Allan Donald runs past Lance Klusener

Edgbaston, 1999: the run-out that changed South Africa's script

© PA Photos

The Jury's Out

What was cricket's biggest heartbreak?

The pain of failure, the burn of defeat: five writers pour their hearts out

Australia v South Africa
Edgbaston, 1999

By Tom Eaton

It hurt so much because we knew so little.

In the years afterwards, we massaged away the disappointment and anger with cynicism. We told ourselves the result had been inevitable. South Africa in the knockout phase of a World Cup? Against a struggling giant they had failed to send home four days earlier? It could only have ended how it ended. Only a rube could have believed any different.

But back in June of 1999, South Africans were still rubes.

We didn't know what choking was. We didn't know that our captain was a crook. We didn't know that we needed to be cynical and to expect the worst at World Cups. And so we allowed ourselves to hope. And got crucified.

South African fans have never let facts get in the way of their anger, and the "choker" narrative has become an interesting bit of revisionist history. Ask most local fans about South Africa's record at World Cups and you'll hear that the Proteas have "always" been terrible when it mattered most.

But on the morning of that semi-final at Edgbaston, we had a far more reassuring view of the past. As Hansie Cronje won the toss and elected to field, we could be content with our team's World Cup history, perhaps even modestly proud. After all, the first campaign had ended bizarrely but with standing ovations and tears of joy in the dressing room. As for the second, well, it had taken a genius - Brian Lara - to end our hopes. (It was only after Edgbaston that it became fashionable to dwell on past South African failures: these days we accept that it was West Indies' part-time spin that wrecked us in Karachi in 1996, but in 1999 such depressing thoughts had not yet become de rigueur.)

We didn't know what choking was. We didn't know that we needed to be cynical and to expect the worst at World Cups. And so we allowed ourselves to hope

The past wasn't yet a ruin, and the future seemed golden. The Proteas were the best ODI team in the world. Cronje was a visionary, a fact underlined by the Luddites at the ICC when they asked him to remove the earpiece that allowed him to take instructions from the coach. (Back then it never occurred to us that he might be taking instructions from anyone else. Rubes.)

A target of 214 looked gettable. In Leeds, four days earlier, the South Africans had subdued Glenn McGrath and taken 271 off an almost identical Australian attack. Even more extraordinary, Daryll Cullinan had survived 32 balls from Shane Warne. All we had to do was keep our heads and-

Seventeen years later, most of the feelings are gone. There is no twinge when I think of Warne decapitating the South African batting order, no residual frustration when I recall Jacques Kallis scoring at three singles an over as the required rate began to creep upwards. I don't remember what I felt when Shaun Pollock or Mark Boucher or Steve Elworthy got out.

But then I remember Lance Klusener. And I think of something I once read about revolutions. Violent revolutions, some suggest, are not a response to oppression. People may be miserable or angry but they seldom rise up against despots. So what is the trigger? The answer: disappointment.

Hope kindled can be painful. But to have it held to your face, almost within reach, and then to have it snuffed out - that's a special torture.

I don't hold it against Allan Donald that he dropped his bat. He was a specialist No. 11 who should never have been there. But there is a primitive part of me that still can't forgive Klusener. Not because he didn't do enough, but because he did too much. He didn't know the choking narrative. He didn't know the result was inevitable. He fought and he hoped.

And that, for me, was the greatest heartbreak.

Tom Eaton is a columnist, screenwriter and novelist from Cape Town


England v Pakistan
Lord's, 2010

By Daniel Harris

Sport is an amazing thing, a cacophony of frivolity, intensity and identity. A constant in perpetual flux, it elevates and absorbs our lives so that its horrors are our horrors and its joys our joys. It is ours.

Amir walks back after his dismissal on day four of the Test: without him (and Asif), cricket has been poorer and richer

Amir walks back after his dismissal on day four of the Test: without him (and Asif), cricket has been poorer and richer © Getty Images

Within that sweet spot lies the peculiar concoction of opposites that is cricket, at once varied and repetitive, fast and slow, comforting and dangerous. Somehow it is far less partisan than other team sports; I say somehow because, unlike those other team sports, its conflicts are born of imperialism, racism and war; real bad things rather than the imagined irrelevances that define most rivalries.

In cricket it is possible not only to admire but to adore the feats of other teams, regardless of their impact on your own. You need not come from Pakistan to yearn for the thrill of Pakistan pakistaning, fragility and bravado in perfect disharmony.

So watching Mohammad Asif work England over, watching Mohammad Asif work England's greatest ever batsman over, watching Mohammad Asif work everyone over - was not just a buzz but a celebration. Everything was in him - old ball, new ball, pace, bounce, seam and swing - but what stood out above all else was the guile that manifested as mischief. Batsmen were there to look stupid and we were there to look at them looking stupid. Look at them looking stupid! Asif was jock and swot, athlete and aesthete, master and mastermind. He probably still is.

