The Alan Dawson Gardens is a principal member of the South African Landscape Institute, a firm specialising in residential landscaping, penthouse gardens, in-house landscape design and so on. The proprietor of the firm, Alan Dawson, is a horticulture graduate from the Cape Technicon.
It is a thriving and successful business that has been around for more than two decades. Based out of Tokai, Cape Town, it prides itself on providing attentive landscape service catered to client requirements within strict deadlines.
One would be hard pressed to divine that Alan Dawson, the landscape gardener in question, once excelled at impressive swing bowling at a nippy pace for Western Province. He was not a bad batsman either, innovative and cheeky, who once hit 143 from No 9 in the 1998-99 Supersport Series final.
Dawson was late in getting national recognition. With Alan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Brett Schulz, Craig Matthews, Craig MacMillan, Makhaya Ntini, Lance Klusener et al frequenting the grounds across the southern country during his prime, the medium pacer had his work cut out to get into the South African side. But Dawson did make it.
He played only two Tests, and those came against Bangladesh when the stars often decided to sit out. But during a span of six years, from 1998 to 2004, he did turn out in 19n ODIs, achieving moderate success with the ball. Most of these matches were played when he was already in his thirties.
Yet, if he is asked to pick one moment of triumph in his limited international career, it would be the one ball he faced during the nerve-wracking encounter between South Africa and West Indies in their Champions Trophy showdown in 2002.
It was the second time the two sides had met in the curious tournament now finally called Champions Trophy. On the first occasion, in the final of the inaugural 1998 tournament then known as the Wills International Cup, South Africa had triumphed by four wickets.
The tournament in 2000 had been called the ICC Knockout. In 2002, however, the name had to be changed. It had earned enough revenue in the past two avatars to take a step beyond the short, knockout format. After being staged in Bangladesh and Kenya, it was now held in a full-fledged Test nation, Sri Lanka. And it ran for 18 days, complete with four groups with three teams apiece, the winner from each proceeding to the semi-finals.
Due to some headstrong scheduling in the tropical climate, which led to the top two teams sitting through a couple of beautiful days and then contesting a couple of rained off day-night encounters in the evening, the tournament remained anti-climactic. A great build up for the final crescendo that never quite rang through. India and Sri Lanka were declared joint winners. But that is another story.
In the second match of the tournament, West Indies took on South Africa. And Alan Dawson walked out with one ball to go, to take his place at the non-striker’s end, three runs required for a win, Mervyn Dillon gripping the ball and Nicky Boje taking strike.
Four years earlier, the same pair had come together in more tottering circumstances, in Kuala Lumpur. The match had not been an official International. It had been given List A status, that too almost grudgingly. However, it had been the cricket semi-final of the Commonwealth Games of 1998.
Replying to Sri Lanka’s 130 all out, South Africa had been struggling at 96 for 9 when the pair had joined forces. That day, Boje had hit an unbeaten 20, Dawson an unbeaten 15. The Proteas had won by a wicket and then gone on to defeat Steve Waugh’s Australians to win the tournament. They have not always been the chokers, whatever the world chooses to believe.
On this day of the Champions Trophy match, there had been many moments when West Indies had threatened to run away with the match. But each time, through some determined cricket on the part of the Proteans, and some inexplicable bits from the men from the Caribbean, the South Africans had pulled back.
Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul had started off slowly, unable to break the shackles on a wicket not really conducive to strokeplay. Gayle had opened up first. Dawson, preferred over Donald as the new ball partner of Pollock, had been slammed for six and Donald himself had been hammered for three boundaries in his first over. But then the great fast bowler had induced a snick from Gayle and the scoring rate had been pressed back yet again.
Brian Lara, striding into a vociferous reception, had flattered to deceive, hitting Boje down the throat of Donald at long off. Captain Carl Hooper had been unable to convert his start. And Chanderpaul, who had managed just 8 runs in the first 15 overs, had laboured to 45 from 98. That innings did as much to harm the Caribbean chances as the South African efforts.
In the end, it had been the enterprise of Ramnaresh Sarwan and Ridley Jacobs that had seen them to a decent 238.
The South Africans had found scoring as difficult. The dangerous Herschelle Gibbs had played on to Dillon early. Jacques Kallis had fallen to the comeback-man Vasbert Drakes. And when Smith had edged Hooper to Jacobs and lost the tussle between the captains, the innings had looked on the verge of collapse with the score reading 61 for 3.
