Since the time one day cricket was introduced by the ICC in 1975, there have been some fabulous matches over the years played between different nations. Some of them which instantly spring up to mind are the 1983 World Cup final between India and West Indies, or the 1986 Sharjah game between India and Pakistan in which Javed Miandad hit a six off the last ball of the match off the bowling of Chetan Sharma to win Pakistan a lost game. But perhaps the one match which does qualify to be the greatest one day match ever was the 1999 World Cup semifinal between Australia and South Africa at Edgbaston, Birmingham. Such was the gravity of the game that it changed the map of world cricket for the next decade.
Australia had earlier defeated South Africa in a Super Six game, thanks to Steve Waugh’s 117 not out. This was a captain’s innings which made Australia chase down 272 successfully against the pre-tournament favourites. Herschelle Gibbs might have dropped the World Cup when he dropped a sitter when Waugh was batting, according to the Australian captain. Thus, this had become a must win game for the Proteas to make it to the final and they had to overcome the odds of not performing to their best in crunch matches. For a rampaging Australia, this was the major hurdle the team had to overcome. If they did so, the World Cup in all probability was theirs. So this had the making of a cracker of a contest, and this began a new rivalry in the chapter of cricket, i.e. Australia vs. South Africa.
Surprisingly, Hansie Cronje, the South African captain won the toss and elected to field first. But they had a dream start by picking the in-form Mark Waugh in the very first over itself, for a duck. Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting then tried to take the game away from South Africa in a cautious manner until Ponting fell to the White Lightning, Allan Donald with the score being 54/2 after 13.1 overs. Ponting scored 37, a score which he could have easily trebled since he was looking in ominous touch. Gilchrist and then Darren Lehmann were dismissed in a span of three overs, which left Australia reeling at 68/4 after 17 overs.
At this stage, South Africa were on a roll and the demons of the group stages returned to haunt Australia yet again. Were Waugh’s men indeed the best side of the tournament? Doubts were raised not just by South Africa’s fans, but even Australia’s fans. All was looking nothing but grim as Donald was proving to be unplayable on that pitch. However, many did forget that Australia had those batsmen as well who could finish the game in style. Steve Waugh and Michael Bevan were those two batters and they turned out to be the ultimate saviours for the Australians yet again and that too at a stage when it matters the most, a World Cup semifinal.
Steve Waugh carried on from where he left out by once again being South Africa’s enemy No.1. He led the way once again for his team with the bat and not just on the field, with a measured 76-ball 56. He read the situation extremely well and was unlike the century he hit in the Super Six stage. What Australia needed in the last 33 overs was stability and Waugh provided the team with exactly that. Such was his influence at the crease that Michael Bevan too decided to change his strategy of batting and support Waugh for as many overs as possible at the other end. The aggressive southpaw played an uncharacteristic knock of 65 runs off 101 balls and hit only six fours throughout his innings.
Bevan went on to register the highest score in the match for Australia on what was otherwise a dismal wicket to bat on. He was the last man out with Australia’s score being 213 after 49.2 overs, still a low total looking at the form of South Africa’s batting line up. Waugh was dismissed in the 40th over, but no one perhaps would have ever thought that Shane Warne’s 24-ball 18 would be significant during the course of the match. Australia’s batting performance was a fighting one and they still had a slight chance to win due to the pitch not being at its best for batting and the team had the spirit to come back into the game at any stage.
But any gambler’s bet would have been on South Africa to make it to the final because of the consistent cricket that they had played throughout the competition. And of course they started decently, with Gary Kirsten and Herschelle Gibbs proving why they were such a lethal opening combination with the bat. Gibbs was on the attack right from the word go, while Kirsten frustrated the Aussies with his Test match style of batting. It was going well for the Proteas until it was time for some Shane Warne magic once again. Waugh got Warne on to bowl as early as the 13th over, which was a surprise to many but a gamble which paid off almost immediately.
Within his first four deliveries, he managed to get Gibbs out clean bowled with some marvelous leg spin. The ball was pitched on leg stump but such was the turn that it bounced off as well to clip the off stump off the South African opener. Similar to the ball of the century, isn’t it? Next to go was Kirsten. And amazingly, it was literally the same ball which got the better of Gibbs. That is the reason after all that Shane Warne is called a magician when the ball is in his hand! And the best part of his first spell was the wicket of the South African skipper for a duck within the next two deliveries off getting Kirsten out. It was a complete misjudgment from Cronje who could not read a googly from Warne and Mark Waugh did not make any mistake at first slip, proving why he was one of the best fielders in the world at that time.
