On September 26, 1999, Sunil Joshi delivered a performance he will always be remembered for — 10-6-6-5 against a formidable South African side during the LG Cup at Nairobi. Karthik Parimal revisits the spell that was the third most economical in the history of ODI cricket at the time.
For South Africa, it was their first game since the infamous exit they were handed by Australia in the semi-final of the 1999 ICC World Cup. They were to face India in the second fixture of the LG Cup, a quadrangular tournament — the other two teams being Zimbabwe and Kenya — at Nairobi. South Africa fielded its first-rate squad, whereas India, captained by Ajay Jadeja in the absence of Mohammad Azharuddin, was without the services of a certain Anil Kumble. This made way for Sunil Joshi who, unfortunately, was often on the fringes. A full tournament was now guaranteed, and how he responded!
The day commenced with Hansie Cronje winning the toss and opting to bat first, the reason quite simple: on a turning wicket, they didn’t want to face the Indian spinners after the turf was subject to wear and tear. But little did they know they weren’t going to be spared the wrath, irrespective of when they were to bat, for a 29-year-old spinner in the form of Joshi was to have his best outing on the international stage that day. After Venkatesh Prasad and Debasis Mohanty sealed the flow of runs for the first 10 overs, left-arm spin was immediately introduced.
From his first over, Joshi had no qualms tossing the ball up. Herschelle Gibbs, not always proficient against spin, was beaten in flight and edged the second delivery wide of second slip. However, Rahul Dravid, fielding at that very position, was quick to pounce on it with stretched arms to complete an incredible catch. In his next over, he nearly had Mark Boucher flummoxed the first ball. Nonetheless, the escape didn’t last long. Robin Singh’s brilliant throw at the striker’s end eventually ran him out. That triggered a collapse from which the South Africans never resurged. For Joshi, the best part of the day was yet to come.
Boeta Dippenaar, donning the greens for the first time, had trudged his way to a painstaking 17 off 53 balls. By now, Joshi was in his element and extra flight on the delivery duly foxed the debutant, shattering his stumps. The next six overs produced six runs before the ball took Cronje’s bat, and then pad, and lobbed straight into Sadagoppan Ramesh’s palms at silly point. At 45 for four, the South Africans were virtually out of the contest. But their lower middle-order boasted names the calibre of Jonty Rhodes, Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener, whereas India’s bowling was unpredictable.
Joshi, however, had no plans stepping off the gas. After the duo of Dale Benkenstein and Jacques Kallis added 38 for the fifth wicket, Joshi returned for a second spell. Nikhil Chopra chipped in with the wicket of Benkenstein, though Joshi stole the limelight with what transpired in the following over. In the first and third ball of the 38th over, he bagged Rhodes and Pollock, both caught, to register his maiden five-wicket haul, inclusive of six maidens, in One-Day Internationals (ODI). What stood out were his figures of 10-6-6-5 — the best at the time by any bowler against South Africa.
It was also, as Wisden noted, the third most economical analysis (0.60 runs per over) by anyone completing his full quota of overs. Bishen Singh Bedi’s 12-8-6-1, during the 1975 World Cup, featured a better economy rate (0.50), but it was against East Africa — a much weaker opponent. Back then, only Anil Kumble (figures of six for 12 against the West Indies in 1993) owned the best bowling figures in an ODI for India. It was a spell that defined Joshi’s career; one he will always be remembered for. South Africa’s crème de la crème had no answers to the quandary that presented itself on that day.
Chopra polished off the tail as South Africa’s innings concluded on a paltry 117. Riding on openers Ramesh and Sourav Ganguly’s solidity, India reached the target within 23 overs. South Africa, though, went on to win the tournament, avenging this defeat in the finals against India. Joshi played for two more years before slipping off the selectors’ radar.
South Africa 117 in 48 overs (Jacques Kallis 38; Sunil Joshi 5 for 6, Nikhil Chopra 3 for 26) lost to India 120 for 2 in 22.4 overs (Sadagoppan Ramesh 36, Sourav Ganguly 38; Derek Crookes 2 for 47) by 8 wickets.
Man of the Match: Sunil Joshi
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)