Champions Trophy 1998: Throwback to South Africa's sole date with mega event success

The 1990s was a unique phase in cricketing history. The decade bore witness to the birth of new trends in the 'Gentleman's Game' that would go on to shape the sport into what it is today.

The aforementioned era, which was dominated by names such as Sachin Tendulkar, Shane Warne, Wasim Akram, Sanath Jayasuriya and Jonty Rhodes just to name a few, will perhaps be best remembered for witnessing the rise of One-Day International (ODI) cricket, with the number of series — both bilateral as well as multi-team — swelling vastly.

The Champions Trophy, officially christened 'Wills International Cup' in its first edition, was a result of this boom. The purpose of the 'Mini World Cup', as some would call it, was to raise funds for the development of the sport in non-Test playing nations. Bangladesh, which had won the ICC Trophy a year ago and would gain Test status not long after, were given the hosting rights for the tournament.

Hansie Cronje and Brian Lara, captain of South Africa and West Indies respectively, shake hands before the final. AFP

Hansie Cronje and Brian Lara, captain of South Africa and West Indies respectively, shake hands before the final. AFP

Among the venues considered for the tournament was the Disney World in Florida, USA, before it ultimately went to the Bangabandhu Stadium in the Bangladeshi capital. They nearly lost it to Kolkata (Calcutta) when the South Asian nation was ravaged by one of its worse-ever floods. The Bangladeshis though were resolute in their quest to bring international cricket to their backyard, and their passion for the sport turned out to be the main factor behind its success.

The format

While the brains behind the birth of the tournament wanted to cash in on the rising success of ODI cricket, they were careful enough to prepare the format in such a way that it did not take the sheen away from the ICC World Cup. The format comprised of four quarter-finals between the top eight teams in the ICC ODI championship, which would then be followed by the semis and the final. A total of eight matches fitted into a time frame of a week.

Only New Zealand and Zimbabwe had to fight it out in a preliminary quarter-final for the spot of the eighth team, and it was Black Caps captain Stephen Fleming who anchored his team's chase of the 259-run target with a fluent 96, while his opposition counterpart Alastair Campbell's ton went in vain.

The Master Blaster takes centrestage

The year 1998 was one that could safely be described as one of Sachin Tendulkar's best ever. The Indian batting legend was in the form of his lifetime, and carved a niche for himself with his 'Desert Storm' knocks as well as his two centuries in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy earlier that year. Tendulkar was a one-man machine that opposition bowling attacks were finding increasingly difficult to stop, and he was always going to hog the limelight entering the tournament.

India were facing an attack which was being led by Damien Fleming in the absence of the more established names like Warne and Glenn McGrath. However, the Indians were soon reduced to 8/2 after losing the wickets of Sourav Ganguly and captain Mohammad Azharuddin early on in the innings. Staring at certain defeat. it was Tendulkar who turned the game on its head with a volley of drives and punches to put his side in the driver's seat. The Indian team's fate back in those days depended greatly on the Master Blaster's form, and his match-winning knock on this occasion turned out to be another case in point.

As if his contributions with the bat were not enough, he went on to record figures of 4/38 with the ball, with the cheap dismissals of skipper Steve Waugh and reputed finisher Michael Bevan turning out to be the final nails in the coffin for the Australians. While the Indians enjoyed a dominant day out with a 44-run win, they couldn't quite repeat the feat against the Brian Lara-led West Indies three days later.

Philo Wallace defines West Indies' campaign

Though West Indies reached the semis of the 1996 World Cup, the mid-1990s signaled the start of their decline in international cricket, which would only get worse with the passage of time. This tournament, though, turned out to be an exception as they put on a couple of superb performances to march into the final of the tournament. The tournament turned out to be a defining phase for Philo Wallace, who smashed a 58-ball 79 against a Wasim Akram-led Pakistan attack in their quarter-final clash, with Keith Arthurton's 4/31 later helping them notch up a 30-run win.

Facing an upbeat Indian side after the latter's win over the mighty Australians, the West Indians grabbed the momentum early in the game by getting rid of their talisman Tendulkar. Ganguly and Robin Singh resurrected their innings with half-centuries, and propelled them to a competitive 242/6.

Wallace then put on an 81-run stand for the second wicket in the West Indian innings after they lost opener Stuart Williams early, helping the Caribbean boys get back to their feet. It was then that Lara's unbeaten 60 set up a comfortable six-wicket win to help them enter the final of a major international tournament for the first time since the 1983 World Cup.

Wallace, who had smacked 198 runs in the Test series against England earlier that year, carried his blistering form over to the final, in which he cracked a 102-ball 103. Unfortunately, the lack of support from his teammates meant his knock went in vain.

The rise and rise of Cronje's Proteas

South Africa had been rapidly rising since their readmission into international cricket only seven years before the tournament. They reached the semi-final in their first-ever World Cup appearance in 1992, and were the table-toppers in the next edition before being caught unawares by Lara's brilliance in the quarter-final.

They had also recorded the best winning rate in the ODI matches post the 1996 World Cup, and the combination of captain Hansie Cronje and coach Bob Woolmer put the Proteas on the path towards excellence. Aside from the being the team to beat, especially in the limited-overs tournaments, they revolutionised the concept of fitness and fielding with the emergence of the likes of Rhodes.

Opting to field first in front of a capacity crowd at the Bangabandhu Stadium, the South African attack was shelled by the hard-hitting Wallace, who smashed 11 4s and five 6s in his stay at the crease. It would have been much worse had it not been for the high-flying all-rounder Jacques Kallis, whose all-round efforts in both the quarter-final and semi-final helped guide the South Africans all the way to the summit clash. He starred once again for his side with a five-wicket haul that helped restrict the opposition to a manageable 245.

The West Indians did not go down in the clash without a fight, and the South Africans lost two quick wickets after getting off to a decent start. Phil Simmons chipped in with a couple of breakthroughs, and the chase seemed tight with the scorecard reading 137/5. However, Cronje scripted a captain's innings to guide South Africa to their first, and till date only, ICC title.

Legacy

The next edition of the tournament stayed true to its original cause, with the tournament moving to Kenya in 2000. Defending champions South Africa were stopped short by India in the semi-final, with the latter looking for some international success under Ganguly in order to bury the ghosts of the match-fixing scandal that rocked Indian cricket at the turn of the millennium. New Zealand though made their first-ever entry into the final of a major ICC event, and it was a heroic century by Chris Cairns that ultimately helped the Black Caps emerge triumphant.

While the 2002 edition, hosted by Sri Lanka, was shared between the hosts and India, West Indies scripted a fairytale chase in the 2004 final against England to win their only major trophy of that decade. Australia, by far the most dominant team of that decade, stumbled a couple of times before eventually laying their finger on the coveted trophy in 2006, and making it back-to-back titles in 2009.

India finally registered their first outright victory in the final of the tournament in the 2013 edition, posting an unlikely win over hosts England after the match seemed to have slipped out of their grasp at one point. That tournament was supposed to have been the last edition of the 'Mini World Cup', in order to make way for the Test championship, before the global governing body decided to bring the tournament back this year.

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Published Date: May 13, 2017 10:21 am | Updated Date: May 13, 2017 11:01 pm


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