And then there is - there was, there is again - Mohammad Amir. Young, tall, lefty and fast, how not to be in awe of that little lot? Though not thumped by genius like Asif, few have been so good so young, and in sport that matters. Watching talent explode, develop and fulfil is the nearest thing to parenthood that isn't parenthood that we wish was parenthood. The downside, of course, is the disappointment.

By the time the two were caught spot-fixing, Asif had already wandered well over the loveable-rogue line, such that his involvement wasn't especially surprising. But then, even Amir's involvement, though tragic and not entirely his own fault, wasn't that surprising: humans have messed with everything since the dawn of time, of course they mess with something as piddling and lucrative as sport.

Watching talent explode, develop and fulfil is the nearest thing to parenthood that isn't parenthood that we wish was parenthood. The downside, of course, is the disappointment

Except, it's always surprising. Sport is best friend and casual acquaintance, marriage and affair, homemaker and soulmate, encompassing the best of all and the worst of none. It is better than a few extra quid, it earns you a few extra quid, and is not worth risking for a few extra quid - especially if you are established, like Asif, even if you come from poverty, like Amir.

Sport is, by its nature, a rebellious activity, humans attacking science and duping authority for the pleasure of crushing other humans. These are realities with which cricket has always struggled, but in the end it's no different to anything else: when the homilies, elegies and eulogies are done, it's still only cricket, which is still only sport.

In which context, general cheating is entertaining at worst and inspired at best; it is no big deal and not much of our business. Players owe us nothing but they owe themselves, their family and their team everything, and their conduct in this aspect reflects on no one but them. We can comment but we cannot judge.

But there is a difference between cheating at the game and cheating the game. Cheating the game is neither entertaining nor inspired and not a private matter. We need to believe in our sport because we need to believe in our lives, so we are entitled to judge - and to feel - when they are desecrated. Their treachery hurt.

Without Asif and Amir, cricket has been poorer and richer, sadder and happier, changed - and, most importantly - identical. It is still ours.

Daniel Harris is a writer. @DanielHarris


New Zealand v Australia
Wellington, 2010

By Iain O'Brien

The Basin Reserve, as ever, is postcard perfect. Even more so as the sky is pure pale blue with only the slightest wispy white blemishes stretched and shorn across it. The wind is, extraordinarily, non-existent. It is a perfect day in Wellington. And you can't beat Wellington on a great day.

Wellington 2010: who's missing?

Wellington 2010: who's missing? © Getty Images

It is a perfect day for Test cricket. The visitors, Australia, on the museum side of the ground, have almost finished their warm-ups, as have New Zealand on the Embankment side. It's time to toss.

Daniel Vettori spins the coin, Ricky Ponting calls correct and Australia bat first.

I'm nervous. A Basin Reserve Test is always a special occasion. A Test at my home ground. Playing my whole career for Wellington. Running into the gusty northwester to bowl, and watching the rain lash the viewing-room windows when the wind turned from the south. Eating toasted sandwiches, drinking coffee and sitting in the dungeon changing rooms, all idiosyncratic. One of the best grounds in the world to call home.

Winning a Basin Reserve Test comes with a special, now not-so-secret, celebration that involves a limo, a ride to the top of Mt Victoria, champagne and cigars. Special times. Although, no matter what happens in this Test, there is absolutely no way I'll be in a limo, celebrating with the bowlers and wicketkeeper.

I haven't been dropped. I haven't been left out. I'm not injured. It's 11.30pm where I am. It's dark, rainy and cold outside. I'm sitting on my couch. Wrapped up in a blanket. I have a glass of wine sitting next to me, white, no bubbles. Television on and I hurt. Not a cricket niggle, nor an injury, not the pain of missing out on team selection, but the pain of wishing and wanting to be there, at the Basin, playing for New Zealand in front of my home crowd and my parents, who always came to watch. The pain of knowing you could have been there, attempting something special.

The anthems are playing and I find myself wiping a tear from my cheek. I didn't think I'd feel this way. I really didn't.

My chest was tight, a strange constriction, collapsing my heart. It can't be a real physical thing but I can feel it. It's happening. The feeling of loss. The breaking of a heart.

I remember trying to talk to my team-mates after my last Test in the changing room. I couldn't. Words wouldn't come out

Three months prior I had played my last Test for New Zealand and retired from international cricket. It was a shock to all but my wife and my parents, who had known for a while. I had been playing in a series where I was performing as well as I ever had. I was bowling as quick as I ever had. I was bowling maidens, taking wickets, having success with the team and loving it.

