'99 Rewind: Warne's will inspires Protea panic in epic semi-final

You already know how it ends, but there's so much more to the legendary tied semi-final between Australia and South Africa at the 1999 World Cup

Epic 1999 World Cup semi-final revisited

Five wins on the trot – the most recent, a remarkable win over tournament favourites South Africa – had given Australia a genuine chance of winning the 1999 World Cup after appearing to have no hope a month earlier.

But having defied form and fortune to reach the semi-final, the Australians knew they would confront an opponent hellbent on atoning for an unexpected loss that was engineered by Steve Waugh and facilitated by Herschelle Gibbs' inexcusable fielding lapse.

The fact that Australia's big guns – the Waugh brothers, Glenn McGrath and Michael Bevan, although not yet Shane Warne – had all begun to fire meant opinion was split on which team was likely to win through.

The only consensus was that the semi-final at Edgbaston would have to be one heck of a game to outdo the Super Six clash of four days earlier.

The audacious run at the prize by Steve Waugh's team had also snapped the Australian public, sports fans and otherwise, from their slumber.

Television sets that had sat cold and unused during the wee hours of the Antipodean winter were suddenly being switched on and kept on until the approach of dawn when games in England reached their climax.

The interest of newspaper editors had been similarly stirred, and the touring media contingent worked through the night after the Headingley win in an attempt to do justice to what was already being billed as 'Australia's most memorable one-day triumph'.

It was a title that survived for all of 96 hours.

Ponting's World Cup Memories: The '99 turnaround

By the time the media continent dragged itself along to Australian training the next day, the press corps was as desperate for any line that might be spun into a story and draped beneath a headline as they were for a few hours of uninterrupted kip.

My search for a story led me away from the Australians' training session at Edgbaston's adjoining nets and inside the main stadium, having been drawn by a series of hammer blows that echoed chillingly across the vacant seats.

Settling into what I hoped was the safety of the Eric Hollies Stand, I watched South Africa's coach, Bob Woolmer, who stood a quarter-way along one of the central pitches, and repeatedly throw badly scuffed off -white cricket balls at the feet of a batsman I recognised as Lance Klusener.

An Afrikaner as muscular as he was humourless, Klusener had emerged as the undisputed player of the World Cup.

Lance Klusener clubbed 31 not out off just 16 balls in the semi-final // Getty

Over the previous month, he had brutalised every opposing bowling attack by wielding his hefty 3lb 2oz bat with the menace and effect of an executioner's axe.

From my vantage point at extra deep mid-wicket, I counted seven consecutive strikes that sent attempted yorkers screaming over the fence.

Each swing was accompanied by a distinctive 'crrrack … crrrack', not unlike the report from a .22 rifle.

I made a note that should the semi-final come down to a shoot-out between Klusener and Australia's bowlers, I would have to back the bloke nicknamed 'Zulu'.

As the match unfolded, that scenario became more and more unlikely.

The Australian batsmen again faltered early, but this time there was no fielding faux pas to save them.

South Africa spearhead Shaun Pollock claimed 5-36 in the semi-final // Getty

Steve Waugh would later write that he "felt mentally fatigued" during the innings, and consequently, Waugh's men finished their innings bowled out for 213, with the feeling it was 20 or 30 runs shy of a total that press box wisdom deemed satisfactory.

If not for Michael Bevan, Australia's situation would have been so much worse. Cool, calm and calculated as ever, Bevan had computed the sums in his brain and knew what Australia needed to do to reach the hastily re-assessed goal of 220. 

Mark Waugh had fallen for a duck in the first over before Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting had put together a stand of 51, only for the Tasmanian to drive a catch to Gary Kirsten at cover. 

Darren Lehmann then clipped a short ball from Donald through to Mark Boucher and Gilchrist then skied a cut shot down the throat of Allan Donald at third man and Australia had lost 3-14 to a jubilant South Africa. 

Michael Bevan's batting helped rescue Australia in the 1999 World Cup semi-final // Getty

Bevan and Steve Waugh then set about rebuilding the innings, and the pair wrested control back for Australia by adding 90 to lift the Aussies from 4-68. Bevan then put on another 49 with Shane Warne for the seventh wicket after Tom Moody became Australia's second of four ducks in the innings.

As the Australians prepared to return to the field, lifting themselves to once more defy expectation and a buoyant opposition, it was Warne who again grasped their attention.

This time he served to confuse, rather than inspire.

Curiously, he challenged his comrades to summon up a mighty collective effort because "this might be the end for some of us".

Warne's drive and will were literally scary, but he sparked life into others who were tensing up and got us back into the game

— Steve Waugh, on Shane Warne's reaction to bowling Herschelle Gibbs

For the benefit of anyone who might have missed the subtlety of his pre-emptive retirement announcement, he repeated it.

Those who took the field with minds troubled by the leg-spinner's timing found no comfort in the cricket.

The South African batters, led by a chastened Herschelle Gibbs, began at a sprightly clip.

Then Warne took the ball and history arrived.

With his eighth delivery, Warne defeated Gibbs with a leg break that would have held claim to 'ball of the century' had the spinner not already secured that honour with his inaugural Test delivery on English soil, six years earlier.

This one appeared to be drifting harmlessly down leg side before it dipped alarmingly towards the batsman's left ankle, and compelled him to poke at it like someone trying to scotch a snake with an umbrella tip.

Upon landing, the ball changed direction so fiercely that Gibbs had no option but to limply follow it with his bat.

He was unable to catch it up before it clattered into his off stump.

For the second time in as many matches, the South African stood stunned, unable to comprehend what had just taken place.

Warne simply exploded.

Shane Warne was pumped up with three wickets in two overs // Getty

Months of pent-up frustration, self-doubt, anger, humiliation and defeated ambition surged out of him as he pumped his fists furiously and exhorted his teammates to believe.

The huddle that formed was part celebratory, part protective custody as the Australians tried to restrain the frenzied leggie lest he lose the plot he had just rewritten.

"As I was fielding nearby I was the first to be hit with the pent-up force that he'd suppressed in his system. He was so fired up and animated that it took a wall of players to stifle his forward thrust," Waugh wrote in his autobiography, Out of My Comfort Zone. "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."

When he repeated the sorcery to remove the other opener five balls later, Warne's reaction was even more bullish.

He was back where he belonged – in the spotlight.

Gary Kirsten was bowled after attempting a sweep shot off Shane Warne // Getty

And through sheer strength of character, reawakened belief in his ability, and an extraordinary capacity to deliver his unique skills amid the most demanding circumstances, he was dragging his team, and his country, into its warm glow.

"I've never seen him more animated than he was in that game," Ponting told in 2019 ahead of the World Cup's return to England. "The ball that he bowled Herschelle Gibbs with was as good a ball as he bowled in his career.

"But if you look at the way he was reacting, I sensed it then, but having looked back over the years, I just reckon if we had lost that game, that might have been Warnie done as well. I reckon he might have retired if we hadn't won that game. That was the feeling I got. If you look at his reactions, you could see he was more motivated than ever."

Hansie Cronje is caught by Mark Waugh at slip for Warne's third wicket // Getty

Warne would later concede he was indeed prepared to walk away from international cricket if the match did not fall Australia's way and, facing that prospect, found it within himself to produce what he described as "one of my most important and best (spells of bowling) in any format of cricket for Australia".

"I was thinking before the game that this was the time to step up to the plate," Warne wrote in his self-titled 2002 autobiography. "That single delivery (to bowl Gibbs) restored all of the confidence that was slipping away in the previous weeks. Being dropped in the Caribbean, conceding runs against India and Zimbabwe and being away from the new baby boy had all affected my approach. 

"Whenever I really tried to rip the leggie I was apprehensive, but after that ball the situation of the match changed. I was so pumped up I had to take deep breaths to concentrate."

The next three hours showcased the thrust and parry that only top-level sport can conjure.

South Africa threatened to once more implode – Daryll Cullinan so worried about Warne ran himself out by some distance as four wickets fell for 13 runs – then rallied to nose in front.

Jaques Kallis saw off the remainder of Warne's opening eight-over spell, as he and Jonty Rhodes lifted the South Africans back on top. 

Australia clawed back with Bevan's safe hands in the deep holding onto a chance from Rhodes, and Kallis finally fell to the spell of Warne, bunting a soft catch direct to Steve Waugh and panic gripped the South Africans yet again.

"This was without doubt the most testing time of captaincy," Waugh wrote, and Warne added: "It is hard to convey the tension that was there out in the middle."

Shaun Pollock had been elevated to No.7 ahead of Klusener when Rhodes fell with 9.3 overs remaining and slogged a quick 20, but not before he'd helped take Warne's final over for 15.

