Editor's Note: For a number of years, sports have provided succour to the troubled societies, alleviating them, even if temporarily, of their pain and suffering. As a locked-down world struggles with the 'new normal', it's only natural that we seek inspiration in sports. Where else would one find impossible being redefined and proverbial phoenixes rising in real-time? Firstpost's latest series, The Heist, deals with precisely that sentiment. Over the next few days, we shall bring you stories of grit and giant-killing that have stood the test of time. Here's to hope.
It takes very little time for the tide to change in the gentleman’s game. After all, one special effort is all it takes to engineer a turnaround.
The game’s history is littered with heists. Rightfully then, cricket is often referred to as the game of uncertainties.
Cricket behind closed doors could be the new reality as the game looks unlikely to resume anytime soon. As Part 4 of the lockdown gets underway, we relive some of the biggest heists in cricket.
Mathews-Malinga script miracle in MCG
3 November, 2010 witnessed arguably one of the greatest comebacks in ODI history when Sri Lanka, thanks to Angelo Mathews and Lasith Malinga, recovered from 107/8 to chase down Australia's 240-run target.
Sri Lanka lost openers Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga inside six overs with just 19 on the board. Malinga, who had never crossed 20 in an ODI till then, joined Mathews at the crease at the fall of the eighth wicket, and the duo began an inconceivable rearguard.
Sri Lanka opted for the batting powerplay in the 27th over and Malinga launched a scathing attack on the hosts. He unfurled a slew of lofts and flat-batted shots down the ground as Mathews played the second fiddle.
They brought up their respective half-centuries, stitched the highest ninth-wicket partnership, and pushed Sri Lanka closer to the finish line.
However, with one needed, off 40 balls, Malinga set off for a non-existent single and got run out via a direct hit from Steve Smith.
Amid mounting pressure, Muttiah Muralitharan flicked Shane Watson past short fine leg for a four to spark massive celebrations. It was a classic story of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.
Kenya stun West Indies
World Cups have a habit of springing up underdog stories and 1996 was no different. 29 February, 1996 witnessed one of the greatest days in Kenya's cricket history as they beat the West Indies and stunned the cricketing world.
This was Kenya's first World Cup appearance and they had lost their first three matches, against India, Australia, and Zimbabwe.
West Indies, albeit struggling with form, were runaway favourites. Kenyan players, meanwhile, were looking to get autographs from their idols on the opposite side.
West Indies won the toss and Richie Richardson put Kenya into bat and reduced them to 81/6. 17-year-old Thomas Odoyo and Hitesh Modi then got together and added 44 runs for the seventh wicket to push Kenya to a below-par 166.
West Indies lost openers Richie Richardson and Sherwin Campbell inside five overs, but they still had enough batting, led by the inimitable Brian Lara. The left-hander, however, departed for 8 and it sparked a collapse. Maurice Odumbe applied the choke while the fielders showed urgency and affected run-outs.
Eventually, the Caribbeans collapsed for 93. It was also Kenya's first win in ODIs and surely a one to remember.
West Indies received a lot of criticism for the loss but they recovered well to reach the semi-finals of the tournament where they lost to Australia.
Kusal Perera's brilliance trumps South Africa
Sri Lanka have never been the same since the departures of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. However, amidst the struggles, they have had this uncanny knack of pulling off stunning victories. One of them was witnessed in February 2019 when Kusal Perera's monumental effort helped them chase down 304 against South Africa on the last day of the Durban Test.
South Africa were bowled out for 235 in the first innings, but still managed a 44-run lead. The Proteas managed 259 in their second innings and set a target of 304. In the past 17 years, no team had chased a 300-plus target in Tests at Kingsmead. Not many would have given the Sri Lankans a chance, certainly not after they were 110/5.
Then, Perera unfurled the cuts and pulls and took the attack to the South African bowlers. He added 96 for the sixth wicket with Dhananjaya de Silva, but Keshav Maharaj took three wickets in space of seven overs to push Sri Lanka to the brink at 226/7. With 78 runs still required, Vishwa Fernando joined Perera and thus begun the blockathon. Perera played the aggressive game and surpassed his highest Test score of 110.
Perera kept attacking Steyn and Rabada even as Fernando struggled. With 13 required, Perera smashed Steyn for a six and sealed the chase with a deft dab to third man for a four off Rabada.
Inzamam's brilliance saves his career and Pakistan
It could have ended a glorious career or scripted history. Such was the oscillating nature of the Multan Test between Bangladesh and Pakistan in 2003.
Bangladesh had never won a Test, and were down 0-2 in the three-Test series against Pakistan. They had battled hard though but still going into the third Test, Pakistan were the favourites.
Bangladesh opted to bat first on a slightly green wicket and managed a middling 281 before bowling out the hosts for 175. The 106-run lead was lethal but Bangladesh couldn't take full advantage of it, faltering for 154 in their second innings and setting a target of 261. On a pitch where there was variable bounce, it was still a daunting task for Pakistan. They got off to a steady start but then lost their way and were reduced to 99/5.
