding power play during the earlier part of the tournament. Only he was the man to pick up 31 from 14 balls with the tail ender Alan Donald with him. And he nearly won the match, till the eventful last over happened, my memory revived by the mighty YouTube video.
Klusener hit two fours off the first 2 balls of the Damien Fleming over, levelling the scores and SA needing only 1 from four balls with only 1 wicket remaining. Captain Fantastic Steve Waugh, knowing a tie would be enough, set a field that gave a ring saving singles a whole new meaning. Klusener thumped the ball straight, and Donald, backing up too far, would have been run out if Lehmann had hit the stumps. The scare should have been a warning. But Klusener then repeated his straight biff and charged. Donald grounded his bat, dropped it, and finally set off, while Mark Waugh, at mid-on, flicked the ball to Fleming, who rolled it to Gilchrist, who broke the wicket, and South African hearts. The match was tied and Australia was promoted to the final because of their superior position in the super-six table, and eventually went on to win the world cup and started the Australian domination over world cricket.
The charm of one day cricket and the reason why it is called the game of uncertainty is its close finishes and the second semi final of the World Cup 1999 held in Birmingham stretched the meaning of closeness and settled for the closest finish ever possible with both teams all out for the same score. It was a compressed epic all the way through, and it ended in a savage twist. The run by Alan Donald will forever be etched onto memory as the biggest mix-up in cricket history. Ask any cricket fanatic and most of them would, or rather should, term this match as the greatest match ever played, because of the sheer nail-biting tension and the working of human computers in Steve Waugh and Klusener. And also for a Warne delivery that reminded many of the similar feat against England in his second Test match.
Titbits of the matches are available on YouTube and I would ask everyone to check them out again and refresh the memory of the best match ever played.
They asked us to put a label on it. We didn't know what to say, really. We were still floundering at the edges of something we couldn't quite define and yet, here people were, here even I was, asking for a name, a word that would adequately categorise what we were, give everyone a caricature of what we embodied. They were asking for a statue, and we weren't sculptors. We were standing on a tightrope, she said, and I agreed. It's a little like God, isn't it? Once you put a face on it, once you characterise it, give it shape, embody it into something, it is bound by the limits of that figure, its aspects need to be moulded to fit that form. And we weren't bound by anything, not yet, and we didn't want to be. We liked the freedom.
I asked her one day why she preferred it, without the bonds, without these limits. What was really wrong with them? Couldn't we be happy within them? She said she didn't want to hurt me. Boundaries meant strings, and she didn't want to have any strings that she could tear away. They were hooks under the skin, and through the heart, and if one left, the hooks ripped through, leaving perforations all over us. We wryly giggled at her melodramatic metaphor. I asked her if she thought I'd leave her. No, she said, she was afraid she'd leave me. I couldn't help but ask her again; as much as I tried, my curiosity would always get the better of me. I wondered if I was becoming annoying. And why would you leave me?
It's always beautiful in Spring.
We'd both had a few broken hearts but she had learnt from them, I hadn't. Spring can be made to last forever, I told her. No, it can't, she replied, amused. She bowed her head with a playfully subtle smile on her face and shook her head. After a while, I stopped asking. I understood her inhibitions, her fears. Walls create claustrophobia, and consequently, resentment. She once said to me that she wanted it in such a way that if, for some reason, one of us disappeared, just like that, there wouldn't be any pain. I'll be missed but she'd be grateful that I had existed, and be happy that there were more good times than bad. What's your world without me, she asked. I was about to reply but she started to speak again, and I realised it was rhetorical. It's still your world. We were meant to mean something to each other, just not enough to matter when we were absent.
Though I had promised myself to stop bothering her with all the questions, my mind betrayed the silence. I still wondered about what state we were in and where this was going. Or if it was at all, for that matter. Can we forever be stuck in limbo and not move? I then tried to define it myself. There were no long ranting letters of love sent, no exaggerated pieces of poetry or prose produced, no proclamations of beauty and joy. There was really no need; we knew all of that already. 'I' and 'love' and 'you' made it through, though. What did that mean? But I stopped myself from going any further. You slice a loaf too thin, and there really isn't much left to eat in the end. We were just being, as I put it, but as soon as I said it, I could feel the stench of pretentiousness seething out of it.
We kissed one day. It was random and awkward and unexpected. Short, dry and brisk. I refrained myself from asking what this meant, or if it changed anything. She turned away and asked me, what just happened? I could see the regret bubbling into coherent thought and rising within her, getting ready to be formed. But I didn't let it. I did what I had always done: I reassured her, told her it was alright, it didn't have to mean anything at all. But it did mean something, she said. This is too risky. I don't want to hurt you. I don't want you to feel pain.
Pain is such an overused word. My pain is always more important than everyone else's, isn't it? I smiled hesitantly. What did she think, I wasn't feeling pain before all of this happened? During the start? There was always pain. And there were always strings. There's always the risk of your already slippery fingers sliding off the edge of the cliff. And there are always the twinges of green, the bittersweet effects of departure, the hours of longing, the tears shared and the laughter that could not be shared. Was there really any freedom? There's no 'safe' here, even the tightrope walker must either move or fall, I wanted to say. But I didn't.
Should I just leave, she asked me, make it better for all of us? You'd be better off that way. What's your world without me, she asked again. It's all the same. You'll be fine, she added. I was silent for a while. I realised she was asking me the wrong question.
What's my world without us? I asked. She didn't say anything. She didn't seem convinced. But she was getting there.
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