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Rewind to 1992: When the Proteas faced the Lions for the first time


Sri_Lanka_South_Africa_ODI_CricketSouth Africa and Sri Lanka share a closely-fought rivalry in the 50-over format, with the Proteas winning 35 matches to the Lions’ 29 from a total of 66 ODIs prior to the ongoing series, besides one tie - the famous rain-hit group match of the 2003 World Cup. It was in a World Cup that the two nations first faced off, at Wellington’s Basin Reserve in the 1992 edition, a tournament that is remembered for the arrival of day-night cricket and coloured clothing on the biggest stage.

Sri Lanka came into the tournament hoping to slay a few top guns and add to their two wins at the World Cup - an upset victory against India in 1979 and another against New Zealand in 1983. A winning start looked unlikely after they conceded 312/4 in their first game against Zimbabwe at New Plymouth. However, Arjuna Ranatunga cracked 88* in 61 balls to help them pull off an incredible three-wicket win, completing what was then the highest successful chase in ODIs.

The win against Zimbabwe was followed by a six-wicket loss to New Zealand at Hamilton and a rained-out fixture against India at Mackay. South Africa too had a mixed start to their maiden World Cup - they were readmitted to the international fold only a few months earlier and were a late addition to the tournament. They faced the co-hosts in their first two games, winning against Australia by nine wickets at Sydney and losing to New Zealand by seven wickets at Auckland.

Thus, South Africa had two points from two games and Sri Lanka three from three when they went into battle at Wellington on March 2, 1992. Skipper Aravinda de Silva won the toss and decided that his team would field first on a pitch that seemed to be on the drier side, perhaps knowing that chasing was their stronger suit, if their first two games were any indication. De Silva had fond memories of the Basin Reserve, having scored 267 in a Test there a year earlier.

Sri Lanka made one change from their previous eleven, bringing in left-arm spinner Don Anurasiri to replace pacer Kapila Wijegunawardene. Led by Kepler Wessels, the South Africans reshuffled their batting line-up, shifting Adrian Kuiper from the middle order to the opening slot instead of Andrew Hudson. They included two debutants - the 40-year-old left-arm spinner Omar Henry, who became the first non-white to play for South Africa, and batsman Mark Rushmere.

Kuiper was the first batsman to depart, bowled by Anurasiri for 18 with the score at 27. The total moved rather sluggishly thereafter, though the second-wicket stand between Wessels and Peter Kirsten fetched 87. Disciplined bowling and impressive fielding did not allow the batsmen to accelerate, and the score reached 100 only in the 33rd over. Three overs later, Kirsten perished to Ruwan Kalpage’s off-spin, holing out to Chandika Hathurusingha at long-off for an 81-ball 47.

The South African innings soon unravelled, with the pressure taking a toll on the batsmen to follow. In the over after Kirsten’s fall, Wessels was out caught and bowled to Ranatunga’s medium pace for a tedious 40 from 94 balls. Ranatunga (2/26) added a second scalp in the form of Rushmere, who was caught by a diving Sanath Jayasuriya in the covers, while Hansie Cronje was stumped by Hashan Tillekaratne off Anurasiri to leave the score at 149/5 in the 42nd over.

Jonty Rhodes showed the intent to boost the run rate with a 21-ball 28, before he was sent back by another brilliant effort from Jayasuriya, who leapt high to take a one-handed catch off Pramodya Wickremasinghe. Richard Snell became Anurasiri’s third victim to make the score 165/7, giving the spinner figures of 3/41. Brian McMillan helped add a few vital runs, but the final total was an underwhelming 195 in 50 overs, two of the last three wickets being run outs.

‘White Lightning’ Allan Donald was not going to let the Sri Lankans have it easy, as he produced a fiery opening spell to reduce the islanders to 35/3 by the tenth over. Donald (3/42) began by having Hathurusingha caught in the slips by Wessels in his first over, and followed it by trapping Asanka Gurusinha on the pad for a duck in his second over to leave Sri Lanka at 12/2. De Silva bore the speedster’s brunt as well, getting castled to brighten South African hopes.

Much to Sri Lanka’s relief, Roshan Mahanama was in fine form, coming off knocks of 59 and 80 against Zimbabwe and New Zealand respectively. The opener embarked upon the repair job by sharing in a watchful fourth-wicket stand of 52 with Tillekaratne, which was broken by the dismissal of the latter, who was caught by Rushmere on the boundary off Henry. A composed Mahanama went to reach his third fifty in a row in the 32nd over, with the score reading 106/4.

At the other end, Ranatunga fit perfectly into the role of the aggressive partner, what with the asking rate now around five runs an over. The portly southpaw swung the game towards Sri Lanka with some delightful strokes, and his fifth-wicket partnership with Mahanama brought 67 runs in good time. South Africa got their much-needed breakthrough in the 43rd over, when Mahanama was dislodged for 68 in 121 balls, caught behind by Dave Richardson off McMillan.

Ranatunga continued his charge, undeterred by the loss of Jayasuriya to a stumping off Kirsten’s off-spin at 168. Sri Lanka needed 28 from 32 balls at this juncture. Less than two overs later, Ranatunga got to his fifty, and was looking determined to get the job done. It all boiled down to the final over, to be bowled by Donald, with Sri Lanka at 189/6. The first ball saw the run out of Kalpage, who rushed from the non-striker’s end, even though Ranatunga did not leave his crease.

Ranatunga flicked the next ball towards the mid-wicket boundary for four, narrowing the equation down to three runs from four balls. He followed it up with a risky single to bring Champaka Ramanayake on strike. Ramanayake failed to score off the first ball he faced, but smashed the next for four through the covers to seal a three-wicket win with a ball to spare. Ranatunga remained unbeaten on 64 from 73 balls, and was later named the Man of the Match.

The South African bowlers’ profligacy certainly did not help their team’s cause, as they conceded 17 extras through wides and no-balls. This win enabled Sri Lanka to reach the third spot in the nine-team table, but they failed to win any of their last four games and finished eighth. In contrast, South Africa bounced back with four wins from five games to qualify for the semifinals, where they were controversially knocked out by England in a rain-marred encounter.


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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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