Inzamam-ul-Haq had walked out at 62/2 and watched the others depart in quick succession. He himself was going through the worst phase of his career. And after the first innings dismissal in Multan, he had already made up his mind of retiring from Test cricket. There was one more innings to go though.
That proved to be a career changer.
Amid vociferous appeals, balls flying past edges, dropped catch, run out and mankading chances, Inzamam batted on a different plane, guiding the tail-enders and providing a masterclass in farming the strike.
A loss would have been catastrophic for Pakistan, especially after the embarrassment of the 1999 World Cup loss to Bangladesh.
Inzamam single-handedly kept Pakistan alive. He added 32 with Saqlain Mushtaq, 41 with Shabbir Ahmed and 52 with Umar Gul. With 4 needed to win, drama ensued as Gul was run out. Debutant Yasir Ali somehow survived three nervous balls before scampering through the single off the fourth.
With three required, Inzamam shuffled across and flicked wide of fine leg for a four, off Khaled Mahmud, to seal the match.
An uncharacteristic fist pump, not one but two, followed before he was swarmed by players and support staff. That innings saved and reinvigorated Inzaman's career and then he went on to captain Pakistan as well.
Lara masterclass floors Aussies
It was a series where West Indies took the world champions Australia head-on. After being bundled out for 51 in the first Test and losing the match, West Indies bounced back on the back of Lara's 213 at Sabina Park to level the four-Test series 1-1.
Barbados beckoned. Australia put in a competitive 490 thanks to centuries from Steve Waugh (199) and Ricky Ponting (104).
Sherwin Campbell led the hosts' reply with 105, but Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie ensured Australia had a 161-run lead.
The West Indian pacers, led by Courtney Walsh, responded in kind and bundled out the Australians for 146.
A target of 308 still seemed far fetched given Australia's lethal bowling line-up consisting of McGrath, Gillespie, Shane Warne, and Stuart MacGill.
Campbell and Dave Joseph provided West Indies as a steady start but then a characteristic collapse ensued. from 72/0, West Indies plunged to 105/5.
Lara though looked imperious. The spinners bore the brunt of his immaculate footwork, while the pacers were driven through covers with that stylish backlift. Jimmy Adams stayed on for 125 balls to provide the much-needed support as Lara went about his business at the other end. He brought up his 100 by lofting Warne over mid-on for a four.
Lara was hit on the helmet by McGrath and words were exchanged. Any attempts to further bounce out were dealt with disdain as Lara smacked powerful pulls. Soon, however, West Indies went from 238/5 to 248/8. Curtly Ambrose stuck around for 39 balls but departed with six needed.
Courtney Walsh somehow survived four balls, while Lara endured some nervous moments of his own before a fierce cover drive off Gillespie completed the classic.
"The only way we were going to lose that Test match was if (Lara) got out," Walsh would later joke. "Because I was not going to get out."
Dravid-Laxman’s Eden epic
Having thrashed India by 10 wickets in the first Test at Mumbai, Australia had winning momentum on their side as they headed to Kolkata for the second Test.
Between August 1999 and February 2001, Australia had won 16 straight Tests and they looked certain to make it 17 on the bounce after posting 445 in the first innings at Eden Gardens.
In reply, India were bundled out for 171, and Steve Waugh promptly asked India to follow-on.
India were 232/4 in their second innings, still trailing by 42 runs, when VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid began a comeback for the ages.
The pair forged a monumental 376-run stand for the fifth wicket. Laxman’s 281 was then India's highest individual Test score while Dravid’s 180, to this day, remains one of his many under-appreciated classics.
India declared at 657/7, setting the Aussies a target of 384 for victory. Harbhajan, who had picked seven wickets in the first innings including a hat-trick, claimed 6/73 as India completed a memorable 171-run win.
India beat two-time defending champions West Indies to lift their maiden World Cup
Coming on the back of two World Cup title triumphs (in 1975 and 1979), West Indies were among the hot favourites to bag the 1983 title. In contrast, their opponent India had not gone past the knockout stages in any of the previous World Cups. History was on the Windies’ side.
The mighty Windies did come as far as the final, but only to be humbled by ‘underdogs’ India (by 43 runs).
After being put into bat, India were bundled out for 183 in 54.4 overs. There was some resistance from Kris Srikkanth, who top-scored with a 57-ball 38.
In reply, West Indies openers Gordon Greenidge (1) and Desmond Haynes (13) departed early without making much of an impact. The Indian bowling unit gathered steam after Madan Lal got rid of the dangerous Vivian Richards (33), thanks to a superb catch by Kapil Dev. Windies lost their next three wickets (of skipper Clive Lloyd, Larry Gomes, and Faoud Bacchus) in quick succession as India inched closer. Mohinder Amarnath sealed the deal with an inswinger that trapped Michael Holding LBW.