Jacques Kallis saw off Warne's first spell to post a fifty in the run chase // Getty

South Africa needed 30 off the final four overs, to be bowled by Damien Fleming and Glenn McGrath, but the first signs of Protea panic came with Mark Boucher all at sea, chewing up three dot balls in the 48th over only for Klusener to rescue it with six. 

McGrath yorked Boucher and Steve Elworthy was run out pushing for two by a brilliant throw from the deep from Paul Reiffel that McGrath parried onto the stumps to bring Donald to the crease. 

The decisive chance was created the next ball, but the catch went begging and cost a crucial six runs into the bargain. One of Australia's safest catchers, Reiffel, backpedalling to try and take a pull shot from Klusener above his head, fumbled. Worse still, the drop was parried over the rope. 

"I remember sitting there thinking 'that's the game'," Ricky Ponting recalled, before adding his thoughts included 'Paul, I'm never ever going to speak to you again after that, I think our friendship is over. I am not talking to you again'.

Klusener clipped the next ball to keep the strike as the match boiled down to a basic equation. One over to bowl. Nine runs to win. No spare batters remaining.

Klusener versus Australia.

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Back home, millions of pyjama-clad night owls sat transfixed to their televisions, wide-eyed and white-knuckled even though it was closing in on 3am on a frosty mid-June Friday.

But having watched Klusener prepare for this very contingency, I felt I had entered a dreamlike state of déjà vu.

The dull throb that snapped me back to reality as Fleming began the final over was Klusener, jaw squared, eyes narrowed, bludgeoning his enormous bat into the pitch.

"We'd done all our planning and preparation of how we were going to bowl to Lance Klusener at the end if he was in, because he'd had an amazing power-hitting tournament," Ponting recalled. "We'd watched him train, he was training in a different way than I'd ever seen guys train before ... he'd go out into the middle and get guys to throw balls to him and he'd hit everything up into the stands. We'd never seen that sort of power hitting training before.

"But we'd come up with a plan, we were going to bowl around the wicket at the wide line to make him hit through the off side rather than straight back down the ground."

It was a sound plan, and Fleming, although uncomfortable at the idea of coming around the wicket, executed it well enough. But Klusener still sent the first two balls scorching to the boundary rope.

Scores were level.

What happened over the next few minutes has been etched into the subconscious of countless cricket fans the world over.

Fleming pulled rank, telling Steve Waugh he was going back over the wicket. The third delivery was mis-hit and collected by Darren Lehmann who, with Donald well short of his ground after a mix-up between the batters, missed his shy at the stumps. 

"Shit! That's it, our last chance gone. We'll need a miracle now," were Waugh's thoughts.

With three deliveries remaining and a single needed to at last give his team a crack at one-day cricket's pre-eminent prize, Klusener wound up for another almighty blow as Fleming executed a pinpoint yorker. The ball dribbled off a hefty bottom edge just past the bowler's-end stumps, where it was scooped up by Mark Waugh.

Klusener took off for the winning run.

His batting partner, Allan Donald – understandably skittish after backing up too far the previous ball – responded, then opted to head back to the safety of his crease, dropping his bat in the process.

Both batsmen were by now heading in the same direction.

To ignominy and disaster.

'It was ugly': Donald reflects on run-out aftermath

Waugh flicked it indoor-cricket style to Fleming who turned and, channelling the team's recent night out at ten-pin bowling, rolled the ball down the pitch for Adam Gilchrist to whip off the bails and start the celebrations. 

"We ran around like prison escapees, not knowing who to grab, totally overcome with excitement," Steve Waugh wrote. "I knew the match had ended in a tie but wasn't sure if we'd qualified for the final."

South Africa's reputation for choking in big games was assured for perpetuity in a single act that was part kamikaze, part comedy capers.

A shellshocked Hansie Cronje could barely speak at the post-match ceremony // Getty

By dint of their earlier victory at Headingley in that amazing Super Six encounter, Australia was through to the final, via a game still regarded as the benchmark against which all one-day cricket matches are measured and which in the intervening years only the 2019 World Cup final between hosts England and New Zealand has come close to surpassing.

And in the space of one botched attempt at a single the unthinkable had become distinctly possible: Australia's World Cup dream remained alive. 

In three days' time at Lord's, only Pakistan could deny them.

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