Some are born with it. Some achieve it with dedication and hard work. For others, it is a way of life – the trait of never giving up despite the chips being down.
Scripting a comeback from the dark abyss of despair is difficult. It requires nerves of steel and an icy determination to battle through the obstacles. Greatness has but a singular measure : winning, and all it takes is that one single moment of brilliance to engineer a turnaround.
Sunil Gavaskar’s epic century in the Queen’s Park Test against the mighty West Indies in 1976 laid the foundation for one of India’s most successful run chases in the history of the game. India’s win in the final of the World T20 against Pakistan in 2007 was also a case of a brilliant recovery after jittery moments.
During a game with Western Australia, the Queensland side bowled out their opponents for just 77. Team captain Rodney Marsh told his players to make the target look as imposing as possible even if defeat was certain, but the fiery Dennis Lillee exhorted his teammates to go out and win the game, and led an inspired WA side to shoot out the astonished Queenslanders (who had Viv Richards and Greg Chappell in their ranks) for a mere 62. That’s the kind of spirit needed to eke out a win if you want it at any cost, without once resorting to illegal or unethical tactics.
Here is a list of the five greatest comebacks in international cricket:
5. Kapil’s heroics (India v/s Zimbabwe, Tunbridge Wells, June 1983)
To this day, modern cricket fanatics lament the fact that no known recordings of this thrilling encounter exist; those who witnessed it 30 years ago can only recall bits and pieces of a game that was instrumental in a young side brave enough to overcome even the mighty West Indies, who were favourites to win a third straight World Cup title.
But the indications of a turnaround were, to the naked eye, not visible initially. Peter Rawson and Kevin Curran had made inroads into the Indian line-up, with the likes of Gavaskar and Srikkanth falling like ninepins. With Yashpal Sharma, Sandeep Patil and Mohinder Amarnath also departing early, it looked like curtains for the team at 17/5.
Then out walked the Haryana Hurricane – skipper Kapil Dev – and proceeded to lash the Nevill Ground like a typhoon unleashed. He smote the bowling to all corners of the park; even the wily John Traicos and the charismatic Duncan Fletcher had no answer to Kapil’s ferocious onslaught. He powered his way to a splendid 175, adding 126 in the undefeated ninth-wicket stand with wicket-keeper Syed Kirmani.
The thrust thus provided, Roger Binny, Madan Lal and Amarnath quickly ran through the opposition, and completed a grand win by 31 runs despite Curran’s solid rearguard action. The momentum gained from this win had, in all likelihood, piloted India to the glittering trophy that year, ending the Calypso dominance.
4. One strike, and they all fall down (New Zealand v/s England, Wellington, February 1978)
48 years and an equal number of Test matches later, the Kiwis finally had something to cheer about when they squared off against England in yet another game in the longest format in February 1978; little did the British know how it would unfold.
At tea on the fourth day, New Zealand looked set for defeat. The legendary Bob Willis had masterminded a collapse of nine Kiwi wickets for just 41 runs, and England needed to score a modest 137 to go 1-0 up in the series.
But the two Richards – Hadlee and Collinge – had a different plan. They ripped apart the English line-up with a fast and furious display of pace bowling in the final session.
Collinge, the beefy left-arm fast bowler, hooked the “big fish”, England skipper Geoff Boycott, with a yorker that cannoned off the batsman’s pads and ricocheted onto his stumps. Fellow opener Brian Rose was bruised and unable to bat further, while the rest of the batting collapsed like a pack of cards to be 53/8 at stumps despite lusty hitting from all-rounder Ian Botham.
After a forty-minute delay the next morning, Hadlee took the last two wickets to finish with yet another ten-wicket haul, overshadowing the efforts of Willis and Chris Old in a game which saw gale-force winds buffeting the ground. New Zealand thus secured their first win in 48 years of playing the British.
3. Bevan turns it on (Australia v/s West Indies, Sydney, January 1996)
Australia always seem to find an answer to the question of having a reliable batsman who can finish games without a fuss. In recent times, it had been Michael Hussey who held the baton – a charge that was passed down to him by another Aussie legend who specialized in the art of close finishes: Michael Bevan.
Paul Reiffel’s medium-pacers had enabled the Kangaroos to restrict the West Indies to 172, with Carl Hooper scoring an unbeaten 93 after his side were precariously placed at 54/5. The game had been reduced to 43 overs a side after nearly two hours were lost due to incessant rain. Shane Warne also turned on the magic to trouble the Calypso kings further, taking three wickets while supporting Reiffel’s efforts.
One would have thought that such a measly total would be a stroll in the park for the Aussies. Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, however, wreaked havoc with their unplayable deliveries, reducing the home team to 38/6 and then to 74/7.
