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The climax: Allan Donald is run out © Getty Images

June 17, 1999. Pakistan had already obliterated New Zealand in the first semi-final of ICC Cricket World Cup ’99. In the other semi-final, at Edgbaston, Steve Waugh’s Australia and Hansie Cronje’s South Africa locked horns for what was certainly the greatest match in ODI history. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a day of iconic performances, magic moments, back-to-the-wall rearguard acts, legends at their best, champions at each other, a nerve-wrecking climax, brain-freezes, shattered dreams, and the most appropriate result: in other words, the kind of stuff dream matches are made of.

Did the match really happen? Did Shane Warne really bowl that spell? Did the last over really pan out the way it did? It has been nearly two decades, and everything still seems so fresh, so recent…

Was it the greatest ODI ever? I know it is a subjective matter, and there is no way one can draw a conclusion.

But, has there been a match this thrilling? Have two equally matched teams ever locked horns to provide a clash this titanic, in nature and in outcome?

There were legends of the sport, several of them, all playing for that one coveted place in the final. Some of them were at their best; others were not. But, between them, they pulled off one of the greatest spectacles on earth.

There were breathtaking strokeplay,  gritty grinding and destructive fast bowling, devious spin and outrageous fielding.

And it all culminated into a climax matched by few. Let us have a look back.

Two roads, one destiny

Two major matches into the tournament it did not seem Australia would make it to the Super Sixes. Though they edged past Bangladesh and Scotland, defeats to Pakistan and New Zealand hurt them badly. However, they hit back, rolling over West Indies and India, and subduing a valiant Zimbabwe.

South Africa won their first four league matches before being stunned by Zimbabwe. They retaliated by defeating New Zealand and Pakistan.

In the all-to-play-for (for Australia; South Africa had already qualified) last match of Super Sixes, Steve Waugh masterminded an incredible chase after Herschelle Gibbs put down an easy catch.

The teams met, for the second time in four days; on a day history would remember for shades of intense brilliance, goose-bumps and heartbreaks…

One, two, three, four

Jacques Kallis had almost recovered from his injury, and replaced Nicky Boje. Australia, on the other hand, replaced Damien Martyn with Darren Lehmann.

Hansie Cronje put Australia in on a pitch that promised bounce. Even if it did not, he had Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock in his line-up, backed by Kallis, Steve Elworthy, and the man who could do no wrong in the tournament — Lance Klusener. And then, this was Edgbaston, where seamers always held advantage…

Pollock began proceedings. Cronje gave him two slips. The first ball was pitched up, and Adam Gilchrist slammed it past Pollock in the air to the left off Cronje at mid-on.

Pollock could have given Cronje a wicket off the first ball. Instead, he went for three runs, runs that would prove crucial as the match would approach its climax.

He almost struck fourth ball, rapping Mark Waugh on the pad. They all went on in unison, but met with a nod from David Shepherd, and rightly so: it would have missed leg.

Four balls into the match, and Pollock had already extracted a shot in the air and an appeal for leg-before. Now he unleashed a peach that kept jagging back inside and kept climbing wickedly. Waugh Jr tried to back away, arching his back, but the ball followed him, kissed the glove and landed peacefully in the big gloves of Mark Boucher.

It was the first outstanding ball of the match. It would not be the last.

Five balls into the match and Australia were 3 for 1. It could easily have been worse.

Ricky Ponting walked out. His ascent to the summit of world cricket was yet to begin, but he had already established himself as a rare talent.

But this was not the day for counterattacks. He defended, he dabbed, he kept his calm, not scoring off the first 12 balls he faced. Then came a cover-drive that got him off the mark. They were 10 for 1 in 5 overs.

On came Steve Elworthy. His first two overs had gone for a mere three. The first ball, pitched on off, met with a jab to point.

Was the second ball intentionally short? Why would Elworthy do that to someone set out to become one of the greatest exponents of back-foot strokes? The pull flew over the square-leg boundary.

Elworthy tried an encore: Ponting rocked back, chose almost the same region, but played it slightly late to keep it along the ground.

How could Elworthy be this unimaginative? Did he not know? Or did he have something up his sleeve…?

The response came the next ball. Having set up Ponting with two short balls, Elworthy pitched the next one up. It hit his pads. As it happened with Pollock in the first over, it was sliding down leg. Srinivas Venkataraghavan did not err. The batsmen ran a leg-bye.