But I knew I wanted something more than playing cricket for New Zealand, more than wearing my Black Cap, and time was running out.

Four months prior to that, in August, I decided that the three-Test series versus Pakistan, finishing mid-December 2009, would be my last. I would be home for Christmas. Home was now in the UK. Home will always be New Zealand, but we had turned a house into a home and this is where life felt right.

I had got to the point in my life where I wanted to start a family more than keep living across two countries and seeing my wife for about ten weeks a year and playing for New Zealand. Seeing my New Zealand team-mates start families, seeing their children in hotels and at grounds, was slowly eating at me. I wasn't getting any younger, nor was my wife.

With the schedule as it was, my wife pursuing her career in the UK, me pursuing mine all over the world, something had to give. So an easy decision in the grand scheme of things, but also the toughest one I'd have to make regarding cricket, was made.

I remember trying to talk to my team-mates after my last Test in the changing room. I couldn't. Words wouldn't come out. Something I had worked so hard to get to, worked hard to stay there, worked hard to improve, come back from injuries, dealing with a brain that was never "normal", was over. My heart broken, my body wasn't that far behind, and it was now time to try to start a family.

So I sat there watching that Basin Test with sadness, a tinge of jealousy (mostly because there was no wind and New Zealand were bowling first, oh how I dreamed of days like that at the Basin), but I also knew I had made the right decision. I've never doubted my decision, and the two amazing kids I have now just reinforce it every day.

Former New Zealand fast bowler Iain O'Brien played 22 Tests in the second half of the 2000s


Older brothers v youngest brother
Driveways and back gardens, London, 1980s

By Imran Yusuf

Guillermo Arriaga is a well-known Mexican writer who, I am confident, knows nothing of cricket. Thanks to Google Alerts, we can presume his interest has now been kindled. Amigo, welcome to the fold.

Real cricket heartbreak is best achieved in a backyard setting

Real cricket heartbreak is best achieved in a backyard setting © Getty Images

What Arriaga does know about is heartbreak. His stories pierce through the murkiest arteries to reach the core of human tragedy. Watching an interview with him on TV a few years ago, I caught a glimpse into how he pulls off this soul surgery.

Arriaga told the audience that whenever he struggles with plot, he goes back to William Shakespeare. What the Englishman did, Arriaga pointed out, was write characters who were related: Hamlet's deliberations centre on avenging the murder of his father; Lear's troubles spring from relationships with his daughters; Richard III usurps his brother. "The closer the characters are," Arriaga teaches us, "the greater the conflict."

Which is why my biggest cricketing heartbreaks have occurred at home, with the neighbours peeking out from the corners of top windows, in fear of their daisies, geraniums and double-glazing. I refer, of course, to epic grudge matches in driveways and back gardens - against members of my own family.

As a supporter of Pakistan, you would think the inner tears would have swelled most when, say, I was 16 years old and skipped along on a bright Sunday morning to a World Cup final at Lord's, only to see, in front of my innocent eyes, a merciless sporting massacre. (In truth, I was sadder about what I had to face the next day: rather non-innocently, I had not revised for Monday's four GCSE exams, which included AdMaths.)

This aside, a Pakistani cellar of heartbreaks is packed with possibilities: in the last few years alone, perhaps Misbah's scoop-a-poop, or Amir's overstep, or the depressing daily reminder of that old philosophical conundrum, the problem of evil (otherwise known as the Pakistan Cricket Board).

Cricket can be saddening, but when cricket incorporates the family, that's where - as with most things - you'll find the biggest heartbreak (and the most anarchic comedy)

But no, none of these will do. Of far more heartbreaking consequence has been my position as the youngest brother of four. Every tape-ball five-over smash in which I fell two runs short, scampering for the garden chair only to see a successful run-out fired in from the rockery, every afternoon-long series in which I had an older brother down to his last wicket but he somehow Chinese-cut his way to victory, every one of these restorations of the natural order - the big brother wins - is a permanent scar on all four chambers of my pumping organ.

With this in mind, I have often wondered about top-class internationals and whether there's a correlation between cricketing success and having older or younger brothers or no brothers at all. Does it help or does it hinder? Perhaps the new uberclass of data crunchers steadily taking over all analysis and strategy of the game might do a study. (Enjoy the Cricket Monthly while you can, by the way; in ten years it will be written in binary.)

Anyway, no need to verify this: it is a fascinating spectacle when brothers appear at the top level contemporaneously. What one observes, I think, are familiar archetypes. Think of the classic oppositionalism of the Waughs (steel versus finesse, as if each defined himself against the other). Or the see-sawing of the Pathans (they never seemed to succeed at the same time, as if, deferentially, not wanting to get in the other's way). And of course the Akmals: like many siblings, they expressed the same essential failure in slightly differing forms, displaying a rainbow of delinquency. Cricket can be saddening, but when cricket incorporates the family, that's where - as with most things - you'll find the biggest heartbreak (and the most anarchic comedy).