Game over? Not quite. For Bevan strode in and proceeded to play an innings that was remarkably unremarkable. Focusing on placing the ball into the gaps and running the ones and twos, he slowly but surely chiselled away at the target. With Reiffel’s support, the score rose to 157 before the former fell to Phil Simmons.
But a patient Bevan, sweating profusely but refusing to throw in the towel, scored the remaining six runs in the company of ‘professional tailender’ Glenn McGrath, winning the game for his side and remaining undefeated on 78. This led Australians to tag him as the world’s finest limited-overs batsman.
2. Botham’s Ashes (England v/s Australia, Headingley, 1981)
England’s greatest ever all-rounder came into his own with a phenomenal display as he pulled his side back from the brink despite suffering the humiliation of a follow-on.
John Dyson’s hundred laid the platform for a mammoth total, helped in no small part by half-centuries from skipper Kim Hughes and Graham Yallop. Botham was the pick of the bowlers, with a six wicket haul, while Bob Willis went wicketless in the first innings.
The fearsome pace trio of Dennis Lillee, Terry Alderman and Geoff Lawson breathed fire and rained destruction upon a hapless English side, constraining their attempts at gaining a sizable lead by knocking them over for a paltry 174; Botham’s quickfire half-century was the only noteworthy innings.
Hughes enforced the follow on, and very quickly, England were in deep trouble. Graham Gooch fell for a three-ball duck, while the rest of the batsmen struggled to get going, with only Geoffrey Boycott managing an innings of substance. Botham joined the Yorkshireman at the crease, but Alderman took out both Boycott and wicket-keeper Bob Taylor to leave the home side seven wickets down and staring at the possibility of an innings defeat that looked certain with each moment.
Joined by Graham Dilley, ‘Beefy’ remarked: “Right then, let’s have a bit of fun.” He hit out hard, combining well with Dilley and Chris Old, securing the all-important lead for his side, before finishing unbeaten on 149.
Bob Willis then skittled out the Aussies for just 111, earning England an unlikely win. But it was Botham’s innings that engineered the comeback.
1. Blaze of Glory (Australia v/s SA, 5th ODI, Johannesburg, 2006)
A source of constant irritation for the Proteas was the Australians’ habit of calling them ‘chokers’. The 1999 World Cup semi-final fiasco was a slap in the face of the proud Springboks, and the Kangaroos’ apparent stranglehold on them was a bit too much to bear. They were just hoping and waiting for an opportunity to turn the tables.
It arrived on March 12, 2006 at Johannesburg’s ‘Bull Ring’, the New Wanderers Stadium. Both teams had gone into the game with the ODI series tied at 2-2, and both were without the services of their best bowlers – Shaun Pollock (SA) and Glenn McGrath (Aus).
The game turned into a slugfest after Ricky Ponting won the toss and chose to make first use of the wicket. Gilchrist and Katich scored fluent half-centuries, before Ponting unleashed his full repertoire of strokes, muscling his way to a magnificent century. With Mike Hussey’s rapid fifty and quick runs from Andrew Symonds and Brett Lee, Australia broke the 400-run barrier for the first time in ODI cricket, finishing with 434/4.
For reasons best known to him, SA all-rounder Jacques Kallis told his teammates that the Aussies were about 15 runs short – it was a 450-run wicket! Pollock would tell fellow fast bowler Makhaya Ntini that he would be there till the end.
Prophetic? It proved to be.
Early into the chase, South Africa lost Boeta Dippenaar for 1, but Herschelle Gibbs channelled every ounce of energy he could spare into crafting one of his finest performances till date. He shared strong partnerships with skipper Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers. Smith, in particular, responded with a furious innings: perhaps the indignity meted out to his side by his opposite number was the signal for him to go berserk.
However, Michael Clarke brought his side back into the contest by picking up the SA skipper’s wicket, and when both de Villiers and Gibbs fell, it looked like Australia would triumph once again.
Justin Kemp, known for his ability to hit the ball hard, followed Kallis to the pavilion, and the Proteas were now in a pressure-cooker situation. They needed runs, and they needed them fast.
The big-hitting finally came from all-rounder Johannes van der Wath, who had been taken to the cleaners earlier. With Mark Boucher for company, he went for his shots and added a quick 44 for the sixth wicket. Boucher then combined with Roger Telemachus to get his side closer to the target, and South Africa finally got it down to the last over with 7 runs needed, losing Telemachus in the process.
Ponting tossed the ball to Brett Lee for the final strike. His gamble of playing Mick Lewis backfired big-time as the bowler conceded 113 runs in his full quota; he would never play for Australia again
New man Andrew Hall scored a boundary off the second ball after Boucher stole a single off the first. He fell on the third, but Ntini managed to tie the scores with a single to third man.
That gave Boucher the strike to land the death blow – a classic boundary – thus completing his half century and pulling his side over the finish line. The Aussies were inconsolable, the South Africans elated. By far, the greatest ODI match of all time had ended in grand style!