After a gap of two decades, the World Cup returns to British soil. In some ways, the 1999 World Cup was a pivotal point in cricket history- it began a period of unprecedented Australian domination of the sport. The Aussies would probably not have even reached the semi-finals of the tournament but for that dropped catch from Herschelle Gibbs in their Super Six clash against the Proteas. As fate would have it, they progressed, and have since gone on to win four of the last five World Cups. While Australia seem able to win World Cups at will, South Africa appear to have become the ultimate chokers and are yet to win the tournament despite having one of the best overall records in the competition.
The Super Six game between Australia and South Africa has its place in history, although it’s often overshadowed by the semi-final contested between the same two teams- often considered as the best Cricket World Cup game ever.
That Edgbaston last-four fixture saw South Africa put the Australians in. The Proteas pace attack reduced their opponents to 68/4 in 17 overs before a partnership between skipper Steve Waugh and Mr.Fixit Michael Bevan- both scoring half centuries, helped Australia cross the 200 mark.
In reply, South Africa’s openers started well and added 48 runs before introduction of Shane Warne changed the game. The Proteas were 43/0 in 10 overs when Warne started, but by the time he had finished his first spell (8-4-12-3), they had only managed to crawl to 71/4 after 25 overs.
Like Waugh and Bevan had done for Australia, Jacques Kallis and Jonty Rhodes set about resurrecting the South African innings. The current Proteas side, as has oft been pointed out by the folks at The Cricket Blog, doesn’t quite have the batting depth that squad had. With Mark Boucher coming in at 9, South Africa had a formidable lower order, marshalled by the brilliant Lance Klusener, who had rescued them from many a sticky situation previously in the tournament.
The equation came to 16 off 8 balls with one wicket in hand, but Klusener first hit Glenn McGrath for a six, and then took a single off the final ball to keep strike. With 9 needed off six, he then proceeded to bludgeon Damian Fleming for consecutive boundaries, making it just one to win from four balls.
After having done all the hard work, Klusener however had failed to finish it off. Non-striker Allan Donald backed up too far on the third delivery, but Australia missed the run-out. With the pressure potentially getting to him, Klusener went for the single on the fourth ball, but Donald, perhaps affected by how he had just missed being run-out on the previous delivery, froze and failed to respond. Klusener continued to run, but by the time Donald started to run, it was too late, and Australia ran him out at the wicket-keeper’s end.
The match finished in a draw, but this is where it got more dramatic. South Africa could’ve put Australia out of the tournament in their Super Six clash, but that dropped Gibbs catch allowed Steve Waugh to mount a rearguard and send the Kangaroos though. As a result of that win, Australia had finished ahead of the Proteas in the league table, and therefore advanced to the final.
This South African team isn’t quite in the same mould as the class of 99, but they do have their strengths- notably a strong fast-bowling attack and the in-form Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis upfront. They were favourites in 99, but few expect them to win this year. Will the lowered expectations work in the Proteas’ favour? We’ll have to wait and find out.