Cape Town: Brian Lara hit a majestic century to inspire the West Indies to a three- run win over South Africa in the opening match of the 2003 World Cup at Newlands on Sunday. West Indies was coasting to victory before Lance Klusener took South Africa close to an improbable victory, hitting five sixes in 57 off 48 balls. But he was caught on the boundary off Vasbert Drakes when eight runs were needed off four balls, silencing a 25,000-strong crowd that was expecting a stunning victory for the home team. A slow over-rate, which cost South Africa one over of its innings, proved costly, with South Africa required to make 279 off 49 overs. Lara hit 116 off 134 balls as he sparked an extraordinary fight-back by his team, who made 278 for five after floundering at seven for two and scoring only 12 in the first ten overs. The brilliant left-hander, playing his first international match in almost five months, survived a difficult chance before he had scored when Jacques Kallis flung himself to his left from second slip but could not hold an edge off Makhaya Ntini. After his early scare, the little left-hander played a masterly innings. Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul (34) put on 102 for the third wicket to steer their side out of trouble, then skipper Carl Hooper helped Lara add 89 for the fourth wicket. It took Lara 78 balls to reach 50 but he hurried to his 16th Limited Overs century 43 balls later. His only previous World Cup hundred was also against South Africa, when the West Indies won a quarter-final match in Karachi in 1996. His innings included 12 fours and two sixes. "A first-ball nought would not have done justice to the work I've done over the last few months," said Lara, later named the man-of-the-match. "I've worked really hard, no match practice but the selectors had faith in me." A delighted West Indian captain Carl Hooper said it was "a great game, great wicket, a great game of cricket."
"The first 10-15 overs was tough but then Brian came in and showed what a tremendous player he is. Hooper also paid tribute to Klusener's performance. "I've seen Lance Klusener do this before, he's capable of turning the game on his head." Ricardo Powell and Ramnaresh Sarwan slammed an unbeaten 63 off 28 balls at the end of the innings. Powell hit 40 off 18 balls with five fours and a six, while Sarwan's 32 was made off 15 balls with two fours and two sixes. South Africa made a dashing start but was seldom up with the required rate after the dismissal of Herschelle Gibbs with the total on 46 in the ninth over.
Veteran left-hander Gary Kirsten made a polished 69 off 92 balls, hitting six fours and a six but there were no substantial partnerships as wickets fell at regular intervals. South Africa was still 75 short of victory when its seventh wicket fell with 49 balls left. In the 45th over, Klusener hit two towering sixes over long-on off part-time off spinner Chris Gayle. Then he swung Gayle to backward square-leg where Pedro Collins caught the ball inside the boundary but stepped backwards onto the rope. The decision was referred to TV umpire Peter Willey who ruled it was another six.
Nine runs were needed off the last over and Klusener swung the ball high to wide long-on where Hooper held the catch just inside the boundary rope and ended South Africa's hopes. A shocked South African captain Shaun Pollock said the West Indian batting towards the end sealed the match. "It all started off pretty well," he said. "In the first 10 overs of the day we restricted them but the difference was the way they finished off their innings. "We lost two wickets in the final over, it could have gone either way." He offered no defence of the slow over-rate, which cost South Africa an over. "It was a matter of seconds but we knew the rules and we knew we could do nothing about it," he said.