It is famously said, ‘Cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties’. Whoever said that has to be a legend. And that’s because the phrase indeed makes sense. Despite the game looking predictable until the last over or the final delivery, it could still go either way.
Speaking of ‘glorious uncertainties’, while it could be a magical victory for one, it is also a heart-breaking upset for the other. Upsets are a part of any game and sport, and needless to say, it shocks the world to its core when it happens. In the same light, I present the five greatest upsets the gentleman’s game has possibly ever seen.
South Africa vs Australia (Johannesburg ODI, 2006)
Just as Twenty20 cricket had made its way into the market, One-day international was still the most enthralling format until then, and any score of above 300 was highly challenging back then. However, in this case, it was uniquely different.
With the five-match ODI series locked 2-2, South Africa and Australia were off to Johannesburg for the decider. Winning the toss, Australian skipper Ricky Ponting elected to bat. To everyone’s surprise, it was an all-out attack from the Aussies. From Adam Gilchrist (55) and Simon Katich (79) to Ponting (164) and Michael Hussey (81), the Protea bowlers were brutalised, as the Kangaroos posted a mammoth total of 434/4.
No one in the world would have thought at that point that it was a chasable total, including a champion team like Australia, which was a force to reckon with back at the time. However, South Africa had its intentions clear, as it refused to back down and put up a fight.
While it was off to a shaky start, losing opener Boeta Dippenaar for a mere single, it was Smith and Herschelle Gibbs who took charge. The two managed to pull off the total to 190 within just 23 overs before Smith departed for 90. Although the incoming batsmen could hardly do anything to contribute, they ensured to support Gibbs, who seemed to be in an unforgivable mood.
Gibbs smashed an eventful 175, and by the time he was dismissed, the score was already 299/4. Among the rest of the batsmen, they played their part by subtly contributing, while Mark Boucher smashed an unbeaten 50 and the winning runs as the host chased the behemoth total down with a ball to spare.
Truly joy for Protea, but despair for Oz. Nonetheless, if one has to lose in such a manner, I wouldn’t mind losing. South Africa deserved all the credit for holding its nerve throughout the chase and hammering Australia away. It remains the most fantastic and probably the most extraordinary ODI played to date and one of the greatest upsets.
India vs Bangladesh (Port of Spain, ICC World Cup 2007)
After putting on a show in the 2003 ICC World Cup in South Africa and finishing as the runner-up to Australia in the final, India was a favourite in the Windies as well, four years later. Its opening game was up against sub-continental minnow and neighbour Bangladesh, being a firm favourite to win the clash.
Winning the toss and electing to bat, India was off to a horror start, with the top and middle-order completely misfiring. Although opener Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh at number six managed 66 and 47, respectively, India was shot out for 191 by the 50th over, with three balls to spare for the innings. It was spinner Abdur Razzak, whose fiery turn just left the Indian batsmen clueless.
However, with the slow nature of the track, the Indian bowlers were confident of restricting Bangladesh to a sub-par total during the chase. Nonetheless, the psychological advantage played brilliantly in favour of the Bangladeshis. Despite suffering an early setback, it was opener Tamim Iqbal’s 51 and wicketkeeper-batsman Mushfiqur Rahim’s unbeaten 56 that put Bangladesh on top.
Although India managed to get breakthroughs, it was not as regular as they would have expected. Furthermore, star all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan played the penultimate innings of 53 that sealed Bangladesh’s fate. India succumbed to a five-wicket defeat, thus scripting the first upset of the tournament and probably the biggest in the history of CWC.
This somewhat demoralised the Indians, which put them under real pressure in the coming games. Although it scripted a convincing win against Bermuda in the next match, it could not match Sri Lanka in the group’s final game, thus crashing out of the CWC. The entire tournament was never the same again, while Australia easily lifted the title for the record fourth time, beating Lanka in the final.
Rajasthan Royals vs Mumbai Indians (Mumbai, IPL 2014)
Speaking of the greatest upsets, it is not just limited to international cricket, but even in the domestic circuit. While there are countless instances as such, one of the most memorable ones happens to be in the Indian Premier League.
