New Delhi: South Africa's proclivity for choking is infamous, but they have also been at the better end of some nail-biting Test and ODI wins since their return to international cricket 20 years ago. Following their famous win over Australia in Cape Town on Friday, after they were bowled out for 96 but ended up chasing 236 with consummate ease, we highlight some memorable thrillers in which South Africa held their nerve - or the opposition blinked, depending on how you see it.
One of South Africa's most famous Test victories. Needing just 117 to win, Australia looked on the way to victory at 51 for 1 before Fanie de Villiers got into the swing of things with three wickets in five balls. Having slumped to 56 for 4 at stumps on day four, Australia proceeded to lose Allan Border in the first over the next morning, bowled by Allan Donald. Steve Waugh, Ian Healy and Shane Warne followed. A young Damien Martyn held his composure for 106 minutes and six singles before, with six runs to get, he chased a wide half volley and was caught by Andrew Hudson at cover. He didn't play for six years after that.
This game was meandering along at a dull pace until Chris Harris and Daniel Vettori combined to set up a tight finish. Seemingly out of the contest at 111 for 7, chasing 175, New Zealand rallied to leave the target at 35 off five overs, 16 off two and six off the final ball - which Harris edged for four. Crucial to South Africa's squeaky win was their wicketkeeper Dave Richardson, who twice saved two edges running away to the boundary in the last three overs.
In one of the most exciting matches to be played in Australia, South Africa beat New Zealand by two runs. Defending 300, South Africa had New Zealand on the mat at 124 for 6 in the 31st over before Chris Cairns and Adam Parore nearly pulled off an upset win. Off the second-last ball, Dion Nash upper cut Shaun Pollock to third man, the ball hit the boundary rope on the full, and was called four. Needing three off the last ball, Nash skied to the deep and South Africa breathed easy.
South Africa and Pakistan were prime contenders for the World Cup final, and this match between the two group toppers at Trent Bridge proved to be a cracker. A target of 66 from ten overs became 41 off 27 balls, and the first telling blow came when Shoaib Akhtar - who had been instructed by Wasim Akram not to bowl short to Lance Klusener - banged one in short and Klusener edged it for four. That was enough for Klusener to open up, and he pulled Shoaib for six. Clearly rattled, Shoaib let fly four leg-byes in the same over. With two needed for victory with three wickets in hand, Klusener was dropped in the deep by Saeed Anwar and ran the required two runs. Years later, Akram was able to laugh about Shoaib's bullishness. "That's what you get with Shoaib," he said. "Sometimes he can be brilliant, but then there are times when you tell him to do something and he goes and does the opposite."
After an innings defeat at Galle, South Africa bounced back with a slender win in a Test that was gripping from first ball to last. Two sub-standard innings from South Africa had left the home side to chase 177 for a series win. Instead, they lost Marvan Atapattu (a first-innings centurion) and Sanath Jayasuriya first ball each, and at lunch were 41 for 4. Once Russell Arnold's rearguard was snapped on 40 and Jonty Rhodes plucked a superb reflex catch to get Arjuna Ranatunga for a dogged 88, South Africa sensed a comeback. Needing 16 to win with three wickets remaining, Sri Lanka failed to cope with South Africa's disciplined bowling and inspired fielding, and the visitors won by seven runs.
Cape Town, 2000
By 2000 Klusener had earned a reputation of being a thorn in New Zealand's flesh and here he was a prickly customer, hitting Shayne O'Connor through midwicket for four to give South Africa victory by three wickets to cap a 5-0 whitewash. South Africa needed 71 from the last ten overs and 49 off the last five, and got over the line thanks to Klusener's heroics. Ably assisted by debutant Shafiek Abrahams, who smartly rotated the strike, Klusener targeted the short straight boundaries. With the equation seven off two balls, Klusener clubbed two boundaries to leave New Zealand in a daze.
Up against West Indies in a Champions Trophy fixture at the Sinhalese Sports Club, South Africa snatched a thrilling two-wicket win off the last ball of the match. Needing 13 to win off the final over - bowled by Merv Dillon - Pollock swung the first ball, a low full toss, over long-on for six but was out off the next. Next to go was Klusener, with South Africa left to get three runs off two balls. The sixth ball was called wide, and Nicky Boje scampered a bye to leave tail-ender Alan Dawson to face the final ball. With the scores level, Dawson slashed a full ball outside off down to third man for four, cuing manic celebrations in the South African dressing room.
A classic tussle between South Africa and Sri Lanka saw the hosts emerge triumphant by the margin of three wickets. Four unfriendly yet engaging days led to a compelling conclusion, in which South Africa ended up chasing a small target in panicky manner. They began the day by taking four wickets for 29 runs - aided by a howler of a decision by umpire Russell Tiffin to send back Mahela Jayawardene - and set themselves 121 to win. Chaminda Vaas removed Graeme Smith first ball, Dilhara Fernando grabbed four wickets after lunch, and South Africa had slumped to 73 for 6. Somehow, Neil McKenzie (39) and Mark Boucher (22 not out) held it together to script a tense victory.
With seven balls remaining, West Indies, chasing 285, were well poised for a win on 281 for 6. Even a wicket off the final ball of the penultimate over didn't really send jitters down the home side's spines. But what happened next was stunning. Needing just four runs off the final over with three wickets in hand, West Indies ended up losing the match by one run as fast bowler Charl Langeveldt claimed his maiden hat-trick.
The first two balls of the over yielded singles before the panic set in. Ian Bradshaw swung and missed and was bowled; Daren Powell did the same; and Corey Collymore was rapped flush on the pads by an inswinger. With the most improbable of hat-tricks, South Africa had won the match by one run and with it the series.
Afterwards, West Indies coach Bennett King was left fuming. "The instruction was to hit the ball and try and give the strike over to Dwayne (Bravo)," King was quoted as saying by The Nation. "It just highlights some of the experience of the boys and some of the thinking and their process that needs to change."
Arguably the greatest ODI of all time. On a belter of track, Australia became the first team in cricket's history to cross 400 in an ODI … and ended up losing. Records tumbled in this match: highest (and second-highest) total; fastest (and second-fastest) international 150; most expensive bowling figures; most runs in boundaries, most runs in an ODI. This epic match saw a scintillating 175 from Herschelle Gibbs, a brutish 90 from Smith, a handy cameo from Johan van der Wath, and Mark Boucher's nerveless half-century steal a South African victory with a ball to spare. An unforgettable match.
At the scene of their most famous choke, Edgbaston, South Africa exorcised some ghosts by winning their first Test series in England for 33 years. Leading from the front, Smith carried his bat through South Africa's chase of 281 for an unbeaten 154, an excellent innings that displayed his bloody-mindedness. Truly, there have been finer centuries in the final innings of Test match and Smith rightly termed it a personal best. On a wearing and turning surface on which the bowlers' rough outside off stump had created problems, Smith's determination to succeed transcended anything that England could throw at him.