The most glittering pages in the Australian cricket history are those leaves, which narrate with passion and authority the deeds of great leaders of men. Today, in the last Super Six league match of the World Cup 1999, Steve Waugh joined those immortals. Waugh and his men were facing an unenviable task of beating the in-form giants South Africa so as to make the semi-finals.
And Australia, after suffering a spell of uncertainty in the preliminary league touched their won ten form in the Super Six. Even then their path to the desired 'last-four' destination was strewn with thorns. Or so it seemed. But Waugh today made a brave journey to take his side to a five-wicket win with two balls to spare. Set to get 272 for a win, Australia, thanks mainly to Waugh's 120 not out (110 balls, 10x4, 1x6) wrote a memorable script.
These two will meet again in the semi-finals. Pakistan and New Zealand will clash in the other. On Saturday, in the World Cup, three teams-South Africa, Pakistan and New Zealand-- were already sitting comfortably in the 'last-four' sector. Will it be Zimbabwe or Australia who would be filling up the sole vacancy? Australia with all their class, tactical brilliance and, above all, strong will power was capable of achieving that.
But then, the demands were so high on this day that beating South Africa was considered as an uphill task even for team like Australia. Moreover, South Africa too were keen to finish this league with a win so that they could take on Zimbabwe, easily the weakest side in this sector, in the first semi-finals. But Waugh had different ideas and created a sort of history. South Africa were without their diligent all-rounder Jacques Kallis who was nursing an injury.
They chose to play the left-arm spinner Nicky Boje in his place. Considering the strength of South Africa in all departments of the game, Kallis's absence was not made to be felt, at least when South Africa, winning the toss, batted first. Their openers Gary Kirsten and Herschelle Gibbs who regained their form only in the previous game against New Zealand began on an encouraging note. Eventually Gibbs emerged the batting hero with a century (101, 134 balls).
Darryl Cullinan (50) gave him company during a 95-run stand for the second wicket. The Australian attack today lacked the customary rhythm and for South Africa their never-failing friends Jonty Rhodes (39 off 36) and Lance Klusener (36 off 21 balls) exhibited the needed approach to help their team finish at 271 for 7. Jacques Kallis used to open the South Africa bowling attack with Shaun Pollock.
Today, in his absence, Steve Elworthy , an industrious medium-pacer, shared the new ball. And what a splendid start he gave to his side. He sent back Adam Gilchrist, Damien Martyn while Boje effected a smart run-out to dismiss Mark Waugh. The score read 48 for three in 11.1overs. Then began the tale of Steve Waugh full of character and class.
He inspired his partner Ricky Ponting and the South African attack was threatened to be blunted perhaps for the first time in this championship. The pair put on 126 runs by the 35th over before Ponting ( 69 off 110 balls) left hoisting a pull-drive to make things easy for square-leg fielder Donald. Then Michael Bevan , one of the most successful middle order batsmen in the One-Day World, and his skipper progressed gamely to 247 before Bevan (27 off 33 balls) fell.
But Steve Waugh was there to keep the Australian hopes alive. Tom Moody ,another enterprising soldier joined Waugh who had reached his hundred in the 43rd over. He was on 113 off 101 balls with 18 runs being needed off 18 balls to go to the next stage. Steve Waugh has never been a man to desert his side at such a "edge-of-the-seat' situation.
As expected South Africa became more competitive and the packed gathering would not have asked for a more exciting climax to the Super Six league. Fifteen needed of 12 balls. Donald began the 49th over with a 'no ball'. Seven runs came from that over. Pollock came on to bowl the final over. Moody took 2,4 and 1 off the first three balls leaving his skipper to hit the winning hit.