Recovery had been achieved in the shape of the two most underrated batsmen in the Protean lineup. Boeta Dippenaar and Jonty Rhodes had steadied the innings, batting with sense and running like lightning. They had put on 117 in just over 23 overs when Hooper had struck, getting both of them in the course of 3 deliveries. Both the stalwarts had hit half-centuries, but at 179 for 5 in 40 overs, the task had seemed a challenging one. That South Africa had been docked an over for tardy bowling had not really helped matters.
But, with 60 required from 9 overs, there could hardly have been two better men to come in. Lance Klusener and Mark Boucher could always be counted upon to get busy from the word go. The two had hastened the scoring along with intelligent batting and enterprising running. Most of the runs had been scampered before Boucher had opened his shoulders to hit Dillon beyond the leg boundary. 41 had been put on in as many balls.
Now, adrenaline charging, Boucher had tried to swing the next ball from Dillon, a straight one, to the square leg. His middle stump had been knocked askew.
That had brought in Pollock, the captain. 19 were required off 2 overs. 4 wickets in hand.
But a team of world class all-rounders came with its advantages.
As Pedro Collins had run into bowl the penultimate over of the innings, the runs had continued. Singles had come off four of the balls, a solitary dot balanced by a brace off another.
13 had been needed off the final over. Dillon had the ball again.
The first ball had been a shin-high full toss. Pollock had cleared his front leg and hit It straight over the long on for six. A much-needed blow. 7 needed from 5.
The second had been carted for two. Pollock had already moved to 10 from 5 balls. 5 had been required from 4. He had looked like finishing the match with one hit
And then Pollock had aimed for glory, flat batting the length ball, skying it to Chanderpaul in the covers.
Boje had come in as Klusener, having crossed over, had taken strike.
Klusener … the man who had almost single-handedly won match after match for South Africa in the 1999 World Cup. He had hit the next one deep and run a couple. Down to 3 from 2.
And then Dillon had attempted a yorker. The ball had reached Klusener on the full, at the level of the thigh. The cross batted swipe could have gone for the winning runs any day. Today it had come off the splice and shot straight up into the air. And for the second time in three balls, Chanderpaul had run around to hold the catch in the covers.
3 required off the final ball. And Dawson, the horticulture graduate of the Cape Technicon, was now walking in.
The batsmen had crossed. Boje had the strike. Dawson did not have to face. Or did he?
All Dillon had to do was to keep it in line. And he ended up hurling it down the leg side. Yes, Boje had moved to the off, eyeing the square area of the leg. However, as the ball eluded his attempted sweep and missed the stumps by several feet, umpire Srinivas Venkataraghavan had no hesitation in calling wide. Jacobs collected the ball and bounded in, but the batsmen were already haring across. The West Indian stumper flicked the bails off at the striker’s end and sent the ball through to the other, but both the batsmen were home. And, as the cliché goes, dry. The wide, and the bye. Both counted. The scores were level, with one ball to go. Dillon looked distraught. The landscape gardener was on strike.
Dawson could be a handy batsman. Apart from the above mentioned century and the star turn with Boje in the Commonwealth Games semi-final, earlier in 2002 he had scored a fighting 52 against KwaZulu Natal in the Standard Bank Cup Final. He could be cheeky, find curious gaps in the field.
The field was now adjusted, men brought in to cut off the final run. Dillon sprinted in sending the ball in the zone outside the off. Dawson swung his bat in a drive, with all the freedom of a man who knew the scores were tied, defeat off the equation.
Perhaps he aimed for the covers, perhaps the turn of the wrist at contact was deliberate in order to squeeze it through the elusive gap. Whatever be the intention, the ball squirted past the short third man and raced away fine, reaching the boundary and clinching the match. Dillon looked heavenwards in a tormented gaze. The South African dressing room erupted in celebrations.
They had fallen behind the West Indians so often in the game, and yet through immense pluck and capitalising of lapses of the opponents, the Proteas had pulled back again and again.
And now, it was Dawson’s moment of glory. The greatest moment in a short career.
Today he continues as the landscape gardener. But whatever works of art he produces with the scenic South African veld, perhaps the soft corner of his heart is still occupied by the streak of green that joins the playing square with the fine third man at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground at Colombo.
The path his thick outside edge charted as it ran away to the boundary on that memorable day.
West Indies 238 for 8 in 50 overs (Chris Gayle 49, Shivnarine Chanderpaul 45, Ramnaresh Sarwan 36) lost to South Africa 242 for 8 in 49 overs [max 49] (Graeme Smith 33, Boeta Dippenaar 53, Jonty Rhodes 61; Mervyn Dillon 4 for 60, Carl Hooper 3 for 42) by 2 wickets with 0 balls to spare.