Elworthy unleashed another short ball next over, this time on off; it was also quicker than his earlier efforts. Ponting waited for what it seemed like an eternity, before those wrists flexed and that blade flashed: the ball flew over slip to the fence.

Pollock stemmed the flow, but Gilchrist — after remaining stuck on 7 — lofted Elworthy into the stands over long-on.

On came Kallis, first bowling change. He induced an edge, but Gilchrist got away. Kallis went for 7 as Donald warmed up.

Throughout the tournament, Cronje had been reluctant to give Donald the new ball, for it was easier to get someone of his pace away. He played safe.

The great man did not disappoint. Ponting hit the first ball to Gary Kirsten at cover. Two leg-byes and two singles later, Donald got one to lift off a length: Lehmann failed to get away at the last moment and edged it to Boucher. At 58 for 3 in 14 overs, the stage was set for Waugh Sr.

Gilchrist hit Donald past mid-off; and when Kallis bowled one short outside off, he went for the slash à la Sanath Jayasuriya. Unfortunately, it flew flatter than he would have liked and found a waiting Donald at deep third-man.

Australia were 68 for 4 in 17 overs. With only Tom Moody and the bowlers to come, it had to be Waugh and Michael Bevan from there.

Resurgence: Australia

The risks needed to be curbed. There were singles to be run. And Waugh and Bevan obliged.

Bevan got four from a cut off Kallis. Shepherd erred four balls later, calling it a seven-ball over.

Kallis bowled a maiden. Donald followed with another. Cronje replaced Donald with Klusener. Kallis bowled another maiden. Runs dried up.

Australia were 86 for 4 after 21 overs. The next 8 overs accounted for a mere 5 (no, not the other way round). They were crawling.

So they decided to counterattack. Waugh attempted a cut off Klusener; the thick edge ran to the fence. Three balls later Bevan pulled Klusener for four more. However, they could not get Kallis away; he finished with 1 for 27.

Elworthy returned. Waugh counterattacked: the second ball was slightly slow, as he shuffled across and picked it over mid-wicket for four; he waited for the next, dispatching it to the extra-cover fence.

Was he cutting loose?

Then he went after Klusener, lofting him straight; the ball fell just short of the ropes. Four balls later he repeated the shot; this time, it went the distance. Bevan joined in the fun as well, lofting him over wide mid-on for four.

At one stage Australia were 92 for 4 after 29 overs. The next 7 overs had fetched 44. Cronje cast his last throw of the dice, recalling Donald and then Pollock.

Waugh’s fifty came up in 71 balls with a neat drive to the wide mid-off fence. The score read 155 for 4 after 39 overs. Cronje needed a wicket, maybe two or even more.

Australia implode

Pollock continued. The batsmen changed ends. Waugh, who was looking invincible till then, aimed for the vacant third-man. Unfortunately, Pollock’s ball was closer to the stumps than Elworthy’s: it took the edge and Boucher accepted the catch gleefully.

Big Tom Moody, the other surviving member of the 1987 World Cup squad, faced one 3 balls later that kept low and jagged back. Venkat had no doubt in ruling him LBW.

The job was done. Cronje came on himself; and one unsuccessful over later, gave way to Elworthy. Klusener resumed from the other end. He needed those overs out of the way before he would summon Donald and Pollock for their final bursts.

Runs came in singles, punctuated by the occasional boundary. They reached 196 for 6 in 46 overs.

On came Donald, beating Warne thrice with pace and inducing an edge that rolled to point. The over went for 2.

Pollock, for one, strayed on the pad. Bevan leg-glanced him for four to bring up Australia’s second hundred.

Five balls later Warne succumbed to an ugly cross-batted swipe. The ball was outside off; Warne was nowhere in position. He was caught in two minds, making a feeble attempt; Cronje moved back from mid-on and took a tumbling catch.

On came White Lightening to produce two scorchers. The first ball of the over — a yorker — crashed into off and middle-stump to send Paul Reiffel back. Two balls later, he bowled one on off that held its line; Damien Fleming played inside the line, and his off-stump was flattened.

Bevan probably had little faith on Glenn McGrath’s ability to survive the over. He ran for a desperate bye. Boucher’s underarm throw missed the stumps; and as things would pan out, it cost South Africa the match.

Donald finished with 4 for 32. Bevan pulled Pollock’s first ball for four but edged one to Boucher off the second, falling for 65. Australia were bowled out for 213, Pollock having 5 for 36.

No one would have called it a match-winning score. Maybe a tad competitive, but that was it.

