The second of our SACricketmag.com exclusives, featuring players who represented South Africa at each of the Cricket World Cups. Here, former South Africa wicketkeeper-batsman Steve Palframan recollects the World Cup in 1996, when pinch-hitting was popular, Paddy Upton was sleepy and Brian Lara was merciless.
As told to Jonhenry Wilson
It was a hectic period before the start of the World Cup. My second son, Mike, was born shortly before the pre-tournament training camp. I asked Bob Woolmer if I could arrive at the camp a day late, but Bob didn’t want to set a precedent, so I arrived there as the father of a one-day old baby. Mike ended up being fine and when I got back from the World Cup he could smile, so that was an interesting period – fatherhood –and cricket-wise.
The guys were all incredibly friendly and supportive. I knew all of the team as I had played against and with them. I had been to one or two training sessions, and hadn’t worked with Bob and Hansie Cronje too much. But I knew both of them quite well. Bob’s record spoke for itself. He was a knowledgeable coach – and relayed things to you in easy, uncomplicated terms. I got on really, really well with him. Hansie was a great leader, an inspiring guy. He was fun-loving. One of the funny things of the trip to the World Cup was when Hansie gave Paddy a sleeping tablet. Paddy was taking us through our warm-up drills and fell fast asleep during these drills. That was all Hansie’s doing.
My room-mate for the tour was Daryll Cullinan. We got on quite fine. We were respectful of each other’s space, so it was fine. Daryll was playing cricket for Border at the time, so there was a mutual respect, although he was from Queens College and I was from Dale College.
One of the highlights of that World Cup for me was playing against and beating Pakistan in Karachi, That was a fabulous a day, although I dropped an absolute sitter in that game. I remember Craig Matthews telling us during the team talk that there were going to be 300 deliveries per innings and if we won more balls than we lost, we stood a good chance of winning the match. I remember my focus was winning the ball rather than watching the ball. I ended up dropping the catch and the batsman, Aamer Sohail, went on to score a century.
But he scored that century off a lot of deliveries and, in the context of the game, it probably was not good for Pakistan. I suppose it probably saved us some runs, because it kept Ijaz Ahmed and Salim Malik in the pavilion a bit longer. Playing against those sort of great cricketers – Mushtaq Ahmed, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis – that was a great challenge against a great Pakistan team.
I enjoyed pinch-hitting up the order at the World Cup. It was something I had done at Border. It was a role I had become accustomed to. I opened the batting in my debut match against England in Port Elizabeth prior to the World Cup, but Andrew Hudson and Gary Kirsten were reverted to as the openers against the United Arab Emirates in the first game of the World Cup. That huge partnership between Hudson and Kirsten was an amazing compilation of runs. Gary got that massive score against the UAE, and later Hudson scored a really big one against the Netherlands.
People always talk about how it was strange that Allan Donald was left out of the game against the West Indies. My recollection of that fateful day was Brian Lara walking to the wicket with his cap on, no helmet. We had a feared bowling attack back then. It was if he was saying that without his Warwickshire mate Donald around we didn’t have that feared edge – or perhaps the cap was just because the track was a bit flat. He put us to the sword. In one over, he took 20 runs off Pat Symcox – five fours all over the park.
Sadly six of the South African team were caught on the boundary in that match, which we lost to exit the World Cup. We needed 66 off the last 10 overs, with six wickets in hand. Nowadays that would be a complete doddle for the batting side. I survived a hat-trick ball, only for Roger Harper to take a fantastic caught and bowled two balls later. It could have been very different if we had kept our cool in the chase but too many of us holed out on the fence.
Another thing that always comes up, and my friends always joke about this, that I cost South Africa the World Cup. There was a particular ball bowled by Shaun Pollock. Maybe I could have been standing a step closer, but the edge from Shivnarine Chanderpaul didn’t quite carry. I dived to my left and the catch wasn’t taken. The bottom line, though, is I don’t live with regrets – and I don’t beat myself up too much about it. Me dropping the World Cup? That was not the case.