England’s Super Over victory in the World Cup final brought to an end one of the most close-fought – and controversial – contests in cricket’s history. Was it the greatest game? Well, that’s for you to decide. But there have been a few others that come close. We’ve picked out half-a-dozen ODIs that came down to the tightest of margins, with more than a whiff of controversy about the finishes, too.
Edgbaston, 1999 – Australia tied with South Africa
You know the story of this one. South Africa need nine; Lance Klusener whacks Damien Fleming for two fours. One run off four balls to reach the World Cup final. The third ball goes straight to mid-on, and Darren Lehmann is inches away from running out Allan Donald at the non-striker’s end. And then, off the fourth ball, chaos: Klusener plinks it down the ground and sets off, Donald stays put; limbs fly in different directions, bats are dropped, and eventually Australia seal the run-out for a tie. By virtue of finishing higher in the Super Sixes – because of their head-to-head record in the group stage – they went through to the final. The finest of pre-Super Over margins?
Georgetown, 1999 – West Indies tied with Australia
Bedlam at Bourda. In a rain-reduced 30-over game, Australia had recovered from 119 for 7 thanks to an unbeaten partnership of 49 between Steve Waugh and Shane Warne in a chase of 174. With six balls to go, left-arm spinner Keith Arthurton had only six to defend, but after Waugh hit his first ball for two, he held his nerve brilliantly with four dots in a row. That meant four to win off the last ball, and when Waugh heaved one out towards the fielder at deep midwicket, it looked like West Indies’ game. But by the time the return throw had come in, the raucous crowd had flooded on to the Georgetown pitch. Australia ran two, and Arthurton broke the wicket at the non-striker’s end. Waugh tried to sneak through for a third, by which point the crowd had completely enveloped the ground and taken the stumps with them. More than an hour after the game had finished, the match referee consulted video footage and declared the game a tie, since a third run had been attempted before the invasion.
Sydney, 1992 – England beat South Africa by 19 runs
South Africa needed 22 off 13 balls after Jonty Rhodes had led their recovery at the SCG, but then it started to rain. In a pre-Duckworth-Lewis world, the tournament’s rain rule bizarrely dictated that the target would be adjusted by removing the defending side’s least productive overs. Since England had played out two maidens, the big screen declared that the new equation was 22 off 1 – though it was actually 21, adding to the confusion. South Africa took a single amid boos and jeers after trudging back out, and the victorious England sheepishly celebrated their progress to the final. “Had Martians landed at the SCG,” wrote Martin Johnson in the Independent, “they would have concluded there was no intelligent life on earth and gone home.”
Lahore, 1987 – Pakistan beat West Indies by one wicket
Abdul Qadir’s straight six with 10 needed to win off three balls left Pakistan in a brilliant position to harm West Indies’ chances of qualification in Lahore, and a scampered two off the penultimate ball meant they needed two more to sneak a win. Courtney Walsh steamed into bowl, and non-striker Saleem Jaffar backed up aggressively, trying to sneak whatever advantage he could. Walsh, pulled up in his delivery stride, but rather than running Jaffar out, stood knowingly with his arms crossed. Eventually, Qadir’s mishit flew through the infield for the two runs needed to seal a one-wicket win, but Walsh’s sportsmanship would ultimately be remembered better than the game itself.
Madras, 1987 – Australia beat India by one run
A year on from the tied Test at the same venue, Australia made 270 for 6 batting first in the World Cup opener. But their total had originally been declared as 268, adjusted upwards after a debate as to whether a shot over long-off by Dean Jones had cleared the ropes or not. That decision proved crucial. Maninder Singh – also the man at the crease at the culmination of the tied Test – needed two off the last ball, but was cleaned up by Steve Waugh instead. “In the end the six did make the difference,” recalled Australia coach Bob Simpson. “It may have seemed like good fortune for us, but it was right.”
Melbourne, 1981 – Australia beat New Zealand by six runs
“Let me just tell you what I think about it. I think it was a disgraceful performance… and I think it should never be permitted to happen again.” Richie Benaud’s damning verdict on the infamous final ball of a 1981 ODI at the MCG betrayed a sentiment shared by most of the sporting world. With six needed for a tie and brother Trevor bowling, captain Greg Chappell hatched a plan. Rather than give tailender Brian McKechnie the chance to smear one into the stands, Greg decided to ask Trevor whether he was any good at bowling underarm. “I don’t know,” said Trevor. “Well you’re about to find out,” came the reply. McKechnie blocked the pea-roller, and threw his bat in disgust. The incident provoked uproar, and underarm bowling was soon outlawed.