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Wicket to Wicket

Not the greatest match ever

Earlier entries: Intro , 1 , 2 , 3 .

Sambit Bal
Sambit Bal
Earlier entries: Intro, 1, 2, 3.
Though this discussion is titled "The age of batting,” inevitably, the starting point has been that match. I caught the last 25 overs on television. I had spent the whole day out, and when I first found out the score on my mobile phone, South Africa were about 100 in 12 overs. And since I thought it was a day-and-night match, it took me a while to figure out that they were chasing, and chasing 434.
I watched every ball after I reached home, and even my little daughter, who, despite my best efforts, has rarely betrayed any affection for cricket, was hooked. And on, we called it the Greatest Ever Match, and we were perhaps the first ones do so because our headline went up a few seconds after Mark Boucher hit the winning four.
But next morning, I had mixed feelings. It was certainly the most incredible one-day match I had seen. For the sheer improbability of it, it even exceeded India’s World Cup win in 1983. And surely, it was a spectacle. But was it really the greatest ODI match ever? I wasn’t so sure.
How did it rank against the tied semi-final between Australia and South Africa at Birmingham in the 1999 World Cup? It had less runs in the whole match than one innings here, but to me it had everything that a perfect one-day match should have. Occasion, tension, some good batting, magical bowling, twists and turns and an incredible finish. I felt for Lance Klusener for days.
That runs equal excitement is such a hollow premise that it isn’t even worth arguing against it. One of the most boring one-day series I have suffered was between India and West Indies in 2002-03. Almost every match produced nearly or more than 600 runs, targets were chased down as easily as they were set. There was no joy; on many occasions I felt I was watching the match because I was being paid.
Chasing down 434 would have been incredible on any count, but would we have felt the same way had South Africa run away with the match in the 48th over with five wickets in hand? The match felt as it did because it went to the wire and could have gone any way until the last over.
A couple of days after the match, we sat down to draw up a list of the greatest one-day matches. In the list of 11, there was only one more match with 300-plus innings: the NatWest series final between India and England. And it was there because halfway through India were five down for 140-odd. There were plenty of scores between 200 and 250 and a couple below 200. The common thread among most of the matches was an element that forms the heart of cricket: a contest between bat and ball.
We saw a great match at Wanderers earlier this month. But it was Bat v Bat. Between bat and ball, there was no contest. It was impossible not to get swept away by the sheer thrill of the chase, but somewhere down there, it didn’t feel right. It was a freakish match, let’s hope it doesn’t become the norm.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo