Cricket World Cup Unforgettable – Australia v South Africa, 1999 This has to be the greatest ever match played in a world cup. The two teams resumed their intension struggle against one another from just 5 days before when they had played out a close encounter in the Super Six stage of the tournament. Australia had prevailed on that day, beating the South Africans with just two balls to spare, helped in no mean terms by an unbeaten century from their tenacious captain Steve Waugh. That was also the match in which Gibbs dropped Waugh early on in his innings and supposedly induced the now famous "You just dropped the world cup, mate" comment from the Australian captain.
Australia had a shaky start to their world cup campaign and came into the Super Six stage having to win all their matches in order to make it to the semifinals. They had lost their 2 initial group matches to both Pakistan and New Zealand. To make matters worse these two teams were Australia's fellow qualifiers from their group. As a result Australia started off the Super Six stage with no points, knowing that nothing short of victory in all their remaining matches alone would take them into the semi-finals. Australia did just that and with some style.
Australia batted first and promptly lost Mark Waugh in the first over itself to Shaun Pollock. Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist put on a 51 run partnership before Ponting departed in the 14th over. Australia then lost the wicket of Darren Lehman in the same over. Steve Waugh walked in with his side in trouble at 3 for 58. His troubles were even more accentuated when Gilchrist got out with the score at 68 in the 17th over.
As has been the character of his entire career, Steve Waugh then started a rearguard fightback as only he can. It is impossible to think of any other batsmen you would want to be in the middle when your team is in crisis. No other player must have saved its team as much as Steve Waugh has in the history of cricket. Here he put on a superb 90 run partnership with Michael Bevan (arguably the greatest ODI player in the game's history). before Waugh departed with his own personal score at 56.
What followed was some superb piece of bowling by the South African spearheads Donald and Pollock. They picked up the remaining Australian wickets one by one with Bevan standing helplessly at the other end. Only Shane Warne provided dome token resistance putting on 49 runs with Bevan. Bevan was the last man out for 65 and Australia was bowled out for 213 with 4 balls still to spare. Pollock and Donald finished up with figures of 5/36 and 4/32 respectively.
The South African innings started off steadily. The opening pair of Gibbs and Kirsten made a solid 48 in 12.2 overs. Then the magician Shane Warne got into the act. The 'Wizard of Oz' wave such a brilliant exhibition of spin bowling that at the time it seemed impossible that South Africa would ever recover from its effects. Warne teased and bamboozled out 3 quick South African wickets, including a controversial one of Hansie Cronje. Cronje was given out when replays clearly showed that the ball had come off his boot. The South African cause was not helped by the run out of Daryl Cullinan and the South Africa was left teetering at 61 for 4.
As with the Australian innings earlier South Africa too went through a period of consolidation through a gritty partnership between Rhodes and Kallis. They took the score to 145 when Rhodes departed trying to up the tempo. But Kallis and Pollock continued to take the score forward before Shane Warne came back to make one last impact on the game. He removed Kallis and brave very little runs away in the slog overs. In the end his figures read 10-4-29-4.
The match was never over yet. Klusener came out and started belting the ball all over the park as he had gone through the tournament. He would later on be voted the most valuable player of the tournament. Klusener would have taken the game away from Australia had he got some support from the other end. Unfortunately South Africa kept losing wicket before they found themselves with only Allan Donald and Klusener left to face the last over of the match.
This was one of the most astounding final overs in the history of the game. South Africa needed 9 runs off the last 6 balls with Klusener at strike and Fleming was the bowler. The first two balls were bludgeoned for boundaries and South Africa looked certain to romp home. But cricket is played as much in the mind as it is on the field. Steve Waugh applied more pressure to an already pressure cooker like atmosphere by bringing the field in.
Fleming bowled the next ball and Donald, South Africa's most experienced player, backed up too far on Klusener's push to mid-on and only Darren Lehmann's underarm throw at the jumps saved him as he scrambled back. This appeared to have fused out Klusener's thought process as well. For off the very next ball Klusener pushed the ball to mid off and set off for a risky run. Why he did so when he still had two more balls to face is still a mystery. Any he did set off for the run and in the ensuing chaos of the situation Allen Donald did not hear his partner's call for the single. He there started off late for the run. Mark Waugh scooped the ball and thread the ball at Fleming. Donald in the meanwhile was trying willingly to make his ground sans his bat, which he had lost in the confusion. Fleming collected the throw from Waugh and roled it along the pitch to Gilchrist who easily ran out Donald. Australia exploded into a spontaneous celebration and the pain etched on Klusener's face was heart breaking. The match was a tie !!!
Australia went into the final as it had beaten South Africa in the league stage and the tournament rules specified that in case of a tie, an earlier result should be taken into account.