Editor's Note: The global coronavirus outbreak has brought all sporting action to an indefinite halt. While empty stadiums and non-existent sports news make for an unusually grim sight, we take it as an opportunity to look back, and - to paraphrase poet William Henry Davies - stand and stare. In this latest series 'My Favourite Match', our writers recall the sporting encounters that affected their younger selves the most, and in many cases, helped them fall in love with the sport altogether. Happy Reading!
Australia v South Africa, 1999 World Cup, semi-final at Edgbaston
For a certain generation of Indians, the epic 1999 World Cup semi-final clash between Australia and South Africa remains one of the foremost matches we were heavily invested in as neutrals, or perhaps that’s the one game we remember for its sheer ludicrousness.
The summer of ‘99 was a cricketing fete. It was my first experience of watching a cricket World Cup. Lush green England grounds, white moving ball under sometimes blue, most times grey skies, 12 participating teams and their bright kits lit my not-so-slick television set. The sights and the sounds were HD even before the quality existed, leaving the five-year-old me dazzled.
The majority of the World Cup coincided with the long summer break from school, which allowed unbridled cricket viewing with fixtures scheduled every day. Watching your cricketing heroes all evening and then mimicking them deep into the night to nail the impersonation the next morning during gully matches in front of all your friends was the real deal.
It is difficult to comprehend the nuances of the sport at five, but the emotions come with no such binding. The cricketing bug had bitten me the previous year, when a little man from India had wielded a desert storm with his willow. I had no clue what Tendulkar’s feat meant then, but, I remember dad and granddad’s celebrations were delirious while the Rasmalai that was promptly ordered was simply delicious. Cricket equated to happiness and that was all that I knew.
However, back at the ‘99 World Cup, there was no reason to smile, all the glory of an incredible summer was brutally crushed when India were knocked out of the World Cup just two days prior to the start of school.
On the following Monday, wearing a long face and carrying a heavy bag, I, like many other kids, began the new academic year. However, by then, the habit of watching cricket daily was now already old, and old habits die hard.
After brooding for a couple of days, my attention turned to the semi-finals. I was told by the wise men at home, South Africa and Australia were the two favourites and both the teams lived up to their billing at Edgbaston.
First, it was South Africa's Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock, who oozed class, followed by Michael Bevan, that I later learned, had pulled off one of the most Michael Bevan of acts, while captain Steve Waugh’s virtues - character and mental toughness - were brought up multiple times by my grandfather as Australia stroked 213 runs in their innings.
The chase remained on course for the team sporting the dark green kit, until a magician going by the name of Shane Warne flipped the game on its head. The leg-spinner had done it plenty of times in the past, I was duly told. And I vividly remember pointing it out three days later when wizard Warnie was conjuring another one of his spells against Pakistan at The Lord's.
Jacques Kallis and Jonty Rhodes held the chase on the slow burner till Lance Klusener mercilessly unleashed his fury on the Australian bowlers to take the game beyond its boiling point.
Klusener had occupied the TV screen for a significant amount of time during that summer. By the time he was belting boundaries in Birmingham, I already knew he was an all-rounder and had a distinctly different glove. Also, he was the same man who had pummelled three boundaries against India to win the game for his side a month ago and looked like he was up to something similar against the Aussies.
Until chaos ensued with almost all men wearing bright yellow kits hurriedly converged onto the pitch. I could see Klusener running a long way even after he had completed his run and simultaneously hundreds of spectators swamped the ground and the players.
“It's a tie,” it was announced.
“What is that?” I wondered.
“Nobody won. Nobody lost,” I was told.
“What is that!!” I exclaimed.
“Australia, the team in yellow, will play the finals,” I was informed.
“But...why??” I beseeched.
“On the basis of superior net run rate,” I was notified.
“Now, what is that?” I asked again.
“Er...it’s maths,” I was (not) explained.
“...I see,” I relented.
A maelstrom of emotions swallowed me. Sports, till then, existed only in the binaries of win or loss, witnessing the most incomprehensible end to a contest with one team going through to the finals when I was told that nobody won or lost that game, was a very premature exercise of exposing me to concepts of
a lies, cruelty, cheating, unfairness and it also developed my perennial hatred towards maths. tie
The absurdity of both – a tie and maths – seems to have never left me, as their ghosts haunted me back, though, in slightly varied form, in the summer of 2019.
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