In cricket World Cups, some of the semi-final matches became most memorable as they carried trauma, despair, agony, ecstasy, joy and every other human emotion for generations.
As an avid West Indies fan, I felt the biggest trauma in my life when the side lost inexplicably in the 1996 semi-final. The Caribbean bowlers were fearsome against Australia and despite some heroics from the lower order the Aussies could post just a mediocre total of 207.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Richie Richardson were slowly heading towards the target as they reached 165-2 at a stage. But the rest was a horror show. It inflicted such profound trauma that even makes me numb till this day. West Indies were bundled out for 202 and could never make another semi-final. As a matter of fact, the quality of the champions of first two tournaments nosedived so much that they failed to qualify even for the World Cup 2023 and the future does not look any brighter.
Well, the trauma might be too much for an adolescent but obviously the biggest trauma in the history of the World Cup cricket is reserved for South African fans. Allan Donald running for an impossible single and getting out to lose the semi final of 1999 by the barest of margins. In fact, on the day, the two teams were separated by their run-rates in the super-six stage. One would argue the agony of Donald and his partner Lance Klusener, the player of the tournament, and the joy of Australians became the most iconic image in the history of World Cups.
To be honest, South Africa and the World Cup semi-finals are tantamount to Shakespeare tragedies. In their very first tournament in 1992 the African side lost the semi-final due to the erstwhile infamous rain law. 1999 is already said and the side conceded another semi-final loss in 2015. This time at least the opposition overpowered them. Grant Elliott, the South African-born New Zealand player played a sublime knock to deprive his birthland reaching the elusive final.
Not only West Indies and South Africa, India may claim they are carrying at least two bad memories regarding semi-finals. The 1996 was not only within the arena but also beyond the boundary. The jam-packed Eden Gardens crowd could not tolerate the capitulation of the hosts against Sri Lanka under light on a very tricky pitch. The anger of Kolkata people crossed all the limits as they started to hurl objects and abuses relentlessly. In the end match referee Clive Llyod had to award the match to Sri Lanka and India not only lost but also humiliated.
The situation of 2019 may not be the same as the most powerful nation of cricket felt the embarrassment. The Indian side looked almost invincible in the group stage but they lost the semi-final to New Zealand who barely clung onto the fourth spot courtesy of better net run rate. The loss of India was against the odds.
Today the same two sides will face in the first semi-final of the 2023. For India, it is a chance not only to get some solace of 2019 defeat but also efface their ignominy of 1996. However, in recent ICC tournaments New Zealand somehow became an Achilles Heel for them.
This time India are in even better form and both their batting and bowling unit seemed best by far compared to other teams whom they just blown away so far. Yet unexpected things happen in cricket and life.
Talking about semi-finals, the first ever tournament saw an amazing bowling performance of Gary Gilmour who picked up six wickets giving away just 14 runs off 12 overs. Pakistan played a high-voltage semi-final against India in the land back in 2011. India won that match, their only semi-final win in their home ground after failing in 1987 and 1996.
Pakistan lost another exciting semi-final in their own backyard in 1987, the tournament jointly held by two archrivals, when Steve Waugh picked up 18 runs off the last over while batting first and in the end the hosts lost by that exact margin.
India will be desperate to break New Zealand jinx, South Africa will be keen to break the semi-final curse while Australia, their adversary in the second semi final tomorrow, will definitely give their best not to create a trend. After winning seven semi-finals they lost their first one in the last edition and they will at any cost try to make that incident an anomaly.
So, in the light of World Cup history one may expect there will be added tension and excitement in the two semi-finals. It is time to fasten our seat belts for some roller coaster rides.