Dubai: Come May 2 (Saturday), and it will be 30 years since Australian allrounder Simon O’Donnell hit a blazing half-century off just 18 balls in the Austral-Asia Cup against Sri Lanka at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. Unlike today’s game, such a knock was a rarity those days and it stunned everyone at the stadium.
I was reporting this match for the news agency AP since I had not joined Gulf News then. Many of us found it hard to believe that a batsman could reach a half-century in so few balls. That was the first time a batsman had scored 50 runs in less than 20 balls.
Since I was working for a news agency, the news had to be broken all over within minutes and during those days, statistics were not available within seconds as today. All reporters rushed to the scorer at Sharjah Cricket Stadium, the late Syed Mohammad Ali Jafri, and learnt from him that he’d bettered Indian allrounder Kapil Dev’s fastest half-century off just 22 balls during the West Indies tour in 1983. Dev’s feat came during the course of his knock of 72 in the second one-day match of the series at Berbice, Guyana.
O’Donnell went on to hit an unbeaten 74 off 29 balls with six sixes and four boundaries and helped Australia post a whopping 332 for three in 50 overs with Dean Jones scoring an unbeaten 117. A stunned Sri Lankan team, reeling under the onslaught, got bowled out for 218 and lost the match by 114 runs.
- This day, that year: A journey with Viv Richards through his fastest Test century
- This day, that year: When cricket's most-watched rivalry gave the world two most renowned stars
- This day, that year: April 13, 1984 a historic day for cricket in Sharjah
- This day, that year: When Sachin Tendulkar’s Desert Storm blew away Sharjah
What made O’Donnell’s feat in Sharjah remarkable was the fact that he did this after surviving a battle with cancer. This was an instance of how a cricketer can even set a world record after overcoming this dreaded disease. In Australia’s 1987 World Cup triumph, O’Donnell played a pivotal role as the most economical bowler of the tournament and he had played in that tournament while he was suffering from cancer.
The lump on his rib prevented him from celebrating his team’s semifinal win against Pakistan and since the team was not aware of his illness, they fined him for not being part of the celebration. O’Donnell did not want to reveal his sickness to his team which was on a campaign to become world champions.
After going through the surgery, O’Donnell was declared free of cancer. When India’s Yuvraj Singh was diagnosed with cancer after the 2011 World Cup and he fought his way back to cricket again, I was reminded of O’Donnell’s fighting spirit. Now 57 years old, O’Donnell is a commentator of the game.
O’Donnell’s feat in Sharjah stood for six years before Sri Lanka’s Sanath Jayasuriya broke the record by one ball when he reached his 50 in 17 balls in the final of the Singer Cup against Pakistan in Singapore. In 2015, South Africa’s AB De Villiers sunk that record when he reached his fifty in 16 balls during the course of his knock of 149 against the West Indies in the second one day match at Johannesburg.