Its ODI Cricket Season.

Its ODI Cricket Season.

What was the best ODI ever played?

Edgbaston 1999 vs. Bullring 438

It was the 1483rd one day international; it was called the best ever. 866 matches later there came along another that almost unanimously dethroned it. The combatants were the same. The green and gold of South Africa versus the gold and green of Australia. Survivors from the previous battle were few. Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Herschelle Gibbs for South Africa. Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist for Australia.

For South Africans we are talking about the 1999 highway robbery at Edgbaston and the 438 game. For Australians we are talking about the victory at Edgbaston and the 434 game.

If Cricket himself, would have to choose his ambassador of the One-Day game which of these two epic battles would he choose? An ambassador that would not only speak for those who salivate over a technically correct forward defensive, but rather one who would enthrall and entertain the masses.

 

The Highveld Autumn run-fest was for all practical purposes a double T20 game rolled into one. Fans were enamored with the crash, bang and boom of it all. Hard hats in the stands were no joke as commentators went scurrying for their best clichés to report the six storm.

Ricky Ponting continued where he left off against India in the final of 2003, as he made the bowlers look like Playstation’s graphically designed bowlers on easy mode. The bowlers would have been excused for discontinuing their follow throughs to take shelter behind the umpire, while blocking their ears in preparation for the next six bomb to be hit. And there was an immediate repeat to follow, Herschelle Gibbs picked up the console where Ponting had left it and smashed the helpless bowlers to all parts. Cautious or over-cautious batting in the middle overs from Kallis and Boucher set-up a thrilling finish. The bowlers for all practical purposes could have been machines, Mick Lewis becoming the most expensive machine in ODI cricket. There were many headliners that day. 872 runs, two mammoth centuries and a bull-ring that became a bowler abattoir.

The “Donald-Klusener mix-up game” did not start at the toss on the 17th of June 1999. It started on the 13th of June at Headingley. In hindsight it ended in Leeds for South Africa too.

With 271 on the board, South Africa had Australia at 48/3 with a run-out and two wickets for Steve Elworthy. As a mistimed clip from Steve Waugh on 56 hit the palms of Herschelle Gibbs, the game and the top of the Super Six table was seemingly the South Africans’. But that was not to be, Gibbs went for his nonchalant flick over the shoulder, his hand brushing his thigh sending the ball to the ground before the catch was completed. Waugh added a “ you dropped the trophy” comment and 64 to his score. Tom Moody did the honors of blasting the ball over cover thereby taking the game and the superior standing on the Super Six table. The win at Headingley for Australia meant that the tie at Edgbaston was enough for a Final’s berth at Lords.

A tie would have been enough, a tie was not what was expected and then again a tie was a befitting result.

Australia batted first, there was a 5-for for Shaun Pollock, four ducks, four catches by the wicket keeper and two fifties. A score of 213 looked challenging. The South African innings had three run outs, the last of which is framed and displayed in many an Australian sports bar. There were also four wickets and a Man of the Match for Shane Warne, whose ball to dismiss Herschelle Gibbs was acclaimed as a close second best to “Mike Gatting’s Ball of the Century”.

Both 213s together would have been a losing score in 2006 at the Wanderers, and yet there was something so distinctly cricket about Edgbaston that would make it my firm favorite for Cricket’s One-Day ambassador.

Not long ago, about two years ago, there was an immature public, still drunk on the relatively new exploits of T20 cricket. 12th men would lumber out with bigger and more brutal looking bats for the likes of Justin Kemp who would wow the crowd as they assaulted the bowling. The IPL was deemed as a cricket Messiah, he had come to save the game from well timed strokes and intended to replace them with euphoria-inducing top edges and wild bludgeons across the line. There was a distinct feeling amongst fans that this was the way forward.

It seems as if he was a false Messiah because the game of cricket is experiencing a metamorphosis. The battles to follow are those of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel against James Anderson and Stuart Broad, and the pitch curators are expected to deliver for them. KP has received his mention too, but the hubbub is about the swinging ball.

Double centuries for Kumar Sangakarra and other huge scores in a match and the talk of the fans is about a lifeless pitch that ought to be buried.

A more mature cricketing public is steering the game away from 120 balls of ugly slogging.  A more astute cricketing public is once again licking their lips at the sight of bowler friendly pitches. A public which encourages tweaking the One Day game as opposed to replacing it.

Swing bowling and bowlers are getting standing ovations; flat track bully batsmen are getting a mere warm applause. Some say it’s a new found thirst for wickets, other say it is T20 overkill, I say it’s an appreciation for a basic cricketing principle.

The principle that the game is a battle between the brains and brawn of batsmen and bowlers, and not that the game is a battle between two sets of batsmen. A game between bat and ball ought to have equal platforms for batsmen and bowlers to display their immense skill. These platforms are  finally taking shape.

This is a move that will once again see curators preparing pitches to the strengths of a bowling attack. Many may chatter about the new fad of four day Test matches, but this is an age where fans want to see the batsmen work for their runs. Three slips and two gullies is once again as appealing as a boundary rider retrieving the ball from the stands.

All of this bodes well for a healthy game of cricket. All of this bodes well for a proper game of cricket. A cricket where an IPL is a light dessert after serious servings of Test and ODI cricket. A cricket and his supporters that will once again deem Edgbaston 1999 the best ODI ever played.

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