Despite being hit on the helmet by Dilhara Fernando, Ramnaresh Sarwan came back and almost pulled off a victory    Getty Images
Despite being hit on the helmet by Dilhara Fernando, Ramnaresh Sarwan came back and almost pulled off a victory Getty Images

February 28, 2003. Set to chase 229, West Indies lost a few quick wickets before Ramnaresh Sarwan was hit on the helmet. When all seemed lost, Sarwan braved his injury and walked out, head heavily bandaged, to pull off a near-impossible chase. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at one of the most dramatic World Cup cliffhangers.

Denis Compton, Rick McCosker, and Anil Kumble had all faced serious injuries while batting. All of them had returned to take part in the respective matches, and have contributed to various extent. The world of cricket has celebrated their act of valour.

Playing against Sri Lanka in World Cup 2003, Ramnaresh Sarwan did something similar. He had to be rushed to hospital after being felled by a brute from Dilhara Fernando, but came back to pull off one of the most sensational displays of batsmanship in the history of the sport, only to be stopped by the guile and craft of Chaminda Vaas, that wizard of left-arm seam.

Let us go back in time.

Late Lankan surge

Sanath Jayasuriya decided to bat, and Sri Lanka went into a crawl after losing Marvan Atapattu early. Mervyn Dillon and Vasbert Drakes put up an excellent display of bowling, though Jayasuriya and Hashan Tillakaratne put up 85 in 125 balls, a few quick wickets pushed Sri Lanka back: Mahela Jayawardene s wretched form continued; Jayasuriya top-edged a hoick; they were 139 for five in the 36th over.

The most disappointing dismissal was that of Aravinda de Silva: the men ran for a third, but Jayasuriya turned his back on Aravinda, leaving him stranded midway. The onus fell on Russel Arnold and Kumar Sangakkara to take the score past the 200-mark, and some lusty blows from Vaas helped Sri Lanka reach 228 for 6.

… and then came Vaas…

Sun had set by the time Chris Gayle and Wavell Hinds made their way to the centre. The evening wind blew across Newlands. The players of both sides, hailing from island nations, perhaps felt the chill. Then Vaas ran in, and moved the ball around like a magician, leaving Gayle all at sea.

The batsmen managed to get away against Pulasthi Gunaratne at the other end, but Hinds tried to get a bit too aggressive in Vaas second over. He pitched the ball and moved it away, ever so slightly; Hinds tried to push the ball across the line, but the ball found his leading edge and sped upwards. Jayasuriya claimed the easiest of catches at cover.

Out walked Brian Lara. Gayle hung around, hitting the occasional boundary; in years to come he would be the most feared batsman in world cricket, but at that point he was merely another aggressive southpaw at the top of the order. Lara, on the other hand, found himself fishing outside the off-stump against Vaas; Lara struggled for before he edged one to Sangakkara. His solitary run had taken him 22 balls, and West Indies were stuck at 27 for 2 after 9 overs.

Sarwan felled

Despite being hit on the helmet by Dilhara Fernando, Ramnaresh Sarwan came back and almost pulled off a victory    Getty Images
Despite being hit on the helmet by Dilhara Fernando, Ramnaresh Sarwan came back and almost pulled off a victory Getty Images

Sarwan walked out to join Gayle, who immediately went after Gunaratne. The tenth over of the innings went for 14, and both men kept on playing their strokes, till Dilhara Fernando hit Sarwan. The ball was pitched short, and poor Sarwan ducked, committing the sin of taking his eyes off the ball in the process. The ball hit him on the helmet.

The blow was sickening. Sarwan had to be stretchered off by paramedics, blood trickling down his cheeks. He was rushed to a hospital. He was on a mere 10, and they had as good as ruled him out of the match as Carl Hooper walked out only to be trapped leg-before first ball. West Indies were 62 for 3 (4, technically) in the 15th over.

