Rain-rules ruined them in 1992. A classy Brian Lara destroyed them in 1996. And their own man threw them out in 1999. That is the nightmarish tale of South Africa's World Cup campaigns in the last decade of this century. Even the most imaginative and successful thriller-writer would not have conceived such a climax as the one witnessed today in a semi-final between South Africa and Australia at Edgbaston.
The game ended in a tie with the teams level at 213 each. But Australia had won the Super Six league match against South Africa, and ,as per rules, they earned the right to meet Pakistan in the final on June 20 at Lord's. Lance Klusener , the hectic hitter, brought South Africa to the doorsteps of Lord's with a scintillating 31 off 14 balls ( four fours and a six) with the last man Allan Donald as his partner.
Damien Fleming bowled the last over. Klusener hit him for two fabulous fours. Off the third ball Donald , the non-striker, left his crease for reasons best known to himself but was lucky that Darren Lehmann's aim just missed the stumps. Donald was a different man off the next ball when Klusener pushed the ball to mid-on and ran. Donald was not seeing his partner. His eyes were on the fielder!!. That was enough for the Australians to bring about a sensationa TIE. Fleming threw the ball to wicket-keeper Gilchrist who shattered the stumps before a panic-stricken Donald could reach home.
Donald, one of the architects of modern South Africa cricket, would never forgive himself for that stupid act that rendered all the giant-like strides made by his team in this Cup championship an exercise in futility. Who had made this target of 214 look so huge?. Whoelse could it be other than that wily leg-spinner Shane Warne who struck three early blows to rattle South Africa (53 for 3in 14.3 overs).
When Michael Bevan effected a spectacular run-out to send back Darryl Cullinan to make it 61 for four (21.2 overs) the South African were in a nasty spot. Warne struck in his very first over (11th) stunning Herschelle Gibbs with a beauty that tunred from the leg stump to hit the top of the off-stumps. Almost an identical delivery in his next over castled a bemused Gary Kirsten and two balls later skipper Hansie Cronje was caught in the slip by Mark Waugh. That looked a harsh decision as Cronje did not appear to have touched the turning ball. The deviation must have been off his toe.
From 61 for four South Africa recovered gamely through a tenacious pair of Jacques Kallis (53 in 92 balls), and Jonty Rhodes (43 in 55) until , in the 41st over at 145, Rhodes became implusive and pulled Paul Reiffel into the hands of deep fielder Michael Bevan. Warne came on to bowl his 10th over ( 45th of the innings) with the score at 161 for 5. Reiffel failed to catch a mishit by Kallis off the very first ball. Kallis and Shaun Pollock celebrated that escape by smashing 15 runs off that over.
But Warne had the last laugh when he forced Kallis to drive a ball into the waiting hands of Steve Waugh at covers( 176 for six). Australia really looked the likely winner at that stage. But then Klusener who has earned a great reputation as a massive scorer in the end-overs kept South Africa's hopes alive even though he lost Pollock, Mark Boucher and Steve Elworthy by the 49th over fourth ball.
But Klusener exhibited his guts by hitting Reiffel for a six off the fifth ball and took a single off the next ball of this over to make it 205 for nine. Then in the 50th over he slammed two lusty fours off the first two balls from Fleming. Then non-striker Donald committed those blunders that would haunt him throughout his life. Shane Warne (10-4-29-4) emerged the 'man of the match'.