'99 Rewind: Tugga's ton and cricket's most famous drop

With his one-day career and Australia's World Cup campaign on the line, Steve Waugh played his greatest limited-overs innings, helped by Herschelle Gibbs' misfield

Waugh's greatest ODI ton, Gibbs drop at '99 World Cup

After starting so falteringly, Australia's 1999 World Cup campaign had found such a smoothness and confidence in the Super Six phase of the tournament that suddenly Steve Waugh's prediction that they simply had to win seven matches out of seven to lift the trophy seemed ever-so-slightly less ridiculous.

However, belting Zimbabwe's bowlers all around Lord's on a sunny day presented a far different assignment to what lay ahead in their last Super Six outing – Cup favourites South Africa and their world-class seam attack in less hospitable conditions in Leeds, the venue where Australia's campaign had become all-but-unhinged courtesy of their unconvincing loss to Pakistan three weeks earlier.

It was following that Pakistan loss that Australia's players and support staff had a cathartic airing of grievances. It had lasted for hours and Australia had emerged finally heading in the right direction, and since managed to string some wins together, although yet had to put together a complete performance. 

A drinking ban had long since been shelved, pizza had become a regular for the Aussie team, the latter a gesture to soothe an unhappy Shane Warne. And while there was no outright mutiny, rumblings about the one-day team's captaincy persisted. 

Ponting's World Cup Memories: The '99 turnaround

Ricky Ponting would later recall: "Steven was under all sorts of pressure at that stage. There was talk about it potentially being his last series as captain, and if he didn't make runs in that particular game then he might have been dropped and someone else would take over the captaincy for the back half of the World Cup, which would have been a disaster."

As Australia arrived in Leeds for their final Super Six clash against the Proteas, Waugh and the selector on tour, Trevor Hohns, had a scheduled meeting to discuss the players who would be offered Australian Cricket Board contracts for the following season. 

"Which led to an open and frank three-hour discussion about how, if the results didn't meet expectations, a change at the top of the one-day team might occur," Waugh later wrote in his autobiography, Out of My Comfort Zone.

"I took this to mean that had we not qualified for the Super Six I would have been gone, and that if we failed to reach the semi-finals I was in trouble.

"It was good to know where I stood but still I was a little shocked at how cutthroat the selectors' attitude was."

This put Waugh in a prickly mood, and in the days leading into the Super Six clash with South Africa, he did not decline any half-chance that came his way to try and gain a psychological stronghold over the team that most had now installed as clear favourites to win the World Cup.

If any of you guys hit a catch to Hershelle Gibbs in this game, don't walk

— Shane Warne, at Australia's team meeting before the Super Six match v South Africa

Whether prompted by obliging media questions or simply by addressing it unprompted, Waugh took every opportunity to point out there was no international cricket team Australia admired and respected more than South Africa. "That's why we get such great enjoyment out of beating them," he taunted.

He was acutely aware that, player-for-player, South Africa fielded the most complete team in the game at that time, including names such as Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Gary Kirsten, Herschell Gibbs, Hansje Cronje, Mark Boucher and the man who had established himself as the one-day game's most destructive player – Lance Klusener.

And that those same individuals had failed to win any major international cricket trophy in the eight years since their nation returned from sporting isolation, which carried with it a crushing weight of hope.

Happily adding to that burden, Waugh also pointed out that his team always performed well against South Africa in matches that mattered.

"They know that, so this will be a pointer to who'll win the World Cup," he said prior to the Headingley match.

Ponting's World Cup memories: The '99 turning point

As a street fighter, Waugh knew the value in wielding any weapon that lay within reach. And other, seemingly less plausible, items were then added to the arsenal.

At a team meeting on match eve, Shane Warne – not for the first or last time – prompted sniggers and muttering among his teammates with a late interjection. 

"Hey everyone, stop, stop. I've got something I've got to say before we leave the room. If any of you guys hit a catch to Hershelle Gibbs in this game, don't walk," Warne announced to a room full of puzzled looks.

"I've been watching him through the games; don't walk, because he's been catching the ball then throwing it out of his hands really fast.

"He doesn't hold it," Warne continued, becoming more insistent. "He shows off, and flicks it straight up into the air."

Eye-rolling ensued. Ponting recalled: "We were all like 'are you serious Warnie?'. No one said that to him but we were all like 'yeah, good one mate' - but Warne went on to reveal that he had discussed this very issue with other international players.

And that on the West Indies' recent tour to South Africa, Antiguan Ridley Jacobs went so far as to inquire of the umpires whether Gibbs had shown sufficient control over a catch, such was the fielder's enthusiasm to rid himself of the ball in the interests of showmanship. On that day, Gibbs blamed the mishap on a painkilling injection that had left him with no feeling in the middle finger of his right hand.

He was to experience even greater discomfort at Headingley, but at the innings change it did not appear that way. 

Herschelle Gibbs and Daryll Cullinan put on 95 for the second wicket // Getty

Gibbs had turned Australia's taunting against them to post a fine century, hitting 101 from 134, with 10 fours and a six. 

