Did that happen actually?
Wednesday, 14 March 2012 15:34
Contributed by GK
872 runs, 599 legitimate deliveries, 87 fours, 26 sixes, a bowler giving away 113 runs in his quota of 10 overs, one batsman from both the teams scoring 150+ at a strike rate of 150+. The match could have easily been mistaken for a highlights package, but it wasn’t. Australian players especially Ricky Ponting and Mick Lewis would probably have erased March 12 from their calendars permanently.
The thrashing and merciless slogging of a cricket ball wasn’t witnessed even in any cricket matches played in backyards with rubber or tennis ball. Flat tracks have been made but this had nothing to do with the pitch. Full credit to the way the teams approached the game, the batsmen showing absolute no regard for the bowlers.
But the writing was on the wall to some extent. Adam Gilchrist, who was keeping wickets that night, had smashed the then-fastest Test double-hundred at the same venue, The New Wanderers, Johannesburg in 2001-02. Australia had beaten India comprehensively in 2003 World Cup scoring a mammoth 359. In a Twenty20 match in the same Australia fell short of just two runs chasing 200.
So, on March 12 2006, eleven Australian players, eleven South African players took the field on a bright and sunny day. It was the decider match of the five match series tied at 2-2. And then the toss happened, which Australia won, didn’t matter actually but... So Ponting decided to bat on a strip that looked to him a batting beauty.
The sun rose from east, set in the west as the match progressed. There was nothing special about the day. Probably, it was a day when being a bowler was a sin to say the least and was the best to be a No. 3 batsman. If Ponting’s innings at one down was destruction at its best, the Herschelle Gibbs’ reply was sophisticated slogging.
Eleven Proteas took the field first looking to restrict Australia to a score that could be easily chased down, they could not but the rules of the game stopped the marauding Australian innings at the end of 50 overs. Ponting in his 105 ball stay in the centre played some audacious strokes including a sweep to Jacques Kallis on one knee for a six.
Michael Hussey also joined the party with a strokeplay he never displayed before the match and after it too. After Hussey went away to the pavilion, Andrew Symonds continued the massacre in his brief stay and the Aussies ensured the best South African bowling attack then looked like a bunch of school boys.
Ponting justified his decision to bat first helping Australia pile up 434. Yes 434. It all happened in a blur it seemed. 13 boundaries and nine sixes from Ponting’s bat came within a blink of an eye. Nine boundaries and three sixes from Hussey’s blade only made it worse for the home side. And Adam Gilchrist opening salvo never allowed South Africa to settle. The Graeme Smith-led side went into the break wondering what just hit them. Peak 434 was insurmountable till Kallis broke the ice saying “Come on, guys: it's a 450-wicket. They're 15 short!” Inspiring words they were but not realistic till the home side actually went out to bat.
Smith decided to take the onus on himself and set the tone. His opening partner Boeta Dippenaar fell cheaply in the second over. It was a blessing in disguise. In came, apparently ‘high’ Gibbs. The two played their shots like never before to keep the faith of fans in their team alive.
Brett Lee was made to look ordinary. Stuart Clark and Mick Lewis didn’t stand a chance to brutal assault from the two. At half-way mark, i.e. 25 overs, South Africa were 229 for two. Smith had smothered the Aussies scoring 90 off 55 before leaving the crease and Gibbs blazed to his century in 79 balls.
The spectators in Wanderers were on their way to witness history and that too by their own team, which had the infamous history of choking. Needing 80 in 7 overs, they lost their sixth wicket. But medium pacer Johan van der Wath instilled life in the match hitting three sixes in a space of five balls to keep the dream alive.
Something happened in between but no one remembers and the match was down to the last two overs. Evenly poised. Andrew Hall and Mark Boucher were on the crease and the home team was about to create history. Hall pulled Brett Lee to the fence through the midwicket region but and the equation said two runs off four balls and two wickets in hand.
And then came the twist, Hall spooned Lee’s next delivery to Michael Clarke. In came No. 11 Makhaya Ntini to face the decisive deliveries. Common sense prevailed and the ball he faced was clipped down to third man for a single. Boucher was asked to complete the formalities and he did so without making any mistakes.
A golden letter day in South African cricket was written then, but the bowlers’ role died thousand deaths in the game. Every player who rolled his arm was made to look like a bowling machine or a mere spectator. Bigger bats, smaller boundary ropes and more and more of powerplays made it a batsman’s affair.
Moral of the story: Always play with 11 batsmen when playing in Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg. Bowlers are not needed, whoever they maybe.
Last Updated on Thursday, 21 February 2013 18:33