In the last week of March, 1999, all eyes were on the Balkans, as US led NATO forces had just started a bombing campaign in order to quell the Kosovo War and the tragic and enormous loss of civilian life happening through Serbia, Albania, and Yugoslavia.
The Kosovo War had been raging for a year, this after the Yugoslav War earlier in the decade.
It is a sad and complicated chapter in Europe’s history, and I do not claim to be an expert on the conflict, but reading the casualty reports is a shocking endeavor: 800,000 displaced citizens, 12,000 civilian deaths (including 10,000 deaths at the ends of the Yugoslav military), and two mass graves in Belgrade that contained almost 1,500 bodies.
1,500 people – killed, and dumped into an unmarked mass grave.
Your geography lesson:
Meanwhile, at the same time, five thousand miles away, at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados: Steve Waugh scored 199 runs in a cricket match for Australia against the West Indies.
For five days, as the war raged in Yugoslavia, two countries played out a cricket match – and what a cricket match it was.
Australia won the toss and had a bat, scoring 490 all out – thanks to Waugh’s 199 and 104 from Ricky Ponting (13 years later he is still scoring important centuries for Australia…he deserves the legacy of a cricketing hero.)
The West Indies responded with 329, and then scuttled Australia for 146 in the visitor’s second innings thanks to a five-for from Jamaican Courtney Walsh – who according to Cricinfo: “bowled faster for longer than any man in history.” 132 Tests, 30,019 deliveries, 519 wickets…
But this is not his story.
In the fourth and final innings, the West Indies scored 311 runs and won the match by one wicket…
West Indies last innings featured a 54 run ninth wicket stand from the incomparable Brian Lara and the incomparable Curtly Ambrose.
Lara finished the innings 153 not out – and the Wisden Almanak described his knock thusly:
“Irrefutably, his undefeated 153 was the hand of a genius. Exhibiting the new awareness and maturity he discovered in Jamaica, he brilliantly orchestrated the conclusion to an unforgettable match. He guided his men to victory as though leading the infirm through a maze.”
But this is not Lara’s story either.
The four match series ended in a draw. Australia won the first test at Port of Spain by 312 runs; the West Indies won the next two, at Kingston by one wicket and Bridgetown by ten; and Australia won the final match by 176 runs at St. John’s.
A thriller of a match, a thriller of a series.
All while 100,000 Serbians fled their homes from the Kosovo Liberation Army, and NATO bombers scorched Albanian hillsides.
Steve Waugh, he of the 199 knock, is one of the most beloved cricketers to ever don the baggy greens for Australia.
He played in 168 Tests for his country, scoring 10,927 runs.
His 199 in Bridgetown was the second highest Test score of his career – had scored 200 four years earlier in Kingston, also against the West Indies.
He captained Australia in both Tests and in ODIs – and led them to a World Cup victory in 1999.
Considering his captain’s temperant, I am sure he was upset at getting out because it let his team down, and not because he was on the verge of a personal milestone.
And just like in the previous 199, Waugh’s wicket was taken LBW by a little known and little used bowler: Nehemiah Perry.
He only played in four tests for the West Indies, and took 10 wickets for them in all. In 2004 he was forced to retire due to back problems, and is now on the West Indies national selection panel.
But, again, I bet ending Waugh’s innings stands out more for the bowler, than for the batter.
An interesting theme in these posts, for sure.
On the pitch? Nothing.
The first T20I between Australia and India is today at the SCG.
Like I said: nothing.