The stage was set for the 1992 world cup semi-final between South Africa and England. Two evenly matched teams were battling for the spot in the world cup final. Everyone anticipated a close contest, but what rolled out was the greatest slapstick ever enacted in cricket—courtesy of 12 minutes rain delay. A match heading for a nail-biting finish; went from 22 runs required in 13 balls to 22 in 7 to finally 22 in 1 ball. Even without a single ball being bowled.
Cricket was a matter of laughter. And what truly pisses every cricket fan off is that all of this could have been avoided, but they didn’t—Coz of money.
Cricket in South Africa
In late 1991, South Africa had just come out of its 22-year exile from cricket due to its apartheid Laws. It was gradually elevating the ranks and beginning to regain its cricket presence. But still, the prospects of playing in the upcoming world cup to be held in Australia & New Zealand seemed minimal firstly because the time frame was too small. Second, and more importantly, because Apartheid laws still existed in South Africa. For those unfamiliar with Apartheid law. It’s a series of laws & acts passed to segregate and discriminate against blacks, mixed races. For example, they couldn’t marry white people, couldn’t vote, and were forced to live in designated areas.
The South African Referendum
Still, the African National Congress, the party led by Nelson Mandela, had requested that South Africa be allowed into the World Cup, and The ICC agreed-On one condition. They wanted a positive outcome on the referendum to end apartheid. It was a referendum in which 2.8 million white South Africans were gonna determine the destiny of 22 million people of other races. The problem was that this referendum was to take place during the World cup tournament. So an agreement was reached, South Africa would be competing in the world cup, but they would be sent back mid-tournament if the referendum didn’t succeed.
22 years of cricket exile followed by uncertainty on playing future. Absolutely No pressure, right? They defeated The defending champions, Australia, in the inaugural match. With glorious runouts and breathtaking knocks. South Africa, against all the odds, had made it to the semi-finals.
But, whether they actually got to play the Semifinals was to be decided by referendum to be voted just before the semis. In that referendum, 68.72% of people had said yes. Thus, Apartheid had ended, and a country was reborn.
SA vs ENG, 1992 World Cup Semifinal
The stage was set for the South African Cricket team to win all and bring it home as the perfect gift for the inauguration of this new South Africa. And so started the match. South Africa won the toss and, in disbelief to the English players, commentators and crowds…..had decided to bowl first. So what’s the big deal? Well, the big deal was that there was a Freakish rule figured out by some genius to deal with rain interruptions called the rain rule. According to this rule, the least productive overs from the side batting first were to be removed in the case of the rain delay.
So, for example, if you played 5 maidens in your first 50 overs. Then, the rain reduced the chase to 45 overs, as the least productive overs would be those 5 maidens, where no runs were scored. The target would remain the same. Throughout this world cup, teams had met with tragedy after tragedy after tragedy under this rule. The most absurd one was when England bowled Pakistan out for 74, which means they had 50 overs to score 74. But it rained for 3 hours. As per this rule, England now had to score 64 in 16 overs. At least that match was washed out, but there were many such incidents where this rule had practically destroyed games. It was like the Drugs, to be avoided at all cost.
The Einsteinsque Rule
On his decision to elect to bowl after winning the toss, the South African captain said, it was a calculated risk. Well, the idea behind this calculated risk was that they had won all three games when they chased, whereas they had lost three out of five batting first. England, on the other hand, had won three of their four games while chasing. Including one against South Africa themselves, So south Africa decided to test their fortune. Esp since they would be helped by another Einsteinsque rule – The time restriction.
In 1992, The co-host Australia was one of the most commercialized countries when it came to cricket. The profit Organizers earned through broadcasting rights was huge, so they handed match timings control over to the broadcasters. So, In Essence, a channel on TV was gonna dictate how long a match could go for – If they said that an innings should end by this time. Then it should. The inning is over either way, And that’s exactly what the South Africans did. By the time the allotted hours were done – only 45 overs were bowled, but the inning was over.
Money over Match
Now do understand here, the organizers at any point could have interfered with this and dealt with the financial complications to extend the time. But you know – that costs money. How can a minor semi-final of a world cup stand in the way of money? Right?
So the English team was deprived of its slog overs, and South Africa had to chase 253 in 45 overs to win. But the English team wasn’t gonna take this lying down. Enraged by the sheer stupidity of these rules. They went on the full offensive. Very tight bowling resulting in wicket after wicket. They were determined to make every ball count. And finally, when the dust settled. South Africa was left reeling on 131 for 4 in 27 overs. Persisting in front of enraged English players were players whose career had just got a new lease on life. If they had to go down, They would go down fighting.
And fight they did. First, Jonty Rhodes played an electrifying 47 runs off 31 balls. This was followed by Brian McMillan and Dave Richardson, who scored 25 runs in the next 18 balls. That left only 22 runs required in 13 balls. The match was living up to everything cricket stood for. Two teams were hell-bent on leaving everything on the field. And then, IT STARTED RAINING. The South African players slowly strolled back to the pavilion, seemingly hoping that they could stay there. The whole world was glued to their TV. Everybody was waiting with baited breathe. Hoping that they could start exactly where they had left off. A match like this – deserved to be decided on the field. But the broadcasting channel had other ideas.
Money Dictates Match
Broadcasters had a deadline to follow. The match had to end by 10: 10 pm by hook or by crook even though the competition rules had actually allowed for a reserve day. However, this situation didn’t completely fit the norms. Seeing the absurdity of these flawed rule, they could have appealed and tried to make an exception. But the host broadcaster was adamant. Insisting that the match had to be concluded on that day itself.
And so was it. The rain rule was applied, and the least productive overs for England, that meant two brilliant maiden overs by Mayrick Pringle would now come back to hurt them and as if enacting a damn comedy. Even this information was relayed incorrectly. The crowd and players were told that they had 7 balls left. The South African players walked into the field to meet this difficult but not impossible goal. And just then…. They were informed that they now only had one ball to score 22 runs.
WTF!!! 22 Runs in one ball?
The crowd went into an uproar. The South African batsmen were in utter disbelief. Even the English captain was arguing about the sheer stupidity of this situation. But none of that mattered. The decision had been made. Amid the crowd’s jeers, a dejected McMillan played the last ball. And the disheartened South Africans, with an equally disappointed English player, Started walking back to the pavilion. The clock behind them, Stood still at 10:08, 2 mins away from the scheduled deadline. The deadline had been followed, but the cricket was murdered.
Still, in an outstanding show of sportsmanship. The entire South African team had come out to shake hands with the English players. And for the sheer love showered on them throughout this match and the tournament, they did a lap of honour for the crowd. They were disappointed, yes, but rules were rules, they said. Yes, Rules were rules, but these were rules made by a broadcasting company. A dream of a resurgent cricketing superpower had stopped in its tracks for a channel to earn some more money.