How South Africa's first World Cup adventure ended in heartbreak
Much to the surprise of a world that had reviled them barely two years earlier, South Africa were the darlings of the 1992 World Cup. The apartheid regime was dying on its feet, and a new vibrant nation was emerging from its shadows, epitomised by such young guns as Allan Donald and Jonty Rhodes, the world's first specialist fielder, whose torpedo run-out of Inzamam-ul-Haq earlier in the tournament draws gasps of admiration to this day. Victories over Australia, West Indies, Pakistan, India and Zimbabwe had propelled them all the way to the semi-finals at the first time of asking, and under brooding Sydney skies, they had been left needing 22 runs from their last 13 deliveries to defeat the new favourites, England, and reach the World Cup final.
Twelve minutes of rain was all it took to wreck a classic contest and produce the sort of farce that so often crops up when cricket's regulations get themselves in a tangle. In theory, the organisers had come up with a clever ploy to cope with rain interruptions - the reduction in the target was to be proportionate to the lowest-scoring overs of the side batting first, a method that took into account the benefits of chasing, as opposed to setting, a target. That didn't work so well, however, when the chase had been all but completed, and South Africa were made to rue Meyrick Pringle's excellent figures of 9-2-36-2. At first the scoreboard showed a reduction to 22 off seven balls, and then moments later, it read 22 off one (which should in fact have read 21 off one). Brian McMillan patted Chris Lewis' last ball for a single, and set off for the pavilion looking as furious as England - deserved victors, if truth be told - were embarrassed.
Even though a reserve day had been set aside for the semis, the demands of the host broadcasters, Channel Nine, were such that the match had to be completed there and then. "South Africa's chances of reaching the final floundered on a rule which no-one had bothered to think through," wrote John Woodcock in The Cricketer. "For so important an event to be reduced at times to a lottery must have been a source of great embarrassment to the organisers, though to the best of my knowledge they came nowhere near to admitting it. It is difficult to avoid the impression that the Australian Cricket Board are obliged to defer to television, by which I mean to Mr Packer's Channel Nine and all their delirious ways."
What happened next
England went on to meet Pakistan in the final, another team that had benefited from the inflexibility of the tournament regulations. In their group stage meeting in Adelaide, Pakistan had been bundled out for a meagre 74 by England, but with no reserve day to cope with the onset of rain, the contest had to be abandoned as a no-result. Pakistan's two points from that match squeezed them into the semis at the expense of the hosts, Australia, and from that moment forward they were a team inspired. Wasim Akram's consecutive exocets to remove Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis remain two of the finest deliveries in the history of the tournament. As for the rain rules, they were quietly shelved, to be replaced in 1999 by the convoluted but highly respected Duckworth-Lewis method.