Sunday morning provided two things for cricket addicts scattered around the U.S.: chewed-up fingernails and a timely shot in the arm for the Cricket World Cup. In a match that took a series of dramatic twists and turns, England tied India -- which arguably left fans of both teams happy.
India posted what seemed like an insurmountable score of 338 runs batting first, only for England to come out on fire in reply. In fact, England breezed to a World Cup record for runs scored by a team batting last. And although India's bowlers sparked another dramatic rally in the final 45-minute passage of play, England turned the game around again with four balls remaining. Yet with two needed to win off the last ball, Graeme Swann could only manage a single for England, providing a rare but perhaps appropriate end to the contest.
The match will be best remembered for the near-flawless batting displays from Sachin Tendulkar and Andrew Strauss. While Tendulkar was once again superb for India, Strauss was all but untouchable for England. The effect was like watching Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal go toe to toe at Wimbledon. Strauss had no business getting England anywhere close to India's total, thanks to 120 from Tendulkar. But three hours later, Strauss raised the bar and propelled his team with a sublime 158.
So why all the fuss over a tie? A common misconception is that this kind of thing happens all the time in cricket. After all, it's a sport in which teams can play a match for up to five days with neither team winning at the conclusion. That amounts to a tie, right? Not exactly.
In the five-day Test format, if a team can't get the opposition out but the opposition doesn't score the runs required to win before the end of the five days, the match is declared a draw. It's a stalemate. The subtle difference: In a tie, the team batting last gets out having made the exact same number of runs as the opposition. In 135 years of Test cricket, there have been 694 drawn matches, but only two ties. The structure of the rules for One Day Internationals eliminates the draw as a possible result, but a tie is just as rare -- and Sunday's tie was just the fourth in World Cup history.
The last World Cup tie happened in 2007, when Zimbabwe, needing 222 to win, stumbled badly against Ireland. If you compare the situation to England's on Sunday, both teams had four wickets in hand with 24 balls to play. While England needed 42 runs to win, Zimbabwe needed just 12 runs in the same circumstances and couldn't come through.
In a total debacle at the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, the hosts tied Sri Lanka when the South African batsmen misunderstood the adjusted score required to win if the game were to be stopped early because of rain. The confusion led to South Africa failing to go for the single it needed on the last ball before play was halted. The result led to South Africa being eliminated after the group stage.
The only World Cup tie that ranks above this past weekend's contest in Bangalore is a 1999 semifinal in England between South Africa and Australia, a match that is widely considered to be the greatest ODI contest of all time. The highlights are definitely worth a look on YouTube. Australia fought to 213 thanks to 65 from Michael Bevan, whose clutch performances for the Aussies are on par with the playoff exploits of Lenny Dykstra.
South Africa was comfortably headed toward the 214 needed to win until an epic bowling performance by the legendary Shane Warne tilted the game back in Australia's favor. Going into the last over with six balls remaining, South Africa needed nine runs to win and had its last two men at the crease. With four balls to go, Lance Klusener hit back-to-back fours to tie the game. But two balls later, his partner Allan Donald inexplicably failed to run after Klusener set off for a panicky single and Donald was run out to end the match.
Donald's brain freeze ranks up there with Chris Webber's attempted timeout call at the end of the 1993 NCAA title game or Fred Brown's pass to James Worthy in the closing seconds of the 1982 NCAA final. Because Australia had beaten South Africa earlier in the tournament, Australia advanced to the final and eventually won the World Cup.
The England-India tie didn't quite top the 1999 semifinal tie, but it came close. If England and India meet again in the knockout stage and can produce even half the drama of this past encounter, it will be well worth watching.
Peter Della Penna is an American-born and raised cricket journalist who writes for ESPNcricinfo.com and DreamCricket.com. His work has also appeared in "The Wisden Cricketer" and "Wisden Cricketers" Almanack.