"I wonder why Herschelle isn't in the Test team?" rang out the rhetorical question from an Aussie fielder. "He mustn't be very good at concentrating" came the reply or, more pointedly: "He must be a bit soft."

Of course, the danger with dishing out trash talk is that deeds will always have the final word.

To that end, accusations of mental frailty seemed wrongly apportioned when Australia's bowlers let South Africa post a hefty 271, and then their top-order batsmen wilted in reply.

With Adam Gilchrist comprehensively castled and Mark Waugh suicidally run out, the South Africans gathered in high spirits after Damien Martyn floated a catch to mid-off with the Australian score precariously balanced at 3-48.

Shane Warne continued his hold over Daryll Cullinan, bowling him for 50 // Getty

That's when, under thinning Yorkshire clouds and past the black-cloaked sight screen, Stephen Rodger Waugh all but gate-crashed the game, his normally brusque walk to the centre taking on additional urgency – as if he intended to individually put the entire opposition XI to the sword.

"Failure meant a flight home and, in all likelihood, the end of my one-day career, and it was this hovering guillotine that activated the spirit within," Waugh later wrote. "I didn't want it to end this way after 13 and a half years in limited-overs international cricket. The job wasn't done yet; there was unfinished business."

Expecting a tense, introspective Australian skipper, given the circumstances, Gibbs teased: "Now let's see how you handle the pressure". The South Africans were stunned when Waugh arrived, all gums blazing.

"I'm going after you today," he goaded rival captain, Hansie Cronje, who had not even contemplated taking the ball himself at that stage.

"I want a piece of you," he snarled at other South African bowlers, his demeanour fuelled by an overdose of adrenalin and a pathological disdain for defeat.

Ricky Ponting scored 69 in a 126-run stand with Steve Waugh // Getty

Despite their unquestionable position of strength, Cronje's men suddenly felt under siege.

"I was in complete battle mode, to the point of being arrogant," Waugh wrote. "Cronje was a tough leader and a fine cricketer but he could be broken down under the blowtorch of pressure.

"I was on the edge, juggling a fine line between self-beleife and pretentiousness ... every time I got a reaction from the opposition my intent strengthened."

But the most memorable remark attributed to Stephen Waugh on that history-shaping afternoon was one he never made.

Having faintly raised Australian hopes on the back of his own fighting half-century, Waugh flicked a ball off his pads and floated a waist-high catch to midwicket.

Steve Waugh celebrates the winning run in the Super Six clash // Getty

Gibbs accepted the straightforward offering, but – as if reading from Warne's fantastic script – he inexplicably went to celebrate the decisive breakthrough by flicking the ball casually over his shoulder.

Only this time, instead of launching skywards, the ball dribbled from his grasp and on to the Headingley turf.

As per the team talk, Waugh defiantly stood his ground.

The crowd of more than 15,000 caught its breath.

Cronje lodged a half-hearted, and ultimately futile, appeal, arguing that his fielder had actually controlled the ball. Unlike the Australian captain, it was summarily dismissed.

Waugh and Cronje shake hands as Headingley crowds storm the pitch // Getty

It was then, as the South Africans silently moved through the field to begin the next over, that the greatest sledge never made was supposedly uttered.

Legend maintains Waugh deliberately placed himself in Gibbs's path, and heaped salt into an already gaping wound by growling, "How does it feel to drop the World Cup?"

With his team still requiring 120 runs from nineteen overs simply to remain in the tournament, it would have been a remark dripping with the sort of hubris that had just indelibly marked Gibbs's career.

But the fact that Australia ultimately got there, with two deliveries to spare and Waugh unbeaten on 120, gave the fabrication lip-smacking appeal.

In truth, Waugh said something along the lines of "That's going to cost your team today, Hersh", in keeping with the earlier lip he had dished out.

But the more incendiary version was tailor-made for newspapers. Or, in this case, made up by them.

Nobody has owned up to fathering the falsehood, just as there was a fraternal unwillingness among the touring Australian media contingent to expose it as a fib.

And for once, Waugh did not mind being misquoted.

After all, he had just compiled what he long regarded as the best century of his career, under unimaginable pressure, against the world's best all-round bowling attack, on a lively Leeds track.

And despite reeking of arrogance, the fake quote fitted the Australians' broader goal snugly.

Especially when it was revealed that their semi-final opponent, four days later in Birmingham, would be South Africa.

The above includes extracts from The Wrong Line, a book written by senior writer Andrew Ramsey, who was at the 1999 World Cup.

Australia's 1999 World Cup

May 16: Beat Scotland by six wickets in Worcester

May 20: Lost to New Zealand by five wickets in Cardiff

May 23: Lost to Pakistan by 10 runs at Headingley

May 27: Beat Bangladesh by seven wickets at Chester-le-Street

May 30: Beat West Indies by six wickets at Old Trafford 

June 4: Beat India by 77 runs at The Oval (Super Six)

June 9: Beat Zimbabwe by 44 runs at Lord's (Super Six)

June 13: Beat South Africa by five wickets at Headingley (Super Six)

June 17: Tied with South Africa at Edgbaston (Semi-final)

June 20: Final v Pakistan at Lord's