Semi Final: Australia v South Africa|
Edgbaston - 17 June 1999
CricInfo report by John Polack
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South Africa bow out in cliffhanger
In cricket, we often witness the unpredictable; the exciting; the tension-ridden; and the drama-charged. But it is doubtful that we have ever seen a match quite like the World Cup semi-final contested between Australia and South Africa at Edgbaston today - a fixture that has ended in a tie (yes, a tie - the first ever in the Cup!) and seen Australia progress, by virtue of the fact they had finished higher on the tournament's Super Six table than their opponents, to the Final in the most staggering of climaxes.
Not that it is altogether possible to describe in mere words how this result came about, the match ended two balls from the scheduled finish as the South Africans bravely (but unsuccessfully) attempted to search for the one additional run that would have clinched their country a berth in an all-so-elusive World Cup Final. Having already hit his team back to within touching distance of victory from what appeared to have been the point of almost no return (scoring with amazing power and precision as he revived his team from the peril of requiring as many as twenty-five runs from the final fifteen deliveries), big-hitter Lance Klusener pulled a Damien Fleming ball in ungainly fashion back down the wicket, and called his partner, number eleven Allan Donald, through for a frenzied run. But, in a mixup that will unfortunately forever scar South African supporters' memories of this contest, Donald somehow remained almost rooted to a spot a pace out of his crease and then dropped his bat as Klusener ran toward him all the while and ultimately joined him at the bowler's end. Simultaneously, Mark Waugh fielded the ball running across from a position at mid off; relayed the ball to Fleming, who in turn threw it along the ground to wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist as Donald eventually began running in a despairing effort but one that was made far too late to avert disaster. The Australians understandably then embraced in an exuberant and joyous huddle (the presence of which made it look, for a moment, like we had just witnessed the end of an Australian Rules Football Grand Final), as Klusener (who had ended with an amazing unbeaten 31 off 16 balls) and Donald trudged, crestfallen and weary, off the ground almost unnoticed behind them.
Lest the events which led up to the astounding conclusion be forgotten amid the scenes of chaos, pandemonium, joy and despair, it should be said that this was a great day's cricket throughout. In many ways, this was also a match which exemplified the notion that players and teams can react to supreme pressure in entirely different ways. Moreover, it illustrated perfectly that some can fold under its burdensome weight; others can remain unaffected; and that there are a small number who have the rare capacity to use it as a catalyst to raise the level of their performance to dizzying heights. Indeed, we saw the full gamut of those responses (for there were excellent and poor performances - and everything in between - from players on each of the sides), but it will inevitably be one which fits the latter description in the most sublime of senses that will almost certainly serve as the most enduring memory of what proved to be an excellent day's cricket.
Producing a performance which was eerily reminiscent of his deeds against West Indies at exactly the same stage of the last World Cup, leg spinning maestro Shane Warne (who captured a stunning 4/29 from ten spellbinding overs) was clearly the Australian hero, although each of the eleven will undoubtedly derive the most significant personal pleasure imaginable from this result. Prior to his introduction into the attack in the eleventh over of the South Africans' pursuit of the total of 213 compiled by the Australians in the morning, this fixture was heading inexorably his opponents' way but - with determination and nerve written completely across his gaze - he transformed the situation completely. It was a simply brilliant effort from the Victorian, as he teased and tormented all of his opponents with easily his most memorable exhibition since his return from shoulder surgery around five months ago. His first moment of brilliance came when he produced a classical leg break to comprehensively bowl a defending Herschelle Gibbs (30) in the thirteenth over. Having broken a stubborn opening stand of 48, the blond star didn't rest there - then removing Gary Kirsten (18) in the same fashion in his following over as the left hander launched an extravagantly airy sweep and played completely over the top of the delivery. In a strange (and what appeared to be a highly unlucky) dismissal as bouncing ball, boot and bat all almost came together as one as he looked to defend a well flighted leg break, Hansie Cronje (0) then left the score at 53/3 as he was adjudged by umpire David Shepherd to have been caught at slip. By this stage, Warne (who had struck three times in the space of eight balls) was pumping the air extravagantly and many sections of the crowd were on their feet to produce easily the biggest roar of the day.
