Alec Stewart and Neil Fairbrother
Alec Stewart (L) and Neil Fairbrother pushed England over the line (Getty Images)

In the build-up to the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, CricketCountry brings to you the most memorable moments and matches from the Cricket World Cup – right from its first edition, way back in 1975. With 70 days to go, in our latest World Cup Countdown, we relive how an injury-hit England overcame all odds to beat South Africa the 1992 World Cup

It was a match between England and South Africa in the 1992 World Cup. The match was interrupted by rain. It turned out to be a keenly contested encounter. And, in the end, England emerged on top. And, no, it is not that semifinal (of 22-runs-in-one-ball fame).

England had remained unbeaten in the World Cup till then while South Africa had mixed results. Both teams were contenders for the semifinal when they clashed that afternoon at MCG.

A plethora of injuries

England went in with Alec Stewart leading them in absence of an injured Graham Gooch; additionally, Chris Lewis was down with a side strain but was played as a specialist batsman. There was rain in the air, and Stewart, with an attack consisting of Phil DeFreitas, Derek Pringle, Ian Botham, Gladstone Small, and Dermot Reeve (along with Richard Illingworth), put South Africa in.

Kepler Wessels and Andrew Hudson started off with pushes straight down the ground, and punishing anything short of a good length. Fifty came up, then a hundred; worse followed, when Reeve slipped during his third over, injured his back, and could not bowl anymore. A helpless Stewart turned to Graeme Hick. It was he who provided the breakthrough when Hudson hit one back to him in the 36th over; the score read 151; Hudson had scored 79 of them.

Peter Kirsten walked out and cleared the big straight boundary off Illingworth, but he fell trying to clear the deep mid-wicket fence off DeFreitas. Soon afterwards DeFreitas injured himself, and later left the ground limping (albeit after sending down ten overs); Hick also snared Wessels for a gritty 85.

Jonty Rhodes was run out following a mix-up with Adrian Kuiper in the 46th over; Kuiper and Hansie Cronje threw their bat around, and South Africa finished on 236 for 4 — a formidable score given the conditions and the size of the ground.

Rain, then disaster

Botham had been a success up the order through the tournament. This time, however, Stewart took centrestage; Allan Donald bowled with fire, edges flew around, tempers soured, but Stewart kept leading the English counterattack. Botham joined in the fun, lofting Brian McMillan through mid-off for four.

Then came the rain, with England on 62 without loss from 12 overs and Stewart on 40. They needed 175 from 228 balls at that stage. Rain left them 41 overs to bat, and thanks to the rain-rule, only 11 were reduced from their target. With rain in air, a rampant Donald on the prowl, Gooch missing, and three more injured men (Lewis, Reeve, and DeFreitas), England needed 164 more from 174 balls.

A solitary run was added before McMillan swung one in through Botham’s gate and pegged the middle-stump back. Two balls later Robin Smith tried one his ferocious square-cuts, Dave Richardson pouched the ball, and that was that. Hick managed a single and chased one from Richard Snell the next over; from 62 without loss England had slumped to 63 for 3.

Recovery, madness, and glory

Stewart was clearly unhappy at the other end. He knew it had to be him. He started with cutting Snell through third-man for four; Neil Fairbrother provided support at the other end, and the runs came accumulating.

England reached exactly 100 in 23 overs, which left them to score 126 at exactly 7 an over. runs kept flowing at a breakneck pace though South Africa kept things under control, thanks to their superlative fielding. The pair added 68 before Stewart made the grave mistake of taking on Rhodes’ arm: he fell short of the throw at the bowler’s end. Stewart’s 77 had taken 88 balls, and they still needed 94 in a little over 13 overs.

The onus fell on Fairbrother. He slapped Meyrick Pringle past point for four to bring up the 150; Reeve ran frantically, ensuring Fairbrother got more of the strike; unfortunately, just after Fairbrother reached fifty, Reeve tried to hoick Snell and ended up being caught at mid-on.

England needed 60, but wickets were falling, and they had just over 8 overs left.

Lewis walked out and immediately smacked one over extra-cover for four and flicked one past square-leg and leg-glanced one for two more. Fairbrother, somewhat smartly, was perfectly happy to take second fiddle.

Lewis smote one past mid-wicket with a nonchalant flick of the wrist for another boundary. They now needed 25 from 27, but the drama was far from over. With the target below 20, Fairbrother decided to finish things off in a hurry, pulling McMillan for four.

Wessels brought Donald back for one final go; Fairbrother cut him to point, but that man Rhodes, as sharp as ever, noticed that Lewis was out of the crease; Fairbrother never left the crease, and the throw to Donald found Lewis short of the crease. As a disgusted Lewis left for a 22-ball 33, England needed another 10.

England eventually needed to score a solitary run off the last 3 balls. Wessels brought the fielders inside the circles, Snell bowled a full-toss, and Pringle hit it straight to Kuiper at short mid-wicket. The South Africans regrouped: could they pull off a tie?

One run. Two balls. Three wickets.

Fairbrother walked up to greet DeFreitas as he walked out. DeFreitas had a swing. The ball took the outside edge and bisected extra-cover and point: it had been a clinical, disciplined effort from South Africa, but the brilliance of Stewart and the temperament of Fairbrother turned out to be too good in the end.

Brief Scores: South Africa 236 for 4 in 50 overs (Kepler Wessels 85, Andrew Hudson 79) lost to England 226 for 7 in 40.5 overs (Alec Stewart 77, Neil Fairbrother 75 not out; Richard Snell 3 for 42) by 3 wickets with 1 ball to spare (revised target).