March 13, 2006

The Greatest Game Ever.

South Africa defeated Australia in indubitably the greatest ODI match ever played. Make no mistake. This match will remain in memory forever. And we have not yet really grasped its meaning and implication.
The game was cricket anarchy. Rules were ignored, conventional wisdom flown against, high-risks equalled high reward in every situation. Every gamble paid off, every scooped slog fell into space, every shy at the stumps missed. As the pressure and the run rate mounted so did the ferocity of the South African onslaught. Bat first, win the toss and bury the game - that is exactly what the Australians did and although they protested there was no "job-done" mentality, when you've just smashed a world record that's stood for ten years, you don't expect it to get beaten in the next three hours. South Africa has experienced a lawless past - for one glorious afternoon, the country re-visited it. [Link]

Seeing the match would have been a once in a life time experience. I did not watch it, but I can imagine how it would have been for Australia or South Africa fans who did. A close approximation for Pakistan or India fans was the game in Dhaka in 1998 when India successfully chased 314. That was a watershed game in its own right. It was the highest score ever chased at that time and changed the mentality of chasing teams perceptibly. But that game was not so far removed from the general trend of those days in that scoring just above 300 was by no means a miracle.

This game will become legendary for the way it broke with the established norm. To be sure, for a while teams have been optimistic about chasing scores well above 300, and in due course this mark also would have been reached. But extremely abruptly this game forced on all of us an unimaginable standard which may never be met again. Not in the near future anyway.

In the immediate future I can see two things happening. One, teams will be immeasurably more comfortable chasing targets around 350. By the same token, teams will not be unduly certain of defending scores in that range.

Second, this will change the attitude of South Africans against Australia. For many years South Africans carried the unpleasant tag of chokers and they had a particularly horrid time against Aussies ever since that gem of a World Cup Semi-final in 1999 at Edgbaston. Lately they have attempted to reverse the trend by instigating a war of words. This match unequivocally lays to rest all those ghosts of Edgbaston. (A comparable phenomenon would be the sway Pakistan had over India after Miandad's six off last ball against Chetan Sharma and which Indians destroyed with their remarkable win in 2003 World Cup powered by a brilliant 98 from Sachin Tendulkar.)

For the moment though South Africans will simply bask in the glory of this unreal victory. The whole team will celebrate along with its millions of fans, but two men will have the fondest memories having been in the middle at the historic moment. As this article in The Hindu puts it,
it is debatable whether another set of cricketers would get to celebrate anything quite like Mark Boucher and Makhaya Ntini at the Wanderers...


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