The countdown has begun as the eighth edition of ICC Champions Trophy is around the corner. Eight teams will fight out a battle to just have their hands on the coveted trophy in England from June 1. Going back to 1998 when then International Cricket Council (ICC) President, Jagmohan Dalmiya, created a 50-over tournament, primarily to raise funds for ICC and spread awareness of the game in non-Test playing nations. It was inaugurated as ICC Knockout Trophy in 1998 and was renamed to Champions Trophy in 2002. Ever since its inception, it has been played every two years. The first edition of the tournament eventually ended doing wonders for two countries – South Africa and Bangladesh.
The journey from Sharjah to Dhaka…
Keeping in mind the vision of Jagmohan Dalmiya of pumping cash and promoting cricket in small fledgling cricket countries, in January 1998, Florida (US) and then Sharjah (UAE), was chalked out initially to host the maiden edition of Knockout Trophy. However, not many were in the favour to travel to those parts of the world for a game of cricket. Towards June-July same year, the ICC then moved the whole show to Dhaka, another emerging cricketing nation that was yet to receive the coveted Test-playing status.
Immediately after ICC’s decision to host the Knockout Trophy in Bangladesh, the country was hit by severe floods in August that killed 500+ people and had caused damages of worth millions of dollars. There were talks about transferring the tournament from Dhaka to India before Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) provided assurance for organising it and promised to donate 10% of the gate money to the Prime Minister’s Fund for flood relief. Since Dhaka was already the third venue after Florida and Sharjah were rejected, some sides by then had lost interest in their participation. The countries such as England ended up sending a second tier playing XI in Knockout Trophy 1998.
Fortunately for Dhaka, the floods did not hamper the commencement of the Wills International Cup, also known as the Knockout Trophy 1998. As per the schedule, the tournament started on October 24. New Zealand and Zimbabwe had played the pre-quarterfinal before the first quarterfinal took place the very next day. Since the format of the tournament was a direct knockout, the total eight matches were compressed in nine days and that amplified the excitement in the city of Dhaka. All the initial hurdles of the tournament were compensated by the massive crowds that flocked into the Bangabandhu National Stadium, even when Bangladesh was not a part of the tournament.
Knockout Trophy – as it happened
At that time, there were nine Test-playing nations and only eight countries could participate in the tournament – which meant the bottom two teams would have to play a qualifier to determine the final eight teams.
The tournament started with a bang as New Zealand hung on an absolute cliff-hanger to beat Zimbabwe and earned an entry into quarterfinals. Chris Harris smashed a quickfire 37 and steered his team safely to the shore in the penultimate over. The next day, on October 25, a full-fledged South Africa took on the relatively new English side, led by Adam Hollioake. South Africa’s victory in the opener by six wickets was the first of many more one-sided wins in the Wills Cup.
In another match, Sachin Tendulkar’s composed batting and intelligent bowling won a cracking game against Steve Waugh’s Australia. India were struggling at 7 for 2, but Sachin didn’t lose his nerve and motored the innings all his own to score one of the greatest one-day knocks ever to be played in Dhaka. When the Indian captain threw the ball to Sachin, he scripted another magic by fetching four crucial wickets.
India beat Australia to advance to the semifinals. Their contenders in the semifinal would be a fragile West Indian side who outclassed Pakistan courtesy of a dominating knock from an unknown Philo Wallace took Wasim Akram, Azhar Mahmood and Saqlain Mushtaq to the cleaners. West Indies put up a fighting total which the Aamer Sohail-led Pakistan failed to chase and returned home.
Road to South Africa’s first victory in an ICC event.
After the quarter-finals went smoothly without any interruption from the rain gods, the first semi-final witnessed continuous drizzle and that meant the game would be delayed by two hours, becoming a 39-over match. Considering the slippery surface and wet ball would make batting difficult, the Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga won the toss and put the Proteas to bat first. Chaminda Vaas gave Sri Lanka an excellent start when he made a breakthrough in the third over. He removed South African opener Mike Rindel cheaply for just eight runs and left South Africa at 12 for 1.
Nuwan Zoysa was the second Lankan bowler to pick a wicket. He dismissed Nicky Boje when South Africans had 55 runs on the board. The Proteas were suddenly under pressure when Zoysa struck again in the same over and removed wicketkeeper-batsman Mark Boucher for a golden duck. The turning point happened when Jacques Kallis walked in to bat. His knock of 100-ball 113, that contained five sixes and five fours, renewed South Africa’s innings. His crucial stand of 81 runs for the fifth wicket with skipper Hansie Cronje helped South Africa put up a competitive total of 240 runs in 39 overs.
Prior to Sri Lanka’s batting in the second innings, further five overs were snipped off Sri Lanka’s innings and the target was revised to 224. They couple of quick wickets, courtesy of Steve Elworthy’s disciplined fast bowling and that led to an abrupt dip in Sri Lanka’s confidence that eventually cost them the game. After the fall of Sanath Jayasuriya in the sixth over, South Africa made a breakthrough regularly every two overs and the match was wrapped up in 24 overs. South Africa thrashed Sri Lanka by 92 runs, by D/L method, and became the first finalist of Knockout trophy 1998.
West Indies advance to the finals
Meanwhile, West Indies beat India in the second semifinal. Carl Hooper took a stunning catch to dismiss Sachin early and the run-scoring momentum of India was dented. Sourav Ganguly and Robin Singh’s brilliant knocks helped India to post 242 for 6 in 50 overs, a challenging total in those days. But Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Brian Lara and Keith Atherton’s composure propelled West Indies in the finals.
It was a day/night match where South Africa won the toss and had elected to bowl first. The West Indian opener, Philio Wallace, took his side off to a flying start in the vital final match in Dhaka. However, his blazing innings of 102-ball 103 was not supported by his teammates who went on throwing away their wickets. With three balls remaining, West Indians were bundled out for 245 runs. In reply, the South African openers, Rindel and Daryll Cullinan put their side ahead of the asking rate before Arthurton ran both the batsman out.
There was a concern for South Africa at 137 for 5 in 26.5 overs but their chase was revived by all-rounders they had down the order. Moreover, their skipper, Cronje, stood strong to lead his team successfully on the other side of the line. He remained unbeaten on 61 off 77 balls as South Africa triumphed in the inaugural ICC Knockout Trophy in 1998.
Yes, South Africa does have an ICC trophy in their cabinet; in fact they were the first side to triumph in the Champions Trophy. Since the tournament was played in a non-Test playing country like Bangladesh, South Africa was among the nations who did not send a journalist to cover the event. Little did Cricket South Africa and their journalist know, their wait for another historic moment in South African cricket would go on to seem like everlasting.
The tournament was a great platform for Bangladesh to show the world about her abilities to host any mega events successfully and advertise the passionate Bangladeshi fans in the international arena. Bangladesh conquered flood and other setbacks to host the event and earned accolades from the pundits all over the world. Despite being a non-test playing nation, Bangladesh proved their worth as a cricket-loving nation and it also conveyed a message to others, the Tigers are ready to take bigger challenges in upcoming days.