9th Super Six Match: Australia v South Africa
Tony Cozier - 13 June 1999
Waugh beats the odds
No cricketer of his time has saved more lost causes for his country than Steve Waugh.
His latest act of deliverance on behalf of Australia at Headingley yesterday had to be, in the context of things, the most significant and personally satisfying in his long and celebrated career.
The situation could scarcely have been more dire when he came to the wicket in the middle of a sunny afternoon in the final Super Sixes match of the World Cup.
Nothing but victory would advance Australia into the semifinals. Defeat would mean instant elimination – and defeat was the likeliest outcome when the captain took guard.
The strong and confident South Africans, already assured their place in the last four and favourites for the Cup, had amassed 271 for seven and his team had been reduced to 48 for three midway through the 11th over.
For someone with 115 Tests and 258 One-Day Internationals on his record, such a crisis was not unfamiliar.
Some players crumble under the pressure, others are stimulated by it, and Waugh proved, yet again, that he is one of the most prominent in the latter category.
With single-minded determination and natural skill, supported by a dozen years of international experience, he led Australia to their distant target with two balls, and five wickets, to spare.
Ironically, their semifinal will be against the same South Africans, at Edgbaston, on Thursday.
Disregarding cramps in both legs and the unbearable tension, Waugh accumulated only his second One-Day International hundred, 120 off 110 balls.
When his under-edged stroke off Allan Donald sneaked past wicket-keeper Mark Boucher and formalised the victory, he punched the air.
It was a rare sign of emotion from an undemonstrative sportsman.
He enjoyed one remarkable piece of luck in the 31st over when Herschelle Gibbs, one of the safest catchers in the contemporary game, fluffed a comfortable catch at midwicket off Lance Klusener when he was 55 and the total 152 for three. Characteristically, Waugh made the most of it.
Opener Gibbs' 101 had been the backbone of South Africa's innings but his miss, dropping the ball as he attempted to hurl it into the air in the customary celebration, probably earned Australia their passage through to the last four.
Waugh started his liberation after Steve Elworthy had bowled Adam Gilchrist in the second over and claimed Damien Martyn in the 12th to a top-edged pull and, more pertinently, after his brother Mark was run out by Ricky Ponting's misjudgement of a single in the sixth over for five.
As always, his presence inspired his partners.
Ponting, with 69, helped him open the possibilities of an unlikely victory with a fourth-wicket stand of 126 in 22.4 overs.
Ponting hooked two sixes off Elworthy and he and his captain took advantage of the absence of the injured Jacques Kallis' penetrative pace, targeting Nicky Boje's left-arm spin and captain Hansie Cronje's medium-pace.
When Ponting skied a catch to mid-on off Lance Klusener after scoring 69 off 110 balls, Michael Bevan came in.
The busy left-hander and Waugh carried the total to within 25 of the requirement.
Waugh let little loose go unpunished, hoisting two huge sixes off Boje and Elworthy with his trademark sweep-pull, knee bent; punching 10 boundaries off back and front foot on both sides of the wicket, and running like a man 10 years younger than his 33 years.
Bevan chipped a catch to midwicket midway through the 46th over, raising the tension. But Waugh would not be denied.
He and Tom Moody, a tall right-hander with several seasons of English experience with Worcestershire, took the remaining runs off South Africa's finest bowlers, Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock, even though they left it late.
Waugh, modestly underestimating his own record, admitted afterwards that he was worried that the target was too steep, especially at 48 for three.
He described Australia's bowling as ``pretty ordinary'', criticising it for failing to bowl to one side of the wicket as South Africa piled up the runs.
Gibbs laid the foundations in successive partnerships of 45 in 12.4 overs with the left-handed Gary Kirsten and 95 in 19.1 overs with Daryl Cullinan, who accumulated 50 off 60 balls.
Leg-spinner Shane Warne, in his best spell of the tournament, checked the advance, bowling Cullinan and claiming Cronje lbw, both swinging across the line, in his final over.
But Jonty Rhodes joined Gibbs in a stand of 78 off 70 balls that kept up the momentum.
Gibbs had just passed his second hundred in limited-overs internationals – his first was against the West Indies in January – when he exposed his stumps to Glenn McGrath and was duly bowled.
His 134-ball knock included 10 fours and a straight six off Paul Reiffel.
It let in the heavy-hitting Klusener, now dubbed by the papers here ``The Axeman'', to club 36 off 21 balls (a six and four fours) and supplement Rhodes' 39 off 36 balls (two sixes and two fours).
Even to Steve Waugh, South Africa's 271 for seven might have seemed too many at the time. But Australia can never be written off, especially when the situation is desperate.
They began the tournament shakily, losing to Pakistan and New Zealand in the first round before squeezing into the Super Sixes by defeating the West Indies in their last match.
Wins over India, Zimbabwe and now South Africa gave them a 100 per cent record in the second stage.
Their early form was such that they were widely discounted as the second favourites they originally were. Waugh used such skepticism to his advantage.
``I just thought about all those people who wrote us off early in the competition and that spurred me on to big things,'' he said afterwards as he accepted the Man-Of-The-Match goodies.
The match duly lived up to its promotional hype as a clash of the giants, enthralling another sell-out crowd, the supporters proclaiming their allegiance with their national flags and their banners, and the millions following on television and radio.
The tournament has had too few such close encounters. This followed New Zealand's exciting win over India on Saturday.
Australia's triumph raised them to second place behind Pakistan in the points table but ahead of South Africa and New Zealand.
Zimbabwe, who have played bravely but have been out of their depth in the Super Sixes, dropped out.
So Australia will again have to contend with South Africa on Thursday, the day after Pakistan take on New Zealand at Old Trafford.
As yesterday's contest confirmed, they are so closely matched another nail-biter is likely and, this time, the prize is a place in the final itself.
Source: The Barbados Nation
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