Warne’s first spell was breathtaking and one of the best in one day cricket ever, because it was a combination of both skill and attitude which made him successful and a legendary bowler. Daryl Cullinan, Warne’s bunny struggled so much that he was eventually run out and scored just 6 runs in 30 balls. South Africa were 61/4 in 21.2 overs until they too required one partnership which could change their sagging fortunes. It came in the form of Jacques Kallis and Jonty Rhodes. Kallis proved why he is South Africa’s Mr. Dependable with a 92-ball 53. He played like he knows how to play, being calm and composed and taking his time to get runs. While Rhodes decided to take on the Australian bowling courageously, in the way he knows best. He was renowned as the best fielder in the world, but when his team needed him to step up with the bat, he was able to and that is impressive.
With that 83 run partnership, South Africa were very much in the hunt to win this game even as they needed 79 runs off the last 9.3 overs by the time Rhodes fell. Shaun Pollock was shockingly promoted up the order, before Lance Klusener to partner a slow Jacques Kallis at the other end by upping the scoring rate. He could do so with his 14-ball 20 until Damien Fleming, who was having a quiet game finally got the better of him. That ended a fantastic game for Pollock, who picked five Australian wickets for 36 runs earlier and did the job for his team well enough. It was the others who went on to falter miserably.
By the time Kallis and Pollock fell, Klusener had Mark Boucher for support at the other end. South Africa still needed as many as 31 runs off the last 24 balls of the match and it was gettable because of the presence of South Africa’s two best hitters at the crease. But Boucher was stopped very well by the Aussies and Glenn McGrath finally had something to cheer about in this game with his crucial wicket. At 196/8 in 48.2 overs, Australia too were back and now it all was on whether they could get the very much in-form Klusener out because he could definitely not be contained.
It was all down to the last over where the Proteas needed 9 runs to win off 6 balls but the problem was that Australia needed only one good ball to wrap up the innings and go through to the final. Any cricket fan, even if he or she does not support Australia or South Africa that much, would have had their hands in their mouths because this game was still not decided. Damien Fleming was given the responsibility to bowl a tight last over to the hard hitting Klusener, who was on strike while Allan Donald, the No.11 had just entered the crease.
And Klusener went after him from the first ball. He hit two fours off the first two balls itself on the off side, with powerful timing which aided his wonderful placement. South Africa could not lose for sure and many Australians would have given up on their team because the Proteas needed only 1 run to win off the last 4 balls and it was not Donald, but Klusener who was still on strike. Almost all the players were in the ring to stop the single, but Klusener played out a dot ball. It was 1 run off 3 balls needed.
The fourth ball was perhaps the ball which changed the entire world of international cricket ever since. Pressure had finally got on to Klusener and he instantly set off for a single which was actually nonexistent. Allan Donald was run out at the other end by a long distance, without even facing a ball and with that, South Africa’s World Cup dream died a frantic death. The match was a tie, but it was Australia and not South Africa which made it to the final where they would play Pakistan. This was because the Aussies had a better net run rate than the Proteas coming into the semifinals from the Super Six stage.
It shows that sport can be cruel to even the best of players. For instance, Klusener who averaged more than 100 with the bat throughout the World Cup, could not take 1 run which could have gone on to win the title for South Africa. And then of course Allan Donald, who picked four Australian wickets in the first innings, saw his efforts go in vain with his run out actually inflicted by Klusener.
Another lesson which one can learn from this game is that the team which thrives under pressure and performs the best at the stage which matters the most, wins more often than not. Unlike South Africa, Australia fought and fought under pressure and even though the match was a tie actually, it was a victory for them to defend 213 against a consistent side throughout the tournament otherwise. Australia then went on to win the World Cup by thrashing another strong side, Pakistan by 8 wickets in the final at Lords and went on to dominate the entire game of cricket, let alone ODIs for the next 12 years.
Whereas, for South Africa this was their best chance to win a global event since the 1998 ICC Champions Trophy in Bangladesh. It created a new rivalry with Australia which has made cricket even more interesting and since then, both these sides have played wonderful matches of cricket. This match was the actual one which gave South Africa the unpleasant tag of ‘chokers’, who struggled under pressure tremendously. It could be said that fate was cruel to them in the worst possible manner, but the truth is that they themselves were responsible for their downfall because of some key moments where they failed to seize the initiative.
South Africa have never won a global event since, because they continued to be haunted with this defeat. Whereas Australia improved themselves vastly with this tied game. But this will go down as a classic and Warne’s performance is the best bowling performance by far in a World Cup game. And lastly, Steve Waugh was honoured as the second Australian skipper to win a World Cup which inspired Ricky Ponting to led Australia to two more titles consecutively.
Certainly, June 17, 1999 will go down as the game changing day of cricket.