South African captain Hansie Cronje marshalled his resources brilliantly against England in 1996 © Getty Images
South Africa successfully defended a target of 130 at East London on January 19, 1996. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the third-lowest ODI score ever defended.
In the dark days of the 1990s when Graeme Hick was the saviour of England who never materialised, about a dozen ‘next Ian Bothams’ turned up and vanished from the scene, men like Eddo Brandes turned up in the nightmares of the English batsmen, and the word Ashes was found only in Wisdens, England undertook a tour of South Africa.
To their credit, England began the One-Day International (ODI) series on a high note: they lost the first ODI at Newlands, but some exceptional batting helped England comeback strongly into the series with a victory at Bloemfontein. Thereafter, it all went wrong, as South Africa clinched the series by winning the next 3 ODIs at The Wanderers, Centurion, and Kingsmead.
The teams then moved on to the sixth match at East London. Having won the series already, South Africa rested Allan Donald and included a debutant all-rounder from Durban who bowled quite fast and hit the ball extremely hard: he went by the name of Lance Klusener.
Hansie Cronje and Michael Atherton went out to have a close inspection of the pitch — only to find out that the strip was definitely under-prepared. Wisden later called the pitch ‘substandard’, and once he won the toss, Cronje had no doubt in having first use of a pitch that would almost certainly deteriorate.
English seamers rout hosts…
Wisden later called the pitch ‘substandard’, and once Hansie Cronje won the toss, he had no doubt in having first use of a pitch that would almost certainly deteriorate.
Cronje decided to do something different in the match by sending Richard Snell to open the innings. Snell had earlier opened batting in the second ODI at Bloemfontein, scoring a 65-ball 63; here, however, he struggled, eventually edging one to Atherton in the slips off Peter Martin — but not before Dominic Cork had snared Gary Kirsten. Martin’s next ball had Jacques Kallis leg-before, and the hosts were suddenly reeling at 29 for 3.
Cronje promoted Brian McMillan to No. 5, and somehow managed to battle it out before being bowled by Craig White. McMillan and Jonty Rhodes restored some sanity to the score, with the latter hanging on despite groping at balls pitched up to him. Once the seamers had had their fill, Atherton turned to Richard Illingworth; he struck almost immediately as Rhodes holed out to Darren Gough off him.
Klusener did not have the most pleasant of debuts: Gough trapped him leg-before for a 3-ball duck next over. Gough clean bowled Shaun Pollock as well, and 2 balls later, he had Dave Richardson leg-before as well. South Africa were 98 for 8: would they make it to three figures?
McMillan finally found support in Fanie de Villiers, and the pair trudged on, scraping out runs in a trickle. Once he got set, however, de Villiers opened up, hitting 2 boundaries, and the pair ended up adding 30 in 22 minutes before de Villiers was bowled by White. Paul Adams was cleaned up by Cork next over, but the McMillan-de Villiers partnership had done enough to exert pressure on the tourists.
South Africa were bowled out for 129 in 41.4 overs. Gough picked up 3 for 25, while the other seamers — Cork, Martin, and White — finished with 2 wickets apiece. Only twice had a side won after scoring lower totals in ODIs (barring shortened matches): India had defended 125 against Pakistan at Sharjah in 1984-85, while West Indies had defended 127 against Pakistan at Kingstown in 1980-81.
… but South Africa hit back
Atherton took a leaf out of Cronje’s book and got White to open batting with him. As with Snell, White did not turn out to be effective with the bat either, being caught-behind off de Villiers early in the innings. Robin Smith was clean bowled by Pollock for a duck the next over, and Atherton edged one to Richardson off de Villiers next over. England were 19 for 3: the South Africans had hit back.
Atherton promoted the obdurate Jack Russell to join Hick, and the pair batted on grimly, holding out obdurately against Pollock, de Villiers, Klusener, and Snell. A big blow came when Rhodes injured himself and had to leave the field, but perhaps the bigger blow was when Richardson fractured his left index-finger. He had to leave the field, forcing Kirsten to adorn the gloves.
But Hick and Russell carried on unfazed with Donald rested, McMillan unable to bowl, and both Rhodes and Richardson injured. Running out of fast bowling options Cronje summoned Adams: bowling his chinaman found the edge off Hick (39 in 65 balls, 3 fours), Kirsten appealed for a caught-behind, and the umpire ruled him out though, the decision seemed dubious. Adams’s next ball to Graham Thorpe was a wide; the next ball met with an ugly swipe that hit the timber, and suddenly, out of nowhere, England had managed to slump to 76 for 5.
Two runs later Russell was run out by a direct throw from Kirsten; the wicket-keeper had managed to scrape for 12 in 68 balls. Neil Fairbrother, England’s quintessential crisis man in ODIs, was standing firm at one end, but would the others be able to support him till the end?
Cork lasted 15 balls before he was bowled by Adams; Illingworth batted for 7 balls before he was run out by another direct hit from Kirsten; and Gough was leg-before to Martin after he hit a boundary. With England requiring 26 runs for the last wicket both Fairbrother and Martin decided to hit out.
Martin connected well and found a boundary, but Fairbrother was eventually bowled by Snell for 13, as England finished 14 short of South Africa’s total. Other than Hick, Russell, and Fairbrother, nobody else had crossed 13. Though de Villiers and Snell had picked up 2 wickets apiece, Adams won the Man of the Match award – not only for his 3 for 26 — but also because of the fact that it was the 2 balls from him that had decided the match in the favour of the hosts.
- Border was fined R5,000 by Cricket South Africa (CSA) for the underprepared pitch.
- England lost the seventh ODI at St George’s Park as well, conceding the series 1-6. Their poor form spilled over to the World Cup that followed, where they lost all 4 matches against Test-playing nations.
- Richardson was replaced by Steve Palframan, who made his debut in the seventh match. With Richardson ruled out for 3 weeks, Palframan played in all matches of the World Cup, but did not play any international cricket thereafter.
- South Africa’s 129 still remains the third-lowest total ever defended in a match that had not been curtailed.
South Africa 129 in 41.4 overs (Brian McMillan 45*; Darren Gough 3 for 25) beat England 115 in 43.4 overs (Graeme Hick 39; Paul Adams 3 for 26) by 14 runs.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)