13 years since the Proteas '438 game' changed cricket history
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13 years since the Proteas '438 game' changed cricket history

I remember as a young boy learning multiples of five by watching One Day International cricket. I am from the Jonty Rhodes generation. As young fans, we played cricket in the garden, performed international standard backward point catches into the pool on hot summer days and always made sure we had as many grass stains on our shorts after PE and cricket training as possible, sliding in the field to stop fours and making sure that singles never turned into twos.

Herschelle-Gibbs-AFP-438
ALEXANDER JOE / AFP
ODI cricket was a different game in the 1990s compared to what the children of today grow up watching.

A team batting first would be happy with 250 runs on the board after 50 overs.

Calculating run-rates for a good score was easy. After 10 overs, you would be happy with 50 on the board. Just make sure you have some wickets in hand so you can have a crack at the death and maybe double your score after 30 overs.

But ODI cricket changed its tune when the T20 format was introduced. "Twenty overs of slogging" and "they don't even play proper cricket shots anymore" is a standard response from the older generations of cricket supporters.

The style of T20 cricket eventually rubbed off on ODI and Test cricket. Today, defending a score below 300 in 50 overs is a tough assignment. And the five day game is a lot more 'thrilling' from a run scoring perspective as well. Three or four runs per over is not uncommon.

13 years ago today, South Africa rewrote cricket's history books -- against the leading team in the world.

I remember watching the Proteas taking on Australia at the Wanderers in Johannesburg.

The Aussies batted first and put on an incredible 434/4 in 50 overs. I could not work out the required run-rate fast enough. It was more than 250 in 50 overs, more than that magic number of five runs an over that I had learnt as a youngster watching Rhodes, Andrew Hudson and Peter Kirsten on television. It was even more than 400 -- a whopping eight runs an over.

Ricky Ponting smashed 164 runs off 105 balls. I have seen whole teams get bowled out for less than that!

How was South Africa ever going to win this match?

Along with most supporters, I felt the Proteas would get humiliated. Surely we would get bowled out inside 30 overs trying to do the impossible, trying to hit good balls for four or six? That is risky cricket, it does not work. I did not know if I would be able to watch the innings from start to finish.

I even considered relinquishing control of the remote, "watch whatever you want." Would I be able to say those words?

But South Africa proved the world wrong.

Herschelle Gibbs happened.

Gibbs, who blasted 175 off 111 balls, together with Graeme Smith, who muscled 90 off 55, set the tone for a successful run chase.

But even with the foundation at the top of the order, surely chasing down 435 could not be done?

I remember changing my opinion during our innings. "Maybe we will get close and walk off the pitch having fought a good fight. Anything over 400 would be respectable," I thought.

But no, South Africa had other ideas.

Middle and lower order batsmen made sure Gibbs' and Smith's momentum remained. Quick fire scores of close to or over a run a ball meant we were in with a shout until the dying moments.

Wicket-keeper Mark Boucher was his usual gritty self. The bulldog in the lower order kept the tail-enders in the game by scoring an important 50 not out off 43 balls.

The cricket I watched 13 years ago was not the cricket I watched as a boy at primary school. Every ball had now become a run scoring opportunity and improvising shots was almost expected.

We would get shouted at by our coaches at school for trying to be like Rhodes, sweeping the ball while down on one knee or even attempting a reverse sweep in the nets. Only in the nets. You did not do that in an actual game.

I can only imagine what the coaches of today's young players have to deal with. How have the likes of Gibbs, Ponting, AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli and Chris Gayle - to name but a few - changed the game? It does not matter if a fast bowler is letting it go at close to 150kmph, if it there to hit, hit it. Or better yet, go down on one knee and help the ball on its way over the keeper to the boundary for four - professional teams do not employ a backstop - that is money for jam.

That is if you do not mind risking a total blazer to the face, of course.

Somehow South Africa managed to get close to Australia's record-breaking first innings score.

How disappointing would it have been if the teams ended up on the same score?

Makhaya Ntini, a crowd favourite, but proper number 11, landed up on strike in the final over. He scored his most important single in ODI cricket when he managed to play Aussie quick, Brett Lee down to third man to level the scores and put Boucher back on strike.

Boucher hit the next ball for four, bringing down the curtain on arguably the greatest match in ODI history.

The Proteas managed 438/9 with one ball to spare.

South Africa had done the unthinkable.

Although scores of 400 plus are still quite rare in ODI cricket, especially in matches featuring two top-tier nations, the game has been turned on its head.

Only one match at the 1992 Cricket World Cup featured scores of more than 300.

Will higher scoring matches be witnessed in ODI cricket in the future? Most probably.

But the '438 game' helped usher in a new approach to the game. That approach, for me at least, is that cricket is about flare and improvisation. The basics might remain the same, but you cannot compare modern day ODI cricket to the game when South Africa was first re-introduced to the global arena post-isolation.

Back then, our hero was a magician in the field. Rhodes would save runs by throwing himself around the field. He forced wickets by taking aerial catches and creating run-out opportunities when none existed when the batsmen set-off for a single.

Today's heroes are the rock stars at the wicket who find ways to pierce the inner field or create boundaries off even the most potent deliveries.

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