Kapil’s men had defied the odds to lift their maiden World Cup title at Lords – a priceless moment that changed the face of cricket.
Rookies Zimbabwe trump heavyweights Australia in their first-ever World Cup
The 1983 World Cup produced some of the most recognised upsets in the history of cricket. Visuals of Kapil Dev's team and how they stunned the mighty West Indies in the final come to the fore, but equally memorable was heavyweight Australia’s shocking loss against a group of part-timers in Zimbabwe.
It was Zimbabwe’s first-ever ODI and their first-ever World Cup. No one expected them to win a single match, forget a win against the men wearing the baggy green. But that 13-run win against Australia at Trent Bridge, yet again, established cricket as a game of uncertainties.
Australia won the toss and elected to field first.
Taking strike against the likes of Dennis Lillee, Geoff Lawson, Jeff Thomson and Rodney Hogg, that too for an inexperienced side would have been a stuff of nightmares. However, that day, Zimbabwe displayed tremendous resolve and grit.
At one stage, they found themselves reeling at 94/5. But a 70-run stand between Duncan Fletcher and Kevin Curran put them back in contention. Fletcher remained unbeaten on 64 while Iain Butchart struck 38 to help their side post 239/6.
In response, Australia got off to good start, courtesy their openers Kepler Wessels (76) and and Graeme Wood (31). Later, they kept lossing wickets at regular intervals. Rod Marsh came up with an unbeaten 42-ball 50 but the Aussies failed to muster the run-rate needed to stay in contention, finishing on 226/7.
The day belonged to Fletcher, who once again came into the act with his bowling, claiming 4/42.
Ben Stokes’ extraordinary knock against England in 2019 Ashes
It was the third Ashes Test in 2019 and England desperately needed the services of Ben Stokes to level the series 1-1. And the talismanic left-hander, with his once-in-a-lifetime knock of 135*, did not disappoint the English crowd at Headingley.
England, bowled out for a dismal 67 in the first innings, needed 73 more runs to reach a victory target of 359 when last man, the bespectacled Jack Leach came into bat.
Ben Stokes, being the established batsman, took much of the strike and steered the hosts towards a highly unlikely victory. The left-hander hammered eight sixes and 11 fours in his unbeaten 135-run knock, taking the game away from the visitors.
To add to the drama, there were several near-misses in the clash that left the crowd gasping for breath. Leach, who sneaked just one single from 17 balls, should have been run-out when he called for a non-existent single, but Nathan Lyon fumbled the chance. Stokes himself could have been given LBW while attempting a sweep with the hawk eye showing the same, but with no reviews left, Australia couldn’t contest the decision.
West Indies pull of highest successful run-chase to down Aussies in Antigua
Brian Lara-led West Indies pulled off the highest successful run-chase (of 418) in the history of the game to bring up a memorable three-wicket win in the fourth Test against Australia at Antigua.
It was an evenly fought contest as both teams were bundled out for 240 in the first innings. Australia then posted a massive 417 on the board, courtesy openers Justin Langer (111) and Matthew Hayden (177).
In reply, the Windies were 74/3. Lara looked good during his stay at the crease but could only go as far as 60 runs, leaving his side 253 short of their target.
Defiant tons from Ramnaresh Sarwan (105), Shivnarine Chanderpaul (104) reignited the chase, while lower-order batsmen Omari Banks and Vasbert Drakes remained unbeaten on 47 and 27 respectively to round out one of Test cricket’s most famous victories.
Carlos Brathwaite's sixathon in T20 World Cup final
In 2016, West Indies lifted the T20 World Cup for second time. But their win over England wasn’t an ordinary one.
Batting first, England, riding on Joe Root’s half-century, set a target of 156. In reply, the Windies batting line-up crumbled under pressure. They were 107/6 in 15.3 overs when Carlos Brathwaite, who was playing his first T20 World Cup, walked in to bat. Big-hitting is always in store when it comes to Windies. And this time, it was Brathwaite who took them past the finish line with a quickfire 10-ball 34, while Marlon Samuels anchored the chase with an unbeaten 85.
Needing 19 from the last over (of Ben Stokes), Brathwaite hammered four consecutive sixes to seal the deal in style as Windies won with two balls remaining.
Ireland’s Kevin O’Brien slams fastest ton in World Cup history
Jonathon Trott (92), Ian Bell (81) and Kevin Pietersen (59) powered England to 327/8 in Bengaluru. A win against minnows Ireland would have seemed like a walk in the park to the English after the first innings.
Halfway through the chase, Ireland were reeling at 111/5 and only a miracle could have saved them. And the miracle walked out in the form of Kevin O’Brien.
O’Brien slammed the fastest ton in World Cup history, finishing with a magnificent 113 off 63 deliveries. His 162-run partnership with Alex Cusack turned the game on its head. Later, John Mooney (33) took the onus of staying till the end and taking his team past the finish line.
The contest is remembered as one of the most shocking upsets in the history of cricket.
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