Opening up

Kirsten and Gibbs set off from the first over: Gibbs flashed at a wide one from McGrath; the edge ran to the fence. He creamed both Fleming and McGrath past extra-cover; Kirsten responded, shuffling across the stumps and flicking McGrath to the fence.

On came Reiffel, but Gibbs treated him with disdain, stamping his authority with a crisp straight-driven boundary. South Africa reached 43 without loss after 10 overs.

Warne was treated with caution. They took three runs off him, and two more off Reiffel. South Africa now needed a mere 166 from 228 balls.

It had to be Warne. They were looking too comfortable against pace.

It simply had to be him.

Hollywood moments

Nobody has a recollection of the first ball of the 13th over. It is the second ball that they remember; the one that almost seemed to pitch on leg but drifted away to pitch outside leg, turned the entire breadth of Gibbs and hit off-stump, dislodging a solitary bail.

“Come on,” lip-read the mortals glued to the television screens around the world as Warne punched the air in ecstasy.

Kirsten flicked Reiffel past mid-wicket to bring up fifty for South Africa. He was on strike as Warne strode in again.

The first ball was not tossed up. It fell slightly short of the mark. It was certainly too short for a slog sweep. Kirsten’s near-inexplicable attempt was probably predetermined; his front foot was nowhere close to the ball.

Off-stump was pegged back. In all probability Warne, did not see the impact, but Gilchrist’s exaltation told the story. 53 for 2.

Cronje joined Darryl Cullinan. Given Cullinan’s known weakness against Warne, should Cronje have held him back? Should Kallis have batted at No. 3 instead?

The ball that got Hansie was not as flat. Cronje lunged at it, trying to push it towards mid-on, and ended up hitting the ground. The ball beat the outside edge; it turned so much that it flew to Mark Waugh at first slip.

Or maybe it hit the left boot. Or maybe there was an edge. At least Shepherd decided it was the last. And, Cronje walked back, dejected, dragging his bat along the way…

Kallis finally emerged, bringing a sense of calm to the middle. Unfortunately, it had adverse impact on Cullinan, whose mind never had an amicable relationship with Warne. Kallis kept him away from strike, playing out another maiden to Warne, whose figures read 4-3-3-3 at this stage.

Fleming responded with another maiden from the other end. The following 2 overs went for 4. Then Kallis played out another maiden from Warne.

South Africa were 59 for 3 after 21 overs. The last 11 overs had yielded a mere 11, for the loss of 3 wickets. Warne’s figures read 6-4-5-3. Suddenly they needed 159 from 174 balls.

Kallis still looked unperturbed, but the pressure was probably getting to Cullinan. It seemed to be only a matter of time before he did something out of desperation.

Cullinan got a single off Fleming. The next ball was a wide down leg. Then Kallis played to Bevan at mid-off. Desperate to get the scoreboard ticking, Cullinan called and set off. He was barely in the frame when the direct throw struck the stumps at the striker’s end. 61 for 4.

Resurgence: South Africa

Waugh recalled McGrath in an attempt to provide another breakthrough. It did not work. He switched to Moody and Mark Waugh to run through the over. Kallis thumped Moody to the cover fence to break the shackles and followed it with an on-drive for one off Mark Waugh shortly afterwards.

Slowly, surely, Kallis and Jonty Rhodes helped South Africa crawl back into the match. While Kallis thrived on conventional drives, Rhodes late-cut Reiffel to beat Fleming at third-man; and when Mark Waugh bowled a full-toss, he slog-swept him into the stands.

They needed 70 from 60 balls. Waugh had 4 overs of McGrath and 2 of Warne up his sleeve. He needed 4 more overs from Reiffel and Fleming. He opted for Reiffel.

Runs and wickets

This time Reiffel bowled outside off. Rhodes went a cross-batted hoick. The ball stayed in the air for some time before it started to dip. Rhodes and Kallis ran, they knew there were runs to be taken; there was no way deep square-leg could have caught it…

But the fielder turned out to be Bevan. He ran so hard that he did not even need to dive. Rhodes walked back for a well compiled 55-ball 43.

Klusener averaged 125 in the tournament before the match with a strike-rate of 117. With 69 to score from 57 and Kallis standing like a rock at one end, Klusener was the obvious option. Instead, Cronje opted for Pollock.

In all fairness, it worked for a while. Kallis and Pollock settled for singles. Warne’s 9th over went for a mere two. The target came down to 59 from 42.