And so back to Arriaga, and so back to Shakespeare. Fraternity was always the odd one out alongside liberty and equality: an imposter, a wolf in sheep's clothing. Macbeth can kill any old stranger, you see, but it only really means something when he murders his best friend.

No wonder cricket's greatest, most heartbreaking rivalry is India versus Pakistan.

Imran Yusuf is a writer based in Karachi


Australia v India
Johannesburg, 2003

By Soumya Bhattacharya

It was a funny old tournament, the 2003 World Cup. India went into it riding on the quadrennial paroxysm of fervour, hope, confidence and a sense of entitlement. This must be our year. Again. Two games on, the mood was quite the opposite.

In their opening match, India beat Netherlands but failed to bat 50 overs. In the next match they were all out for 125 in 41.4 overs against Australia, losing by nine wickets with 166 balls remaining. Across the country, the players were vilified. The third game, against Zimbabwe, was the first time India batted out their 50 overs. They then rattled through the Zimbabwe batting and won the game by 83 runs.

Fat lady sings, India wail: Australia take the last wicket to win the 2003 World Cup

Fat lady sings, India wail: Australia take the last wicket to win the 2003 World Cup © Getty Images

Something shifted, as it so often does in sport. Call it acclimatisation, form, fortune, momentum, but it is elusive, this thing that shifts and transforms a team after one such victory. After the Zimbabwe game, India reeled off seven consecutive wins. Memorably, England and Pakistan were laid to waste. Having trounced Kenya in the semi-final, here they were in the final in Johannesburg, facing a colossus of a team, the best in contemporary cricket, and one of the greatest sides of all time.

The paroxysm of fervour, hope, confidence and sense of entitlement had been renewed. This must be our year.

Could it, could it just, be 1983 all over again, when India beat West Indies - the best team in contemporary cricket, and one of the greatest sides of all time - in the final? In the living room of my parents' home in Kolkata, where my parents, wife and I settled down to watch, hope crackled like electricity. As it did in thousands of bars, clubs, living rooms and shanties across India.

And then Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist decided to play Bonnie and Clyde. Eighty came up in the first ten overs, a veritable blizzard of runs in days as yet unaccustomed to T20. At the end of 30 overs, Australia had cantered to 184 for 2, Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn determined to prove that their remake of Bonnie and Clyde was no less brutal than that of the openers. Ponting played one of the great World Cup-final innings, 140 not out from 121 balls with eight sixes and four fours. Australia racked up 359 for 2. No side had hitherto scored more in a World Cup final.

Our optimism battered, we sighed. Ice cubes chiming, we made cocktails. We thought back to the NatWest Series final against England less than a year ago, in which India had overhauled England's 325. We did it then, you see. We talked of Sachin Tendulkar in consecutive games against Australia in Sharjah in 1998. In sport, we can never discount the occurrence of the improbable. Nothing is impossible.

Cricket can be saddening, but when cricket incorporates the family, that's where - as with most things - you'll find the biggest heartbreak (and the most anarchic comedy)

Hope may have been on life support, but it had not been extinguished.

Tendulkar made 4. Sourav Ganguly had a bit of a go. Rahul Dravid, polished and purposeful, strode to 47. Virender Sehwag, like a buccaneer in an RL Stevenson book read in boyhood, scored 82. But with seven down for 209 in the 36th over and all the recognised batsmen out, hope decided to curl up and die.

Later, as the darkness thickened, and I tried to put my 18-month-old daughter to sleep, I realised that I did not in the least feel angry at the outcome. There was no shame in losing to the best team in the world. It was just that I so desperately wanted this particular India side to win the World Cup. More than the side that did next win it, in 2011. This was my team: led by a flinty Ganguly under whom India had begun to win matches away from home; illuminated by Tendulkar, Dravid and Sehwag; and with Zaheer Khan, Javagal Srinath and Harbhajan Singh leading the bowling. Add Anil Kumble, who was left out for the final, and VVS Laxman, not included in the World Cup squad, and you have my all-time favourite India team. This was the team that I most identified with, most admired.

This was not the sort of heartbreak engendered by GR Viswanath, in his final Test, batting at No. 6 and making a ponderous, unlovely 10. This was the sort of heartbreak engendered because it rendered painfully real the cliché, so near and yet so far.

Soumya Bhattacharya's most recent book is After Tendulkar. He is the editor of Hindustan Times, Mumbai