It started out seeming like just a normal day in the life of a 4th-year engineering student from a small town in Kerala.
Exactly 6 years ago, to the time of posting this.
A few days earlier, I found out I didn't get into my dream BSchool, and just got over the phase of depression and self-pity. Thankfully, I had friends and a phone with a GPRS connection. That helped, yes.
12 March 2006 came with no indication of what was to come. Those of us who had an interest in cricket knew that a fantastic series was happening over at South Africa, where the undisputed top two teams in world cricket were slugging it out over a five match series.
Each of the first four matches had something memorable. Ntini took 6/22 in a 192-run demolition at Cape Town to help SA go 2-0 up. Then, Australia bounced back, but just barely, winning the next two games by 24 runs and 1 wicket respectively. The stage was set, at the risk of sounding Shastriesque, for a cracker of a last match.
It being a Sunday, me and a friend decided to pop out to town and have a roam-around. It was my last month in college and we decided to pop over to visit some eateries which we hadn't ever been to.
Of course, those were days without Cricinfo access 24*7, so the only way us fleeting cricket fans got to know about things was when friends told us. And that's what happened.
I was halfway through a watermelon juice of questionable aqueous content when a friend SMSed me "Australia scored 434."
I couldn't believe that. That was impossible. Sri Lanka' 398 was untouchable, like Bradman's 99.94. How could a team score over 400 in an ODI? Impossible, I thought.
A quick phone call later told me that the news was indeed, correct. As someone who gets a thrill out of records being broken, I was ecstatic, even though I hated Australia (but secretly admired them). Now, if the score was 350 thereabouts, I would have probably taken the effort to hunt for a TV and watch SA attempt the chase. But at 435, even I was willing to laugh things off.
My friend was not too much of a cricket fan, but the magnitude of what happened wasn't lost on him. He asked me whether it was probable that South Africa might chase that down. I laughed, but for a moment, my mind went back to a legendary domestic English match. "I remember... It was Glamorgan and Sussex or something. One team scored 440+, and the other team almost chased it down... And lost by just 4-5 runs. Wouldn't it be classic if something like that happens here?", I asked.
That match, of course, was this one. It was Surrey, not Glamorgan. And Alistair Brown had scored 268. In a 50-over game. If there was one thing that a knowledge of that match should have told me, it was that anything was possible.
I came back to the hostel putting all the memory of the match behind me. The thought of SA winning didn't really cross my mind, in fact, I was hoping another record would be broken (yes, I'm one of those stat-minded sorts) - that Australia would win by the highest margin in ODI cricket - 300 or so. Which, quite honestly, seemed more probable at the time.
When I got back to my hostel, around 6 PM, boy, oh, boy.
My two sport-crazy roommates were jumping up and down and asking me where the fuchsia I was.
I asked why.
They said Herschelle Gibbs was going crazy, and was looking to score a double century.
We didn't have a TV. Nor did we have live internet access. Nor the time to go to a friend's place.
All we had was, in a glorious mix of modern technology and old-school syndication, per-over messages from a friend who stayed in town.
It looked amazing. South Africa looked like they were actually going to win, comfortably. And at one stage, end of over 31 to be precise, South Africa were at 286/3. They needed to go at just (!) 7.8 an over. Gibbs was on an astonishing 163 off 107. Surely, this was history in the making. And when he hit two successive sixes and moved to 175, it surely seemed like a stroll in the park now.
But then, what's life without a little masala, right?
The moment HH Gibbs walked off the field, we knew it would be his finest moment. It's thrilling and sad at the same time. You know he's just done something special, but is very unlikely to better it. It's almost like saying your best moment has passed.
Not just did Gibbs get out, his dismissal led to a sudden shortage of runs despite Kallis, Boucher and Kemp being at the crease. Fathom this: In a match where the average run rate was close to 9 an over, there was a period of 7 overs where a single boundary wasn't hit. The pressure was right back on SA, and it told.
And we, in the hostel, were on absolute nerves. There were three of us. Just mesmerized, waiting for the next SMS. The RRR crept up to 11. But an unlikely hero stepped up - Johan van der Wath, who clobbered strategic sixes. One must not forget the contribution of Ricky Ponting, who undid all his good batting (scoring one of the most phenomenal hundreds ever) by persisting with Mick Lewis, when Brett Lee had plenty of overs left. Unfathomable. But the Proteas didn't complain - they merrily scored off him. And we all know the ending. Everyone thought SA would easily win it, and then Hall got out just when there was 2 to get and 1 wicket left.
Suddenly, SA could lose! We were pissing in our shorts up in our hostel. The relief when 'Ntini took 1' flashed across our screens came! We screamed! But we knew the job wasn't done yet.
We waited. Waited. For that last SMS to come, which could go either way.
I wasn't as tensed as when my dad called up to tell me my 10th board results.
Delirium. We cried, we did. For a match not involving India. We celebrated SA's victory as if we were residents of Durban or Cape Town.
The next day, hundreds of us thronged to the main hostel where there was a TV and watched the highlights. At the end of Gibbs' innings - and I kid you not - all of us stood up to applaud him. Some fleetingly said, as is wont in such moments - that it was the greatest ODI innings of all time.
6 years later, I find that statement hasn't eroded. It's withstood the test of time and reflection. Herschelle Henry Gibbs indeed, might have played the greatest ODI innings ever.
In the greatest ODI ever.
A lot of people rubbish this match saying it was a flat pitch, there was nothing in it for the bowlers, etc.
Which is true. But why should that take away from the achievement?
Since then, a lot of 400+ scores have been matched. Tell me how many you remember. Exactly.
That match was unforgettable. Just like Edgbaston '99 was. But for some reason, I belong to the camp that says Joburg 06. Was it because I was biased that SA won? Was it because records tumbled (and I was a fan of seeing records break)?
No, not for me.
I prefer to look at it this way. One team crossed the limits of what everyone thought a cricket team did. And the other team, instead of getting bogged down, pushed themselves beyond the new limits, and created a new mark.
Like Jacques Kallis told his team during the lunch break, "Why're you all so depressed? It was a 450 wicket - they fell 16 runs short."
What a day. What a match.
Even today, just reading the commentary of that game gives me goosebumps.