During the 2014 edition, former champion Rajasthan Royals was up against defending champion Mumbai Indians in the group stage’s final game, which had an interesting implication for the teams to ensure playoffs qualification. While all RR needed was a win, MI needed the win within 14.3 overs to qualify.
Winning the toss, MI invited RR to bat first, which seemed to be the wrong decision, as RR posted a challenging total of 189/4, with Sanju Samson (74) and Karun Nair (50) nailing it. As for the reply, MI had no choice but to get off to a blazing start. Although it lost three wickets within the powerplay itself, it was marching ahead at the right pace.
Nonetheless, Corey Anderson made the difference with an unbeaten 95 off just 44 deliveries, slamming nine fours and six sixes. However, the ultimate drama arrived in the final over. With two required off one for MI to qualify, Ambati Rayudu was run out as the RR camp began to celebrate, seemingly sealing its playoffs spot. The umpires then informed that if MI hit a boundary of the following delivery, it would qualify.
RR was into the timid mood again, as James Faulkner had the ball, with Aditya Tare on strike. What followed was out of the world, as a full toss delivery on leg prompted Tare to scoop it over the square-leg boundary for the win as MI sealed its place in the playoffs. The RR players were standstill, discouraged and in disbelief, while Rahul Dravid threw away his cap in frustration, telling the entire story. Meanwhile, it was rejoice for MI, as Tare and Anderson became overnight heroes.
England vs Windies (Kolkata, ICC World T20 2016 final)
Another T20 game in the list, and this one is for ages which took place in the final of the grandest stage, the ICC World T20 2016. England and Windies were set to battle it out, as the former champions looked to add their second title in the bag.
Winning the toss, Windies invited England to bat, which posted an average total of 155/9, thanks to Joe Root‘s 54 and wicketkeeper-batsman Jos Buttler‘s 36. Meanwhile, Dwayne Bravo and Carlos Brathwaite’s three-for gave the English batsmen a hard time on the pitch. Although it certainly looked like a chasable total, it wasn’t easy, considering England’s prolific bowling attack, besides being the final.
Despite getting off to a jittery start during the chase, veteran batsman Marlon Samuels‘ unbeaten 85 ensured to keep Windies in the game throughout. Once again, in this case, it was in the final over where the drama unfolded. Windies needed 19 off the last six deliveries, as English skipper handed the ball to pacer Ben Stokes, who had been tide expensive, having given away 17 from two over until then, while Brathwaite was on strike.
Determined on being the hero, Brathwaite smacked the opening ball of the final over over deep backward square leg, followed by another over long-on. With the equation down to seven from four, England still had it in its stride as all Stokes needed to do, bowl at the right length. Nonetheless, immense pressure, followed by Brathwaite’s relentless approach, got the better of Stokes, as the third ball was again smashed, this time over long-off.
It was all but over for England now, as the equation was down to one from three. Stokes had no other choice but to go for his best in the slimmest of hopes of taking it to the Super-Over. Nevertheless, Brathwaite had it all planned as he scored the winner, smashing it into the night sky again and into the crowd of the iconic Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
The venue and the world yet again witnessed a historic and thrilling final, as the joy of the Windies players knew no bounds. Stokes was down and dejected, not sure if he should blame himself. England had it in its grasp, but Brathwaite just turned out to be too good for Stokes and England, as the cricketing fraternity continues to reel from its aftermath to date.
India vs Australia (Kolkata Test, 2001)
The venue Eden Gardens is indeed iconic for a reason, and this has to be the most iconic of all. As India and Australia were engaged in a three-Test series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, the host was eager to make a statement, even after losing the opening Test by ten wickets in Mumbai. Although the visitor moved in with the upper hand and confidence, it seldom had any clue about the fate that awaited it in Kolkata.
Winning the toss and electing to bat, Australia managed a respectable total of 445, thanks to opener Matthew Hayden’s 97 and skipper Steve Waugh‘s 110, while off-spinner Harbhajan Singh made a statement by becoming the first Indian to claim a Test hat-trick and scripted figures of 7/123.
