Cricket’s greatest comebacks – India vs South Africa, 2002 Champions Trophy

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VVS Laxman, Ashish Nehra, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Dinesh Mongia of India celebrate victory

India made a memorable comeback against South Africa in 2002 Champions Trophy

The saying that “No match is ever lost until it is won”, is very apt in cricket where the teams have made many comebacks to win from losing positions.

Conversely, there have been cases where teams have lost a match from a seemingly certain winning positions. If we were to compile a list of the instances of the latter, it’ll probably surprise no one to see the South African team feature regularly in it.

One such example of their much talked about habit of “choking” was the 2002 Champions Trophy semifinal played between South Africa and India, where the Proteas totally lost the plot after almost having the game in the bag.

Sourav Ganguly won the toss and elected to bat first. After an aggressive start from Virender Sehwag, India kept losing wickets at regular intervals and found themselves at 135/4. A dogged partnership between Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh helped India to a fighting score of 261/9 in their 50 overs.

South Africa lost Graeme Smith early in the chase, and Jacques Kallis joined Herschelle Gibbs at the crease. The two kept the scoreboard ticking at a good rate. Continuing his good form, Gibbs brought up his 2nd consecutive ODI century.

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Herschelle Gibbs scored his 2nd consecutive century of the tournament

At 192/1 off 37 overs with Gibbs and Kallis well set, South Africa were cruising and some talk had begun of the Proteas’ prospects in the final. With only 70 runs required from 13 overs and 9 wickets intact, a comfortable win for them seemed just a matter of time.

India needed an intervention from providence for something to happen. And probably that’s what occurred. Gibbs suffered a severe bout of cramps, which forced him to retire hurt.

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Herschelle Gibbs of South Africa retires exhausted

The moment that changed the game

South Africa were still the favourites to win, but it was almost as if the other batsmen took it as a signal to fall apart. Two runs later, Jonty Rhodes was brilliantly caught by Yuvraj off the bowling of Harbhajan Singh.

Boeta Dippenaar swept Harbhajan straight to Anil Kumble at fine leg, and the usually reliable Mark Boucher also perished soon, top-edging an attempted sweep off Sehwag to give Yuvraj an easy catch. The sweep shot, which was usually the Proteas’ most productive shot against spin, proved to be the reason for their downfall.

Lance Klusener came out to bat, and with Shaun Pollock and Robin Peterson yet to bat, the South Africans knew that a victory was very much within their reach. But with his flat, quick and tight off-spin, Sehwag tied down the scoring rate and some tidy bowling from Kumble meant that 25 runs were required from the last 2 overs. Zaheer bowled a tight penultimate over conceding just 4 runs.

With 21 required from the final over, Kallis hit Sehwag’s first delivery for a six. He tried to repeat the same shot on the next ball, but only managed to top-edge it, and the ball was safely grabbed by wicket-keeper Dravid.

Klusener, who had crossed over during Kallis’s dismissal, looked a pale shadow of the hero who almost won the 1999 World Cup for South Africa. He was unable to cleanly hit the ball, and only managed four more runs in the run, before hitting straight to Mohammed Kaif off the last ball of the innings, handing India a famous 10-run victory.

The South Africans lived up to their dubious reputation of being champions at choking, while the Indian team’s performance in fighting back after being down-and-out was a refreshing change for their fans.

One could spare a thought for Gibbs, who had famously dropped Steve Waugh in the 1999 World Cup and  got told, “You’ve just dropped the World Cup, mate”, had once again given an opening to the opposition, though this time due to retirement because of cramps when the team looked set to cruise to a win.

But the day belonged to Virender Sehwag, who followed up on his heroics with the bat against England with a brilliant all-round performance.

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Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar of India celebrate a wicket

Virender Sehwag starred for India

A blistering knock of 59 set the base for the Indian innings, and a fine spell of off-spin bowling, with figures of 3 for 25, helped the team come back into the contest when the match seemed to be getting out of their grip.

It was a red-letter day for Indian cricket as they scripted one of the greatest comebacks in the history of ODI cricket.

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