The unstoppable force and the immovable object © Getty Images
The unstoppable force and the immovable object © Getty Images

March 28, 2000. After Pakistan were bowled out cheaply, Gary Kirsten and Herschelle Gibbs got South Africa off to a solid start. Then Shoaib Akhtar came to party, ripping the heart out of the Protean line-up;. and Gibbs stood firm amidst the wreckage. Abhishek Mukherjee recollects a spectacular duel.

By the time the first round of the Coca-Cola Cup of 2000 ended, Pakistan had lost both matches and had hit rock bottom. However, they gained ground following India’s consecutive defeats, and all they needed was an honourable defeat in the last match against South Africa.

South Africa rested several key players, including Hansie Cronje, Jacques Kallis, Makhaya Ntini, Nicky Boje, and Steve Elworthy. Despite that, Pakistan had an abysmal start. Shaun Pollock, leading South Africa for the first time, clean bowled Imran Nazir with the third ball of the match. Charl Willoughby, Nantie Hayward, and Lance Klusener supported Pollock well, and Pakistan were soon reduced to 61 for 5 in 23 overs. This included the wicket of Shahid Afridi, whose 26 had come at a strike rate of 58.

The wicket of Moin Khan deserves special mention. Moin drove the first ball he faced back to Hayward; the giant, still on his follow-through, dived to his left to come up with a spectacular caught-and-bowled.

Abdul Razzaq and Wasim Akram put up some resistance, but Pakistan never got going. They reached 100 in the 37th over, and eventually crawled to 168. Yousuf Youhana was the only one to put up some resistance. None of the seamers went for more than four an over, neither did Derek Crookes.

Pakistan had to bowl out South Africa, but things did not look good. They had lost to South Africa in 14 consecutive One-Day Internationals (ODIs), the last victory coming over five years before the match. To make things worse, South Africa had played eight matches in Sharjah till then — and won all.

Herschelle Gibbs and Gary Kirsten took South Africa to 22 before Kirsten had to retire hurt due to a back spasm. Though Waqar Younis dismissed Neil McKenzie early (it was his 300th ODI wicket), South Africa looked on track at 74 for 1 in 16 overs. They needed a mere 95 from 204 balls with 8 wickets in hand (9, if Kirsten batted). Gibbs looked in fine touch, with Mark Boucher, promoted up the order, playing the ideal foil.

The over from hell

Shoaib knew he had to give it his all. He steamed in, and let one rip. The ball took off from a flat Sharjah deck, and grew on Boucher at an alarming pace. Boucher went for the hook on instinct, edged, and Moin pouched it.

Out walked Dale Benkenstein. He survived two balls. The next was too fast for him. He played from the crease and inside the line. He tried to make contact, but did not get any time. The ball hit off-stump, and it was a surprise that the stump remained intact.

But then, there was the small matter of Klusener, Man of the Series in a World Cup that had ended just over six months back. He had smashed Shoaib in the Super Sixes match at Trent Bridge. Surely he would not fail?

Klusener played the next ball back to Shoaib, who went back to the mark without making fuss. It was evident that something was wrong. He had pulled his groin. There was pain in his eyes, but there was determination as well. He would finish the over.

He hurled it at 156 kph. It seemed almost unreal that someone with a pulled muscle could bowl so fast, and the ball shattered timber. South Africa still needed 95, but they were four down. In one over Shoaib had knocked the breath out of the Protean line-up. READ: Shoaib Akhtar, the Fast and the Furious


Shoaib Akhtar’s crucial 3 wickets against South… by riazmaitla


The safari sentinel

Wasim had Pollock caught at slip next over. It was back to Shoaib again, to bowl what would be his fifth over. Should Wasim have given him a break? Perhaps.

Shoaib could not finish the over, leaving the field after three balls. Razzaq, coming on to finish the over, trapped Peter Strydom leg-before. All four batsmen had fallen for noughts, and there was little chance that Kirsten would emerge.

As all this was happening, Gibbs remained unperturbed at the other end. He did not flinch, playing every ball on its merit, and not holding himself back at anything loose. His fifty took 62 balls, and for once it seemed he may swing things back again — provided someone stuck around with him.

Unfortunately, nobody did. Crookes pushed one to Younis Khan at mid-on and set off, but was unable to beat the throw. Shoaib returned to bowl the 25th over, and was ruled out of action again, with Razzaq completed the over like he did earlier in the match.

Gibbs took South Africa past the 100-mark, but Hayward was bowled by Waqar the next over, and Razzaq rounded things off by bowling Willoughby. South Africa were bowled out for 101, losing their last eight wickets for 27 in the space of 65 balls.

However, they could not vanquish Gibbs. His 79-ball 59 (with nine boundaries) came at absurd ease. He became the sixth batsman to carry his bat through a completed ODI innings, and remains the only South African to do so. READ: Herschelle Gibbs, A career of exhilarating highs and avoidable lows

If only he got someone to hang around with him…

What followed?

– Shoaib was ruled out of the final, while the South Africans returned. However, Afridi set the tone of the match with a 48-ball 52, and with Nazir and Inzamam-ul-Haq also scoring fifties, Pakistan reached 263 for 6. For South Africa, Cronje slammed a 73-ball 79 and Boucher a 49-ball 57; McKenzie scored a fifty as well; but they were eventually bowled out for 247 against Waqar (4 for 62) and Arshad Khan (3 for 51).

– South Africa have won 10 matches at Sharjah and lost 2. Their win-loss ratio of 5 is the best at the ground.

Brief scores:

Pakistan 168 in 49.2 overs (Yousuf Youhana 65) beat South Africa 101 (Herschelle Gibbs 59*; Shoaib Akhtar 3 for 9).

Man of the Match: Shoaib Akhtar.

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