As the Indians came out to bat, all it could manage was 171, despite VVS Laxman’s spirited 59, while seamer Glenn McGrath claimed a four-for. With the Indian batting order seemingly appearing lacklustre, barring Laxman, the Australians decided to enforce the follow-on and get done with the game quickly.
However, it turned out to be ultimately the opposite of what Australia had expected. The Indians managed to make a swift recovery and were 232/4 at a stage, eyeing lead. It was then the pair of Rahul ‘The Wall’ Dravid and Laxman, who contributed to a record 376-run stand for the fifth wicket, thus tiring out Australia and making it regret the decision of enforcing the follow-on. Eventually, the Indians managed 657/7 and earned a lead of 383.
The lead was a healthy one, but considering the Australian batting order, it was yet chasable. However, the Indians showed faith in their bowlers, especially Harbhajan. And rightfully so, as the off-spinner churned out six. Despite Hayden and Michael Slater getting the right start and contributing to a 74-run opening stand, it all took a fall thereon and the side was bundled out for 212.
The Indians eventually scripted a 171-run win and the rarest of Test wins was ultimately attained by the Indians, with the team following on, managing to bounce back and win it. The Australians body language did not speak well and it somewhat demoralised it in the tour going forward. Nevertheless, it did bring a change in Australia’s tactics, especially considering follow-on. It has been 20 years since, and Australia continues to be apprehensive about enforcing follow-on even today.
Special mention: England vs South Africa (Sydney, World Cup 1992 semis)
If there has to be the greatest upset in world cricket, especially in ODIs, nothing can replace this. During the 1992 World Cup, England clashed against South Africa in the semi-final at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Meanwhile, the tournament was of utmost importance for Proteas, which was coming off a 22-year exile from international cricket.
The tie was rain-threatened, as South Africa won the toss and elected to field first. The English could manage 252/6 in 45 overs, courtesy Graeme Hick’s 83 before the rain forced the innings to end early. As South Africa came out for the chase, it was going at the same pace as England, as it reached 231/6 within the 43rd over, thanks to Andrew Hudson’s 46 and Jonty Rhodes’ 43.
However, it was at the very time when the rain came calling, as the play was interrupted. At that moment, Protea was 231/6, with Brian McMillan and David Richardson at the crease, unbeaten on 21 and 13, respectively, as it looked well on course for its place in the final.
Meanwhile, the rain break lasted for just 12 minutes and the sides were out on the field, ready to go again. However, the number of deliveries had to be curtailed again, and to everyone’s surprise, it happened to be 22 off seven. Notwithstanding, it was later informed to the sides that South Africa needed 22 of one delivery, which was yet incorrect, as it would have been 21 off one.
Judging by modern-day cricket and the Duckworth-Lewis calculation, one would wonder, how on earth is that even possible? While we are here wondering the same, imagine what everyone back then would have been thinking. From match officials to players of both sides and fans, all were in utter shock. Nevertheless, the final delivery from Chris Lewis to McMillan resulted in a single, as England sailed through most unfavourably.
Now, explaining what exactly happened with the revised rate calculation post rain, let me remind you that there was no D/L method in place back then. Instead, a specific rule had been put in place by Australia’s official broadcaster, Channel Nine, which said that specific timing rules had to be adhered to to avoid financial complications.
Meanwhile, the basic common sense for a revised target had gone for a toss in between all these rules. Blame it on the International Cricket Council, the organisers or the broadcasters; it continues to baffle us to date how a rain-interrupted game has the same score in place, with adjustments just being made to the number of deliveries. But, it all failed in front of the corporate demands. As per the current D/L method, England’s revised total should have been 273 in 45 overs, while later, SA’s revised target would have been 257 from 43 overs.
Nonetheless, it was no secret that South Africa was robbed big time of a final spot and a potential title-winning opportunity. Regardless, England lost the final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to Pakistan, as the latter clinched its maiden and its only CWC title to date. In the meantime, Proteas has never really clicked since and has never come close to winning the title.