The greatest match ever
Mon, 13 Mar 2006
The worry, lingering with quiet darkness, is that it was all a just-too-wonderful dream, that suddenly I’ll awaken to the manic cackling of Australian laughter, of a leering Shane Warne roaring with glee, and discover that yesterday’s afternoon of surreal perfection was no more than a cruel flight of fancy. For even a day later — a day that has seen me watch 11 assorted re-runs, from fleeting highlights to damn near the whole South African innings — I still can’t quite believe yesterday’s events.
If Friday night had toyed spitefully with South African emotions before letting us down at the very death, then Sunday morning offered nothing so mercilessly teasing.
Teams do not make 434 runs in 50 overs, not even on Stick Cricket, or against Zimbabwe, or when Graeme Smith is bowling. But if teams do not make 434, they most certainly do not chase down 434 to win. Be honest here: however bravely you offered belief that the game wasn’t beyond reach, that sentiment was based very much on hope rather than conviction.
And yet slowly, hope began to filter into a Wanderers ground that grew in spirit and verve as the genius of Herschelle Gibbs, fuelled by a challenge he can hardly have anticipated when taking the field earlier in the day, unfolded with mesmerising force. Ponting’s own extraordinary innings may have reinforced just why he’s such a relentless force with the bat at the moment; Gibbs took the opportunity to remind us why, if not as consistent, he’s every bit as outrageous at the crease when the mood takes him. And did it ever take him yesterday.
The nonchalant slap over wide long-off for six. The disdainful front foot pull over wide long-on, also for six. The assault on the mid-wicket boundary that turned the Wanderers stands into London circa World War Two. Gibbs is a maverick on and off the field, but the frustration of his failures only amplifies the joy of the times he does come off. 175 off 111 deliveries — wherever the Herschelle Gibbs career goes from here, he’s played an innings to define his career, in a match that defines just how powerful a hold sport has over us all.
My inbox is still filling up with jubilant response to an astonishing few hours, people struggling, much like myself, to find the words to cover the incredulity, the elation, the sheer bliss of it all. “It’s pointless ever watching another cricket match,” the message from my mate Kingdom, a committed cricket-hater who avoids the game on principle, and yet was still drawn in helplessly by the magnetism of a breathtaking contest. “Feels like the ’95 World Cup,” suggested Mike Beaumont, and the emotional parallel was certainly there; “I have never seen anything like that ever,” the summary of Martin Tucker, echoing the sentiments of all of us.
But perhaps the comment that gave me most pleasure was that made by South African sports writer Matt Garrett, marooned in Australia and adding insight to Aussie website http://www.livecricket.com.au. “The sweet, unadulterated joy of being a South African living in Australia when the shoe is on the other foot is indescribable,” beamed Garrett, and you can feel his delight from thousands of miles away.
Whether one completely improbable, logic-defying result can swing cricket’s natural order and set up the Test series for an extended hurrah remains to be seen. But that’s days away, and I’m simply not ready to begin thinking about it. The unrestrained euphoria of yesterday has settled down to a warm glow, and a sense of contentment seems to have enveloped the whole country, rich sustenance for a cricketing nation that’s had some dark hours of late.
There’s a temptation to suggest that the cricketing gods had finally taken pity on us, but to suggest anything so serendipitous does a disservice to Gibbs, and Smith, and Boucher, and rest of Mickey Arthur’s team, watched over yesterday by a coach pumping fists furiously like a punch drunk boxer as victory neared.
Set fortune aside, and revel in a quite remarkable victory, and a quite remarkable match. To quote Garrett one last time: “Will we ever witness something as ridiculous and breathtaking again? I doubt it.” Will we ever forget it?” Not a chance.
Contact Dan at email@example.com