You do not go in without your main strike bowler against Brian Lara. You simply do not © Getty Images
You do not go in without your main strike bowler against Brian Lara. You simply do not © Getty Images

March 11, 1996. South Africa’s think-tank decided the best way to counter the West Indies would be to play an extra spinner at the expense of Allan Donald. Then they ran into a champion at his best. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at Brian Lara’s magical 111.

South Africa had steamrolled their way into the first ever quarter-finals in the history of World Cup. Even if one puts aside the crushing defeats they inflicted upon UAE and Netherlands, they beat New Zealand and Pakistan by five wickets each with plenty of balls to spare, and England by 78 runs. Having won five One-Day matches on the trot coming into the World Cup, they had stretched their run of wins to ten.

West Indies, on the other hand, had hiccups on their way. They beat Zimbabwe convincingly at Hyderabad, but lost to India at Gwalior, which was followed by a walkover to Sri Lanka. Then came the upset at Pune, where Kenya dished out a 73-run defeat to them. Tied with Zimbabwe and Kenya on one win each, the West Indies came back at Jaipur in a way only they could: Australia scored 229 and reduced them to 26 for 2 and later 196 for 6, but the brilliance of Brian Lara and the resilience of Richie Richardson saw them home.

Blitz at the top

West Indies were supposed to be pushovers for South Africa. However, Bob Woolmer and Hansie Cronje got together, and analysed that spin was West Indies’ Achilles heel, especially at Karachi. They had two to choose from — Pat Symcox and Paul Adams. They had to leave out a fast bowler: they decided to retain Shaun Pollock and Brian McMillan, and surprisingly chose the accurate Craig Matthews ahead of — hold your breath — Allan Donald.

Sensing that spin may play a role, Richardson batted, and sent Courtney Browne to open with Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Browne went after Pollock and Matthews, and by the time he holed out to mid-on off the latter, he had got West Indies off to a perfect start, scoring 26 off 18 balls. West Indies were 42 in 6 overs when Lara walked out.

Prince of Trinidad

Chanderpaul set the tone, placing Pollock past mid-wicket for four. Lara was cautious to begin with before finally opening up, dispatching Cronje through extra-cover, over wide mid-on, and past point for three fours. Richardson later told ICC: “He badly wanted to do well today after all the pressure he’s been under and I felt very tense for him; but when he hit his first four, I knew he was definitely going to score his 100.”

Lara opened up more, playing a last-moment late-cut off Symcox to beat third-man and cutting him for four more for good measure. Cronje brought on Adams, who was square-cut and paddle-swept for two fours. That got him the fifty; but Lara was merely warming up.

Then came the 28th over. Symcox tossed the first ball up. Lara stepped out, converted it into a full-toss, and as he played the on-drive, his left hand came off the bat; he still went on with the shot, and got a four. Cuts and square-drives followed, and the Symcox over went for 22.

Chanderpaul, unnoticed on 56, slog-swept McMillan to Daryll Cullinan at deep mid-wicket. The pair had added 138 in 148 balls, thus laying the perfect foundation for the others to pounce upon. Richardson walked out, and soon afterwards Lara pushed Symcox to deep mid-wicket for two to bring up his hundred.

One may call the innings majestic; or regal; or anything similar; but the English language has its limitations. Seldom has a World Cup innings been as emphatic in terms of both quality and impact on the match. Woolmer’s strategies usually worked, but performances like Lara’s made him look almost stupid.

Lara bludgeoned Symcox through extra-cover for four more, but Symcox eventually had his revenge. Both Richardson and Lara fell in quick succession, trying to slog-sweep him out of the ground. There was a mini-collapse as Roger Harper, Keith Arthurton, and Roland Holder followed in quick succession, but Jimmy Adams and Ian Bishop took the score to 264 for 8.

Cronje’s plan had backfired. Symcox and Adams had picked four wickets between them — but all of them had come during wild slogs towards the end. They conceded 109 from 18 overs (mostly in the middle-overs; superlative by the standards of the day), chiefly in the hands of Lara. The last over of the match, bowled by Adams, went for 16. Cronje’s plan of leaving out Donald had backfired.

Hudson, Cullinan set up chase

The target was steep, especially against Bishop, Curtly Ambrose, and Courtney Walsh, but not unachievable. The pitch showed signs of turn, and West Indies had only one spinner — Harper — in their ranks. True, Adams and Arthurton were there, but they were certainly not specialists.

Andrew Hudson started with great flourish, but South Africa soon lost Gary Kirsten when he played back-foot to Ambrose, slipped, and trod on to the stumps. Cullinan walked out, and the pair counterattacked, hitting the menacing fast bowlers out of attack. Both men hit comfortably on the rise and both through and across the line, and runs started flowing.

Richardson introduced Harper; then he brought Adams on, who bowled over the wicket to the right-handers; by the time Hudson hit Adams to Walsh at long-on for 54, South Africa needed 146 from 146. Cullinan hit his third six, but fell to a tumbling catch by Bishop off Adams at long-off. His 69 had come from 78 balls. South Africa needed 125 from 120 balls: surely they could not lose?

Harping away to victory

Cronje continued with the onslaught in the company of Jonty Rhodes, smashing Walsh for two consecutive sixes over wide long-on. The target — 86 from 81 — was within reach. Then Adams bowled one short in his last over; Cronje pulled hard, but could only find Arthurton at mid-wicket fence.

Richardson brought Harper on from Adams’ end. There were still ten overs left, and the asking rate was still under seven an over. Then Harper dented the Protean sail with a triple blow: Rhodes, McMillan, and Steve Palframan were removed in the space of two runs in the same over.

There were, however, still Pollock and Symcox to contend with. The runs kept flowing. Harper came on to bowl the 45th over, and Symcox hoisted him for sixes over long-on and mid-wicket. The target — 39 from 34 balls — suddenly seemed reachable. But Pollock holed out to Adams off Harper, and when Richardson got Arthurton to bowl the next over, he got Symcox out.

Matthews and Adams put up some fight for the last stand, but it was never going to be enough. Walsh finished things off, clean bowling Adams in the last over: West Indies won by 19 runs. Their spinners, unlike their South African counterparts, had done a wonderful job, both with the ball and on the field.

 Player O M R W Econ Ct
Roger Harper

10

0

47

4

4.70

2

Jimmy Adams

10

0

53

3

5.30

2

Keith Arthurton

6

0

29

1

4.83

1

Total

26

0

129

8

4.96

5

What seemed to be South Africa’s masterstroke backfired on them. Their attack, sans Donald, looked helpless against Lara; on the other hand, they could not handle West Indies’ bowling themselves.

What followed?

– West Indies “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory” in the semi-final against Australia at Mohali. Requiring 43 from 9 overs with 8 wickets in hand, they slumped to a five-run defeat. They lost their first World Cup semi-final in the process.

– Arthurton finished with 1, 0, 0, 1, 0 in the tournament at an average of 0.40.

– The sides met again in the opening match of World Cup 2003 at Cape Town. There was almost an encore: Lara scored a 134-ball 116, West Indies piled up 278 for 5 and won by 3 runs.

– South Africa are yet to win a knock-out match in any World Cup.

Brief scores:

West Indies 264 for 8 in 50 overs (Shivnarine Chanderpaul 56, Brian Lara 111) beat South Africa 245 in 49.3 overs (Andrew Hudson 54, Daryll Cullinan 69, Hansie Cronje 40; Roger Harper 4 for 47, Jimmy Adams 3 for 53) by 19 runs.

Man of the Match: Brian Lara.

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