JOHANNESBURG: Thank goodness for Brian Lara and thank goodness for that first-ball drop.
After the World Cup’s never-ending match boycott saga, the 2003 tournament desperately needed some dramatic, big-name cricket right from day one.
Home fans might have hoped for Shaun Pollock to occupy that role in the opening game but it was the Trinidadian left-hander who obliged on Sunday as the West Indies dented South African hopes with a dramatic three-run upset win in Group B.
Pollock’s men, ranked as second favourites behind Australia and bidding to become the first hosts to win the cricket World Cup, rarely lose at home.
Lara’s 116 off 134 balls turned that logic on its head as he helped post a total of 278 for five.
In reply, the South Africans lost their way in front of an increasingly mute capacity crowd at Newlands before Lance Klusener’s late fireworks, a 47-ball 57, almost snatched victory.
It could have been so different. Catches win matches, they tell schoolboys, and drops presumably lose them.
Lara’s chance to Jacques Kallis off his first ball after South Africa had removed opener Wavell Hinds with only four runs on the board was sharp and one-handed – a half-chance for mere mortals but one that South Africa’s extraordinary fielders would expect to pouch more often as not.
Kallis did not. That error cost 116 runs and the match as Lara, whose only previous World Cup hundred knocked out the South Africans in 1996, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul rebuilt cautiously by putting on 102 for the third wicket.
Lara, who ranked his innings as the best one-day knock of his career, felt he deserved that luck after working back from a dislocated elbow, a bad back and a mystery illness over the past year to make the West Indies squad.
“Considering the amount of work I put in during the last couple of months since I was cleared medically, I don’t think I deserved a first-ball duck,” Lara said.
Much later there was to be another missed catch that almost gifted the game back to the battling South Africans.
With an improbable 54 needed off five overs, Klusener had hit two sixes off Chris Gayle’s off spin before an attempted repeat in the same over fell into Pedro Collins’s hands at square leg.
Incomprehensibly, Collins shimmied backwards and stepped on the rope, giving Klusener a life and another six.
Klusener, though, could not quite take advantage, taking his team to the brink of an unlikely victory before holing out in the deep.
There were other tales to tell on Sunday.
In Cape Town, England continued to ponder over whether to boycott their game in strife-torn Zimbabwe. In Johannesburg, Michael Bevan, the best finisher in the game, ruled himself out of Australia’s opening match against 1999 runners-up Pakistan on Tuesday.
In Calcutta, Muslim clerics, Christians and Sikhs joined Hindu priests to blow conch shells and pray for an Indian tournament victory.
But Lara ended the first day of South Africa 2003 as the main man.
For once even Nelson Mandela, who had met the South African players before the game and who cheered them on from the stand, was upstaged. – Reuters