McGrath bowled the 44th over. Kallis and Pollock ran frantically. Run outs were missed. Kallis reached his fifty with nobody noticing. They sneaked a single every ball of the over, but 6 an over would not seal it for them.

53 from 36. Time had come for desperate measures.

Kallis gave the charge, chipping Warne over wide mid-off. Reiffel was left with two options: to charge at the ball and lunge forward for a catch or to stay back and allow a single.

He chose the former but could unfortunately not pull off a Bevan. Worse, the ball deflected off him; they ran three.

The onus was on Pollock now. His eyes lit up when he saw the ball tossed up. There was only one to go about this: Pollock stepped up and cleared long-on with ease. The next ball was smashed to the extra-cover fence, ruining Warne’s figures.

A single to deep cover brought the target down to 39 from 32. South Africa were back in it.

Would Warne toss it up? Would he go for the wicket? Or would he bowl that top-spinner of his, pushing Kallis to the back-foot, choking him for space?

Warne decided to give the ball air. Kallis went for a push, but was beaten in flight. The ball lobbed to the captain at cover.

Out walked Klusener, finally. Warne conceded a single past cover to finish with 4 for 29.

He had turned the semi-final of the previous World Cup with 4 for 36. They had named him Man of the Match. Would they win again? Had he done enough this time?

South Africa needed 38 from 30 balls. Reiffel had 2 overs left, but it would almost certainly be Fleming-McGrath-Fleming-McGrath-Fleming. And so it turned out to be.

Forty-six and forty-seven

On came Fleming, from around the stumps. He over-pitched (though not by much), and Klusener was on to it like a flash, reducing mid-wicket to a spectator.

Four balls later, Pollock went for one outside off. It took the inside edge and hit timber. They changed the ball as Boucher walked out. A single off the last ball brought it down to 30 from 24.

On came McGrath. They ran 3 singles. Klusener tried to blast the fourth ball past cover, but to no avail. Two more singles came their way. 23 from 18.

Forty-eight and forty-nine

There was still no reason for South Africa to panic, especially with Klusener around. But Fleming rose to the occasion: he pushed Boucher back with a shortish ball and followed it with a yorker. Boucher, desperate to get one away, swung again and missed.

Three dot balls. The pressure was clearly getting on to Boucher. Fortunately, he connected the next ball, and they ran a single.

Klusener blasted the next ball over backward-point for four, and the ball after that towards the mid-wicket fence. Moody cut it off, but not before they ran a brace. 18 from 12.

McGrath, in search for the yorker, bowled a full-toss. Boucher smashed it to cover.

McGrath tried an encore. This time Boucher did the sin of making room and trying to blast McGrath through cover. Middle-stump was knocked out of the ground.

Elworthy, without any pretension as a batsman, edged one towards backward point. Ponting flung himself full length to restrict it to a single.

Klusener gave the next ball his all, but found Reiffel at long-on. Elworthy turned for the second and ran as fast as he could, but Reiffel’s throw came at McGrath (who deflected it on to the stumps), leaving Elworthy well short of the crease.

However, Shepherd immediately referred to Steve Bucknor, the man behind the television screen: had McGrath knocked the bails off before Reiffel did the damage?

He had not. Elworthy walked back as the tall, imposing frame of Donald emerged from the pavilion. He had been terrifying with bat throughout his career, but he would also have made it to the shortlist in the contest for the worst batsman of the tournament.

Could he hold his nerve? Would he succumb? Would he let Klusener pull it off?

16 from 8. Klusener went for the big shot. McGrath went for the yorker again, but dished out a full-toss outside off. Once again, Klusener gave it the full-throttle treatment.

It would have been an easy catch to long-on, but Reiffel was found standing way inside the ropes, presumably to stop the second run. The ball was hit so hard that he did not have the time to take those quick steps backward; nor did he have the time to turn around.

Instead, he touched it with his fingertips; and probably did it with some force. The rest of the momentum came from Klusener’s muscles. The ball went over the ropes, silencing the section of the crowd who had gone into celebration mode. The inflated kangaroos were stowed away.

The single off the last ball was a no-brainer. South Africa would need 9 off the last over. Waugh tossed the ball to Fleming.

Mark Taylor had done the same three years back. The occasion was the same. The situation was near-identical. West Indies had needed 10 (and 6 off 5), but a run out and an ambitious Courtney Walsh had sealed it for Australia.

Fleming had to do it again this time. He had one run less to defend than in 1996, but he also needed one wicket less. It was easier this time.

