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Cricket World Revisit: When South Africa chased down 434 against Aussie might

South Africa's Gibbs celebrates after his team won fifth and final one-day international cricket match against Australia in Johannesburg
©Reuters
 

When the South Africans returned to the change room after conceding 434, Jacques Kallis - the team's most expensive bowler said, "Guys, I think we've done a good job, I think they're 15 runs short" and the boys broke into laughter.

 

The first-ever ODI was played on 5 January 1971 between Australia and England at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Almost five decades have gone by, but the 400-mark has been crossed only 20 times. By March 2006, a score of 400 had been unheard of in ODIs. Then, it was breached twice on the same day.

 

With the series well poised at 2-2, Australia met South Africa at Johannesburg in the fifth and final ODI of the series. The pitch in Johannesburg was a belter for batting a big total was expected, but no one had really predicted it to be that big. But, when Aussie opener Adam Gilchrist starting to tee off, and the way the ball was travelling in the air and off the surface, there was an inkling that we were on to something big, really big.

 

Then came the Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting. Punter smashed 164 off just 105 balls, taking a liking to all the Protea bowlers. It seemed unrealistic at first but Michael Hussey's whirlwind took the visitors well past 400 - to 434.

 

Like any team in that situation would react, the South Africans hardly had any belief in the change room to chase the total down. Then, a line from Jacques Kallis - the team's most expensive bowler of the match broke the ice. The all-rounder said, "Guys, I think we've done a good job, I think they're 15 runs short" and the boys broke into laughter.

 

The star for South Africa was Herschelle Gibbs, who self-admittedly had spent the previous evening overindulging, only returning to his hotel room in the early hours of the morning and almost missing the team bus. The hungover Gibbs played the knock of his life as he starred in a 187-run second-wicket stand with Graeme Smith and went on to score 175 off 111 balls to put his side in a winning position.

 

After Gibbs departed, Kallis and Justin Kemp followed him shortly and it was left to the charismatic wicketkeeper Mark Boucher to marshal the tail. With two to win off the last two balls and South Africa nine down, Makhaya Ntini nudged a single to third man - probably the most famous single by a No. 11 batsman in ODI cricket. Boucher achieved the impossible with a boundary off the final ball.

 

Mick Lewis, who played only 7 ODIs for Australia, conceded 113 runs off his ten overs that day, which still is a record for the most runs conceded in ODI history.

 

“I don’t know where that innings came from and I don’t think I’ve played better,” Gibbs said after his 111-ball match-winner. "I woke up on Sunday morning with the same feeling as when I scored a hundred in the 1999 World Cup — that was going to be a different sort of day. It’s only happened to me twice and I still can’t believe it.”

 

In captain Graeme Smith words, the chase was a "bit sick":

 

“Chasing 434 is a bit sick, unbelievable. But at the change of innings we said it was a freaky game, so who knows,” said Smith, who scored 90 off 55 balls. "You can’t sit down and plan to chase 435 but we knew momentum was going to be the key. Our initial target was 185 in 25 overs and we knew we had a chance after we got way past that."

 

The enormity of the total can be understood from the fact that it still finds a place among the all-time top five ODI totals, 15 years later. From that day on, 400 in ODIs became achievable.

 

©Cricket World 2020


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