1999 World Cup’s Strong South African Side
A strong South African side had made the super six stage of the 1999 world cup, where they were to meet a struggling Australian team, needing a win to remain in the tournament.
On the back of a century from Herschelle Gibbs, South Africa reached an imposing 271 before reducing Australia to 48-3. At this stage captain Steve Waugh, who had managed just one ODI century in his long career, strode to the crease. Having reached 56, Waugh lifted a ball directly to Gibbs at a comfortable, catchable height. Gibbs, one of the best fielders in the world, caught it and immediately went to celebrate by throwing the ball into the air. As he did so, the ball slipped from his fingers and dropped to the ground.
To mark his good fortune, Waugh then attacked the bowling in an almost reckless fashion, something which he had not done before in his career and was never to do again. He smashed his way to 120 off 110 balls, which remained the highest score of his career, the match was won and Australia was still alive.
To fully understand the foolishness of Gibbs’s action, it is necessary to note that Shane Warne had warned team mates before the game not to be too quick to leave the crease should they hit a catch to Gibbs, because he had seen that Gibbs was sometimes too fast and too vigorous in his celebrations. If Shane Warne knew that, so surely should the South African coach, captain and senior players and action should have been taken to eliminate the practice. Perhaps it should also be noted that Jacques Kallis was unavailable for this match through injury. A logical like for like replacement would have been Alan Dawson but instead spinner Nicky Boje was selected. He bowled only three expensive overs for 29 runs.
A Second Chance
As it turned out, the South Africans were to be given a second chance in the semi- final against the same side a few days later and they began well by dismissing their opponents for 213. In the South African innings the game ebbed and flowed as early wickets were followed by a couple of good partnerships until eventually last man Allan Donald joined the man later named Player of the Tournament, Lance Klusener.
What was to follow is known to just about every South African cricket fan and remains probably the most dramatic finish in ODI history. Sixteen runs were required to win from eight balls. A tie was sufficient to put Australia in the final. The first ball of the eight was lofted by Klusener to long off, where Reiffel should have caught it. The ball burst through his fingers and over the boundary for 6. From the last ball of the over, Klusener retained the strike with an intelligent single.
In an attempt to cramp him and prevent him freeing his arms, Fleming began the last over around the wicket to Klusener, who had been in devastating form throughout the tournament. Well pitched up, the first ball whistled off Klusener’s bat through the covers for four. The next was an attempted Yorker and the crack as it hit Klusener’s bat must have sounded like a death knell for Australian hopes. Nobody moved as the ball scorched across the turf and crashed into the boundary. The scores were level.
Klusener had ensured that Donald did not have to face a ball. Fifteen runs had come from four balls, one was required from four balls. Surely South Africa’s time had come. My two sons, watching on television, were celebrating. I stood behind them, grim faced, heart pounding, hand raised to caution their premature joy.
Four balls to go, Klusener on strike, how many ways could South Africa have won that game? Drop the ball in the crease and run. Patience, wait for the opportunity and steal the single. Yet there did not appear to be any communication between the two batsmen. Surely now was the time to meet in the middle of the wicket and discuss what may happen and how to respond to it. Klusener had to tell Donald what he intended to do and what part Donald was to play. There was nothing.
Now there was no need for boundaries, just one short single but the cool heads were gone. From the next ball Klusener tried for another boundary and mis-timed the ball to mid on. No possible chance for a run but there was Donald racing like a madman down the wicket. Lehmann under-armed the throw from only four metres and missed the stumps with Donald well out. It seemed that South Africa was meant to triumph. Donald had been granted a reprieve; surely this was the moment.
At the fourth ball, Klusener again aimed an unnecessarily powerful blow and the ball, off the bottom of the bat, went at no great pace between the stumps and mid off. It was not a safe single but the tension had claimed Klusener and off he went for the far end. Donald, who would comfortably have made his ground had he set off as he had for the previous ball, was not even looking but was doing what schoolboys are told not to, ball watching, his head turned to see where the ball had gone.
Mark Waugh gathered the ball and side-armed it at the stumps in an attempt to run Klusener out. He missed and Klusener was safe but Donald, his nerves in tatters, had dropped his bat and stood dithering like a rabbit in headlights. Fleming caught Waugh’s throw and admirably keeping his head, rolled the ball to wicketkeeper Gilchrist, while Donald finally took half a dozen stumbling steps down the wicket. Klusener and Donald left the field, shoulders slumped, to return to a dismal dressing room, sick with disbelief. South Africa’s world cup was over and Australia went on to win the final with ease. None of the South African players would ever know world cup glory.
Klusener and Donald were both experienced players and outstanding cricketers but a lack of composure, clear thought and intelligence caused their downfall. South Africa still awaits its first world cup.