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Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Rain robs South Africa of World Cup final berth

South Africa's Jonty Rhodes

March 22, 1992 - South Africa were inches away from a final berth, needing 22 off 13 balls to beat England in the 1992 World Cup semi-final. But, courtesy of the new rain rule, a spell of 12-minute rain left them with 21 to win off just one delivery.

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The 1992 World Cup was all about innovations. It was a tournament with many firsts - coloured clothing, the use of white balls from both ends so they didn't get grimy and the floodlights. While most of these innovations proved to be quite successful, there was one that wen the opposite route, a new rain rule.

The reason why they organisers brought about this new rule was to offset the advantage that the old system gave to the side batting second. The then existing system worked out the runs-per-over of the first innings and then deducted that for each over lost by the side batting second. Under the new system, if rain interrupted the second innings of a match, the reduction in the target was to be proportionate to the lowest scoring overs of the side batting first, a method that took into account the benefits of batting second.

But, well before the big faux pas happened, there were already signs of the loopholes in the new system. In a group match of the 1992 World Cup, after Pakistan were bowled out for a paltry 74 at Adelaide, three hours of rain meant that Pakistan's most successful 16 overs taken into account while setting the target. However, the catch was that Pakistan's most successful 15 overs accounted for 62 of their 74 runs and eventually England would have had to chase a stiff target of 64 from 16 overs despite a stellar bowling effort. 

That day, the organisers were saved embarrassment due to rain as more rain meant the game was abandoned and the points were shared. But, they - and more importantly South Africa - were not going to be that fortunate on the day of the semi-final.

After asking England to bat, Proteas restricted them for 252/6 from their 45 overs - the innings curtailed as South Africa had bowled their overs slowly. The Proteas were fined for that, although as it turned out their actual punishment was way heavier than the monetary one.

South Africa didn't get off to a great start, struggling at 131-4 at one point after the dismissals of Kepler Wessels, Peter Kirsten, Andrew Hudson and Adrian Kuiper, but Jonty Rhodes got them back on track. With five overs remaining, they needed 47 to win, and that had been brought down to to 22 from 13 balls when the rain, which had been falling for a few minutes, grew heavier.

While the South African pair of Brian McMillan and Dave Richardson wanted to continue batting, England skipper Graham Gooch had no intention of the same. Finally, the umpires deemed the conditions unfit and went off the field.

The rain stopped shortly and all the time that it took for play to resume was 12 minutes. But, in that time, the world had turned upside down. Under the new rain rules, two of England's least productive overs would be reduced from the target. Meyrick Pringle's figures of 9-2-36-2 which initially looked excellent actually came back to bite them with two overs slashed off the Protea innings.

Amid all the confusion, the bottom line was that from 22 off 13, South Africa now needed 21 off 1 ball (and not 22 off 1 as shown on the scoreboard). Enraged with the rule, McMillan took a single off the last ball as England ended up winning by 19 runs.

As strange as it may seem, England ended up losing the final to Pakistan who had just made it to the semis by dint of the two points that they got after their league match against England was washed out.

There shouldn't then be any surprise over the fact that the rain rule was scarped and replaced by the complex but fair Duckworth-Lewis method in 1999.

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