South Africa unbelievably let go opportunity to beat Australia and enter the 1999 World Cup final

Allan Donald is run out and Australia go through to the World Cup final after a dramatic semi-final at Edgbaston in Birmingham © Getty Images

On June 17, 1999, Australia and South Africa were involved in what was perhaps the best game of cricket ever played. Karthik Parimal looks back at that eventful fixture, its outcome and what it meant to both the nations.
Just four days prior to this fixture, Australia and South Africa were involved in what many believe was one of the finest One-Day Internationals ever played. Steve Waugh played one of the greatest innings in World Cup to steer Australia to a famous victory for a place above South Africa in the Super Six standings. That piece of statistic looked inconsequential at the time, but little did one expect it to hold the keys to the door of the final. The two teams now moved to Edgbaston, where a game that would top the previous one at Headingley, and go on to become the greatest one-day match in history, would be played.

The build-up

Australia had just managed to gain the upper hand in the tournament. They were beaten by Pakistan and New Zealand, and it took a dramatic change in attitude to edge ahead in the Super Six stage. On the other hand, the South Africans looked assertive, although they faced a minor hiccup in the form of a loss to underdogs Zimbabwe. Nevertheless, they were stronger than the rest of the teams in the mix.

Apparently, Shane Warne was fired up on the eve of Australia’s semi-final clash. He indicated that, if Australia failed to qualify for the final, the outing against South Africa could be his last on the international stage. “His emotional plea for a big performance further charged the atmosphere,” Steve Waugh recollects in his autobiography Out of My Comfort Zone.

The Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald show

The weather at Edgbaston was sombre and, hence, South African skipper Hansie Cronje had unflinchingly asked the Australians to bat first upon winning the toss. Shaun Pollock was in his element, prodigiously swinging the ball and accounting for the wicket of Mark Waugh in his first over. Thereafter, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist consolidated in a fine manner, but Allan Donald, who was the fourth change bowler on this occasion, struck twice in his first over, dismissing Ponting before flummoxing southpaw Darren Lehmann with extra bounce off the turf. Then Jacques Kallis had Gilchrist caught, and at 68 for four, Steve Waugh — the hero of the previous match — walked out to bat alongside a certain Michael Bevan.

Strokes from the magical willow of Waugh, ones that delighted the crowd at Headingley, began to light the overcast Edgbaston as well. He flicked Donald nonchalantly off his pads; saw off the threat posed by Pollock and smashed Lance Klusener over his head more than once. He found an able ally in Bevan, as the latter ensured the scoreboard did not stagnate. Strike was rotated meticulously and the ante was upped appropriately. Ninety runs were added. When their partnership commenced, the two set their sights at 220, but at 158 for four in the 40th over, more looked possible. However, Pollock was roped in for his final spell, and he responded with wickets of Waugh (56) and Tom Moody (0) in the same over. The South Africans instantly gained upper hand.

Bevan, though, dropped anchor, realising his presence in the final overs was of utmost importance. With Warne at the other end, he tore into the attack, but Donald’s blistering pace and Pollock’s guile wiped out the rest of the tail. The Australians could manage just 213, but considering the conditions and constant nip in the air, it was a decent one. Pollock pocketed five wickets whereas Donald finished with four.

Shane ‘fiery’ Warne

Gary Kirsten and Herschelle Gibbs started positively. Neither Glenn McGrath’s accuracy nor Damien Fleming’s deftness could make inroads in their defences. By the 12th over, the South Africans coasted to 48 for no loss, and Steve Waugh became fidgety. A gamble had to be taken, for his opening bowlers could yield absolutely nothing off the wicket. The ball was tossed to Shane Warne.

In just the second ball of his first over, Warne dismissed Gibbs with a delivery very similar to the Mike Gatting ‘Ball of the Century’, a ball that pitched outside leg and turned enough to hit the top of the off-stump. “He was so fired up and animated that it took a wall of players to stifle his forward thrust. His drive and will were literally scary, but he sparked life into others who were tensing up under the South African onslaught and got us back into the game,” writes Steve Waugh in his book. Indeed, Warne took two more scalps, that of Kirsten’s and Cronje’s, to put South Africa into a spot of bother at 53 for three.

Then, an incredible piece of fielding from Bevan saw the back of Daryll Cullinan, and it further pushed the Proteas to a corner. Like Waugh and Bevan did for Australia, Kallis and Jonty Rhodes got together and began the process of recuperation. An 84-run partnership ensued before Paul Reiffel had Rhodes caught off Bevan in the deep. Warne was then called upon again, and he duly dismissed Kallis, his fourth victim, to leave South Africa in a precarious position at 175 for six in the 45th over. But, in Klusener, they had the perfect man, tailor-made for such situations, in the middle.

As was his approach throughout the tournament, he pummelled everything that was thrown at him, despite the constant fall of wickets — that of Pollock, Mark Boucher and Steve Elworthy — at the other end. At 198 for nine, a nervous looking Donald walked out to the centre, but doubly nervous were the Australians, who made every attempt at keeping Klusener off strike. In the penultimate over, the southpaw slogged McGrath towards long-on, and Reiffel — the fieldsman at that position, misjudged the speed at which the ball was travelling and palmed it over the fence for a six. The Australians were understandably aghast, as the South Africans now needed just nine to win off six balls.

The final over

Damien Fleming was entrusted with the responsibility of saving those nine runs, but considering Klusener’s current state of mind, the chances of that happening looked bleak. As expected, the first two balls were bludgeoned through the covers, giving no fieldsman a chance to cut it off. With one run needed to win from four deliveries, Waugh brought the field in to stop the single and hoped to create panic. Klusener, though, was looking to romp home with another hit to the fence. He threw the kitchen sink at the third delivery too, but mistimed it as the ball travelled straight to Lehmann at mid-on. Donald set off looking for the non-existent single, and Lehmann, sensing an opportunity, hurled the ball but, owing to immense pressure, missed the stumps by the slightest of margins. Donald survived and so did South Africa’s hopes of a berth in the World Cup final.

Despite the insanity, Klusener refrained from having a word with Donald. Fleming bowled the fourth delivery, full and just outside the off-stump, and Klusener mistimed it for a second time in a row; and perhaps for just the second time in that World Cup. However, it was he who set off for a tight single this time around, oblivious to the fact that Donald wasn’t looking at him. Realising he had to make a dash Donald turned around to scamper, but in the process lost his bat. He nevertheless took off, but Fleming, who had by then received the ball from the fielder at the bowler’s end, passed it down the pitch, underarm, to wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist, who duly dislodged the stumps to snatch the winning run away from South Africa.

Australia’s joy knew no bounds. The match was tied, but owing to the fact that they were placed above South Africa in the Super Six stage, made the cut to the finals. The South Africans were dumbstruck. Klusener kept running toward the pavilion, no doubt disappointed. Donald kneeled on the pitch, appalled, even as the crowd invaded the turf. A dream was shattered, yet again.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a crestfallen individual as Hansie Cronje when he and I waited to be interviewed by Ian Chappell after the match. He was zombie-like and barely acknowledged my words” ‘No one deserved to lose such a great game.’ Actually, no one did on the scorecard, but the fact was we were off to Lord’s,” Steve Waugh finishes describing the great match in his book.

Brief scores:

Australia 213 in 49.2 overs (Michael Bevan 65, Steve Waugh 56; Shaun Pollock 5 for 36, Allan Donald 4 for 32) tied with South Africa 213 (Jacques Kallis 53, Jonty Rhodes 43, Lance Klusener 31*; Shane Warne 4 for 29).

Australia qualified for the final as they finished above South Africa on the Super Six table.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at