Such was Warne's impact on this fixture that he even seemed to transform the mindset of his previously flagging teammates with his early burst - the Australians suddenly anew and almost awakened as they capitalised on their leg spinner's genius. With some notable exceptions, they bowled and fielded with great composure - Michael Bevan, especially, outstanding in the deep throughout.
Earlier in the day, destructive bursts at either end of the Australian innings from Shaun Pollock and from Donald appeared to have given the South Africans a decisive early edge. Although they were resisted for a considerable period by a belligerent partnership of 90 runs for the fifth wicket between the formidable pairing of Bevan (65) and Steve Waugh (56), the South Africans indeed had never looked likely to surrender the upper hand through the pre-lunch session after they had reduced the Australians to a score of 68/4 at the end of seventeen overs. Aside from some occasionally overly short bowling from Steve Elworthy and from Klusener, their bowlers operated in disciplined fashion and they rarely surrendered many easy scoring opportunities. Pollock was the most effective among them, clearly turning in his most convincing exhibition of the Cup to finish with 5/36 (off 9.2 superb overs). He made an incisive early strike when he removed Mark Waugh (0) with a ball that both rose and cut back alarmingly just five balls into the match and then landed four critical late innings blows - the most significant of these coming when he removed the then ominous-looking Steve Waugh (caught behind as he attempted to run a ball to third man in the fortieth over after another magnificent, bullocking innings) and Tom Moody (palpably leg before wicket for 0) in the space of four balls at the start of a second of three spells.
Typically, Donald also bowled excellently, and troubled all of the batsmen with his destructive speed and control on a helpful surface. Even though he was essentially gifted a wicket from his very first ball - Ricky Ponting (37) failing to move his feet as he lofted an outswinger straight to cover - there can also be no begruding his return of 4/32 from his ten. Through the course of a brilliant overall exhibition, he also removed Darren Lehmann (1) with an unplayable lifting leg-cutter, and produced two stinging yorkers at the death to dispense with Paul Reiffel (0) and Fleming (0).
Befitting its status as one of the three most important matches in this cricketing extravaganza, this was, then, a truly extraordinary and nailbiting contest which left everyone in suspense until all but the very end. Even controversy entered the equation over the final few minutes; the third umpire seeming to ensure that time stood still in the middle of the penultimate over as he exhaustively went about the process of deciding that Elworthy (1) had been legitimately run out. Then Reiffel dropped a difficult chance at long on to catch Klusener (then on only 16) shortly afterwards, and the proceedings were delayed again as officialdom was forced to decree whether his parry carried over or inside the rope (for four or, as was ultimately the case, six) behind him.
Many will speculate that there was no need for the South Africans to attempt to take a single with two balls still available to them, but it would be unfair to isolate one incident out as being the pivotal contributing factor to the tie. Indeed, many will also probably look back upon the departures of Jacques Kallis (out for a typically unflappable 53 to a checked drive, sliced straight into the waiting hands of Steve Waugh at cover off Warne's second last ball of the day) and Pollock (who, after a brief flurry of shots, exited for 20 when he inside edged a full Fleming ball back into his leg stump in the following over) as the defining moments of the contest but, in truth, it was Warne's stunning first three overs where the seeds of their downfall were sown.
Whilst the pain of this 'loss' will stay with them for some time (indeed, the agonised and drawn nature of Donald's face pointed to the hurt of the situation), it needs to be remembered that the South Africans played with tremendous heart until the very cessation of their tournament and undoubtedly proved themselves one of the three great teams in contemporary one-day international cricket. In the end, one team had to end on the wrong side of the ledger and victory was simply not to be theirs on a day when they were pitted against eleven ruthlessly determined men whose collective sense of assurance grew as steadily during the day as it has done throughout the latter stages of this tournament more generally. And so, after all of the drama, we are almost certainly promised a rich final - as a team laden with brilliant and volatile individual talent (Pakistan) meets another (in Australia) which seemingly possesses an indefatigable capacity to prevail when they seem all but eviscerated from view. It promises great tension, unrivalled excitement, and a marvellous climax to this fantastic event. The cricketing world awaits.