Bang! Bang! Crash… well, almost

There was not much wrong with Fleming’s first ball. He attempted the yorker. The line was slightly outside off. He had long-off; and if he went for the other side, long-on.

But Klusener went into Superman mode. Not only did his bat descend at unreal speed, he also managed to turn the blade sufficiently to guide the ball past extra-cover.

Take a moment to let this sink in. Klusener actually placed the ball past cover-point, but with such force that the fielders had no chance to move. The superbats of the 2010s were yet to arrive.

South Africa needed 5 from 5 balls. Australia needed that solitary wicket. They had their best fielders on the fence.

Fleming’s next ball was on off-stump. There was no place for Klusener to manoeuvre. He did not try to make space, for he knew he had the power. The ball sped through extra-cover at such pace that the fielders were left watching.

The South African fans went berserk before cooling down, for there was still a run to get. As per the rules, since Australia had finished above South Africa in the Super Sixes, they needed to get that run. A tie would see Australia through.

The fielders came in, for there was only one way Australia could win the match. It also gave Fleming valuable time to get himself together.

Should Klusener have looked for a single? Should he have tried to pierce the field instead of give it the full blast? Should he have waited for the last ball before taking risks? Surely he would not have played three dot balls on the trot.

It was slightly short, but Klusener found time for a closed-arm pull of sorts. Unfortunately, it was hit with such brutal force that there was no time for a run before it reached Lehmann at mid-on.

But Donald thought otherwise. He had (rightly) backed up, but (wrongly) committed himself to the run, and sprinted down one-third of the twenty-two yards. Fortunately, Lehmann’s underarm throw missed the stumps.

Donald, having recovered from the desperate dive, grinned sheepishly. South Africa still needed that run.

Behind that glass wall in the pavilion, Hansie breathed a sigh of relief.

Madness, heartbreak, and all that

Fleming stood at the top of his run-up. Klusener waited at the other end, his eyes refusing to reflect his nerves.

Gilchrist squatted behind the stumps. The two slips crouched in anticipation. Lehmann walked in at mid-on; Mark Waugh at mid-off. As for Donald, he probably prayed for a boundary or anything not involving him.

Fleming finally got the yorker right. What followed probably unfolded in slow motion; or maybe it happened at normal pace, in a blur of yellow and green.

Whatever happened remains etched in the mind of the cricket lover, and will probably stay for an eternity.

Klusener hit it straight, very straight, and set off for an inexplicably logic-defying sprint towards the other end.

You could not blame Donald for trying to ground his bat. Unfortunately, that made him lose precious seconds, and that was all that made a difference.

Mark Waugh, warrior of many a battle, kept his cool. He sprinted, and in one fluid motion that so defined him throughout his career, sprung to his left and threw the ball to Fleming, who was manning the pitch, about 7 or 8 yards from the bowling end.

Unfortunately, Donald did not have an inkling of the fact that Klusener was charging to his end. His bat was still grounded when Waugh had released the ball.

By the time Donald turned around, Fleming had gathered the ball. Unlike their South African counterparts, the Australians did not lose their nerves. Waugh’s throw had been accurate.

And now, as Donald dropped his bat in sheer panic and began his run, Fleming kept his calm and rolled the ball on the ground towards Gilchrist.

Klusener did not look back. He kept running. A bat-less Donald gave up after he reached mid-pitch.

The inflated kangaroos came out in the stands the moment Gilchrist whipped off the bails. The camera, the cruel, cruel camera panned to a stony-faced Cronje, still behind the glass wall inside a gloomy pavilion where the lights had been switched off.

What followed?

- Anything would have been an anticlimax after the match. The final between Australia and Pakistan turned out to be a damp squib. Once again Warne took 4 wickets, skittling out Pakistan for 132. Australia won in a canter.

- A month after the match, Pollock went to the Durban July. He was advised to not put his money on No. 10, with a direct reference to Donald’s jersey number. It was, after all, not expected to run. To Pollock’s horror, El Picha, the No. 10, won the race.

Brief scores:

Australia 213 in 49.2 overs (Steve Waugh 56, Michael Bevan 65; Shaun Pollock 5 for 36, Allan Donald 4 for 32) tied with South Africa 213 in 49.4 overs (Jacques Kallis 53, Jonty Rhodes 43; Shane Warne 4 for 29).

Man of the Match: Shane Warne

Australia advanced to the final due to their superior position in the Super Sixes.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)