On the good side, they had seen through Vaas first spell. Jayasuriya replaced Aravinda with Muttiah Muralitharan, who found assistance on a pitch that had defied everyone till then. Gayle battled on, as did Shivnarine Chanderpaul, with completely contrasting approaches to their batting.

Runs came, first slowly, then at a rapid rate. Gayle and Chanderpaul turned the table around, adding a quick 59. The target had come down to a mere 108 from 132 balls. Jayasuriya had already brought Vaas back, and decided to give him another over after he managed to obtain substantial reverse-swing.

Gayle went for the forward defence, but the ball jagged back ever so slightly; Gayle had not come sufficiently forwards, was trapped leg-before. Two balls later Ridley Jacobs chased one outside off, and was caught-behind. Vaas had managed to turn things around again. Murali, having an opportunity to bowl at the newcomer Ricardo Powell, clean bowled him the next over: West Indies had lost 3 for 1 in 6 balls.

They still had to contend with Chanderpaul, though. With Drakes for company, he pushed the ball around, nudging one here and placing one there, keeping the run rate going. By the time Chanderpaul fell to Aravinda the pair had put up 47, but with Dillon and Pedro Collins being the only ones to follow and 60 to score from 47 balls, the match seemed to slip from West Indies grip.

The prodigal son returns

Then Newlands stood up and applauded, greeting Sarwan to the ground. He had been hit on the helmet, but this time he had put that out of the equation: he walked out in a maroon cap, and showed his murderous intent from the first ball he faced. He meant business.

The World Cup has had its share of maniacal onslaughts, but few have matched the show put up by Sarwan on this day. He lost Drakes, caught by Vaas when he tried to clear the square-leg fence; the batsmen, however, had managed to cross; Sarwan immediately followed with a lofted off-drive when Jayasuriya pitched one up. Atapattu, who should probably have stood further back, only managed to shove it above the ropes with his fingertips.

Sarwan hit a four and ran a three in the next 3 balls: the dismissal was followed by 13 from 4 balls. Jayasuriya brought back de Silva for the 48th over, and after Dillon ran a single, Sarwan immediately dismissed him for another six. Two balls later he tried to clear the square-leg boundary but found Atapattu instead; he was dropped again, and ran two more.

Sarwan had slammed 27 off 2 overs. They needed 16 off 12, but they still had Murali to contend with. Dillon managed to see off four vicious deliveries, but managed a mere single; Sarwan took another, and West Indies were left to score 14 off the last over.

Those final moments

Murali had bowled out. Vaas had bowled out (with magical figures of 10-3-22-4). Even de Silva had bowled out. Jayasuriya had to choose between himself (8-0-46-1), Dilhara (6-0-33-1), and Gunaratne (5-1-34-0) for the final over. He tossed the ball to the third, the most inexperienced of the three.

Gunaratne started with a dot ball, but Sarwan gave him the charge off the next; the thick edge flew through the vacant third man for four. The target had come down to 10 off 4. Dillon backed up too much off the next ball, and was run out.

West Indies required 10 from 3, and Sarwan risked a single off the first ball. The best poor Collins could only respond with a single, and there was no way Sarwan could have won it after that. Sri Lanka won by 6 runs. The heroic performance, unfortunately, did not result in a triumph.

What followed?

– West Indies were knocked out of the tournament. They are yet to reach a World Cup semi-final since 1996.

– A distraught Hooper had no word of praise for Sarwan in the presentation ceremony. I don t think it is too big a deal; we ve seen bloodshed before, was all he had to say.

– Sri Lanka were beaten by Australia in the semifinal. They did even better in the next two versions, coming runners-up in 2007 and 2011.

Brief scores:

Sri Lanka 228 for 6 in 50 overs (S Jayasuriya 66) beat West Indies 222 for 9 in 50 overs (S Chanderpaul 65, C Gayle 55, R Sarwan 47*; Chaminda Vaas 4 for 22) by 6 runs.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)