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'How the bloody hell did we win that?'

West Indies had the 1996 semi-final against Australia in the bag. Then they found a way to throw it away

West Indies slipped to 194 for 8 when Ian Bishop was trapped lbw for 3  •  Getty Images

West Indies slipped to 194 for 8 when Ian Bishop was trapped lbw for 3  •  Getty Images

The word "choke" invariably trails South Africa in World Cups, and in their second appearance, in 1996, they wilted in their first knockout game after sweeping the league stages. But the biggest choke of that Cup was reserved for the team that had, ironically, knocked South Africa out of the tournament - West Indies.
In the semi-final against Australia in Mohali, West Indies were in control, chasing a modest target of 208, but a brain freeze that took hold of all their batters, save for captain Richie Richardson, botched their chance to appear in their fourth World Cup final.
Earlier in the tournament, West Indies' defeat to Kenya in Pune was a rude reminder of what could happen if you take your eye off the ball, even against a minnow. They also had to contend with the criticism of pulling out of the Sri Lanka leg of the tournament - along with the Australians - due to security concerns. They headed into the knockouts against the backdrop of these turbulent events and, led by Brian Lara, knocked South Africa out in the quarters.
Heading into the semi-final, West Indies also carried forward the confidence of having beaten Australia in the group stages. Australia's batters looked in sublime touch following a high-scoring quarter-final in Chennai, but on a Mohali pitch known to assist pace, they opted to bat first.
Then they ran into Curtly Ambrose and Ian Bishop.
"We looked at it as a great opportunity to put behind what had happened before, in terms of the defeat to Kenya," Bishop recalls of the general mood in the camp. "We thought we were in with as good a chance as any team getting through to the final."
That determination to wash away the humiliation of Pune was evident by the way Ambrose and Bishop reduced Australia to 15 for 4. Bishop clean-bowled Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh in his fiery opening spell, and from there on, West Indies had everything to lose.
Australia were able to rebuild through a crucial fifth-wicket stand of 138 between Michael Bevan and Stuart Law. In the middle of it came a moment that Bishop looks back on with regret.
"I had Stuart Law caught off a no-ball. I think he flicked one to midwicket. On reflection, that would have been a significant breakthrough. Even now, it's very disappointing on my part that I couldn't keep my foot behind the line, given the situation Australia were in at the time.
"Bevan and Law were two quality players, and though Law wasn't [very] experienced as an international player, we were still not too unhappy with the way things were going despite the no-ball."
West Indies didn't know it then, but it was the first in a series of incidents in which Australia fed off West Indies' benevolence. Despite Bishop's let-off, Australia's eventual 207 hardly appeared secure, given the ODI batting standards at the time and the strong likelihood of dew making scoring easier under lights.
The start provided by the West Indies top order was in stark contrast to Australia's. Shivnarine Chanderpaul added a quick 68 with Brian Lara and 72 with Richardson. The dew played into West Indies' hands: the legspinners Shane Warne and Law threw up full-tosses. Bishop recalls the dew wasn't "terrible" but good enough for the ball to slide on to the bat nicely.
Then came a bizarre incident. In the 27th over, a full-blooded sweep by Richardson off Warne struck the square-leg umpire, BC Cooray, on the side of the head. What could have been a boundary ended up being two. The two runs inadvertently "saved" by Cooray were recalled when Australia won by five runs, though, at the time, Bishop says, the incident barely registered because West Indies were cruising at 99 for 2.
It all appeared a formality in the 42nd over with West Indies at 165 for 2. But then Chanderpaul was caught at mid-on trying to heave over the infield. Bishop remembers the first signs of twitchiness in the dressing room were felt when the batting order was mysteriously shuffled, with Roger Harper and Ottis Gibson promoted over Jimmy Adams and Keith Arthurton.
"I think it [the panic] came from my side when the batting order was changed. I can only speak for myself. I know my ability with the bat. All I had to do was play it a little straighter and work it around. As soon as it got down to a few wickets left, we started realising we were messing this up."
Richardson watched it unravel from the non-striker's end. Roger Harper shuffled too far across to Glenn McGrath, Arthurton's favoured midwicket slog found the edge, Adams was trapped lbw on the sweep, and Gibson was caught behind trying to cut Warne. At 187 for 7, the tide had turned Australia's way and they were now throwing themselves at everything. A sweetly timed drive by Bishop sped towards the cover boundary but Ricky Ponting's valiant dive saved Australia a run. Bishop then had no answer to a Warne flipper and he walked back for 3, leaving West Indies eight down with 14 to get.
Richardson held the fort at one end, smashing boundaries to the leg side to help his side inch ahead, but the attrition rate at the other reduced his farewell tournament to a nightmare. With ten needed off the final over, bowled by Damien Fleming, Richardson fetched a boundary off the first ball but chose to pinch a single off the second, resulting in Ambrose being run-out.
Next in line to face the music was West Indies' famed No. 11 rabbit. "It was a nerve-wracking time in the dressing room, given Courtney's [Walsh] reputation with the bat. We were just hoping he would stay at the other end and bat time. He's always nervous when he has a bat in his hand," Bishop remembers with a laugh.
But Walsh was to last just one ball: Fleming clipped the off stump, sparking off delirious celebrations.
"Andy Roberts [coach] probably showed a little more emotion. Richie has always been level-headed and calm and it's always difficult to gauge his emotions," Bishop says. "He wasn't animated in any way. The other guys, including myself, were very sad because we threw away something that was there to be taken. We were so grief-stricken and embarrassed that I don't even remember if the Australians came to see us after the game!"
The Australians could scarcely believe what had happened. In his biography, Mark Waugh recalled: "How the bloody hell did we win that?"

Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo