Donald recalls 'ugly' World Cup memory
Australia's new bowling coach says the YouTube clips of his infamous '99 semi-final run-out 'will never stop'
Andrew Ramsey in Colombo
12 July 2016, 08:47 PM AEST
It's grim irony that sees Allan Donald now serving as one of Darren Lehmann's trusted lieutenants given their central yet conflicting roles in one of cricket's most heroic or heartbreaking finishes.
Depending on which side of the Indian Ocean one was viewing it 17 years ago.
Donald was the walk-on extra who became cast as villain when the plot he had done so much to pen that sunny June afternoon at Edgbaston was rewritten over and over in escalating chaos.
Lehmann could easily have filled that part if the final act had played out differently when he fluffed his climactic line.
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With one run needed to carry South Africa into their first World Cup final but no batsmen left in the wings, Donald skittishly set sail from the non-striker's end thinking the winning moment had arrived.
But the ball was with Lehmann running towards the unguarded bowler's end stumps, needing only to hit his target with an underarm throw from barely five metres – with Donald stranded almost as far from safety – to tie the match and send Australia through to the final at Lord's three days hence.
In the tension, Lehmann's pitch missed by a whisker and Donald was reprieved, offering a disbelieving smile and a grateful glance skywards as he sank to his knees and contemplated how close he had taken his team to self-immolation.
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"I remember standing at the non-striker's end, not having faced a ball thankfully in the short period I was there," Donald recounted in Colombo where he has begun his two-month tenure as bowling coach with the team that brought down the darkest hour of his celebrated playing career.
"And I thought ‘how nice is this, just one blow and it's done and we're in the final'."
His fellow batsman, muscle-bound and enigmatically silent Lance Klusener who was crowned best player of that epic 1999 tournament, believed that blow had been landed off the toe end of his bat the very next ball.
Donald, still shaken by his near miss, was understandably more circumspect and kept his bat firmly planted in his crease as he watched Mark Waugh cruise, gather and release the ball once again in the shadow of the non-striker's stumps.
But by the time he turned back to gauge where his batting partner was in the descending maelstrom he felt Klusener disappearing behind him having completed what he believed was the victorious single.
To ensure this tragi-comic moment retained its hypnotic visual appeal for years to follow, Donald symbolically lost his grip on his bat and – torn by the conflicting instincts to save his wicket, to retrieve his weapon and to run like hell – he belatedly, almost apologetically took off for cricket's most famous incomplete run.
A moment whose haunting, harrowing impact has not dimmed on the champion South African fast bowler despite the passing of almost two decades.
"I suppose that YouTube thing will never stop," said Donald, whose imperious 4-32 in Australia's sub-par innings earlier on that day did not deserve to be overshadowed by the calamity that was to come and the internet videos that ensures it cannot fade.
"They will never take that off.
"I've watched it a hundred and whatever times, and I think that's just something I had to deal with personally – being involved in that sort of incident.
"I think the best thing for me was to watch that, and the best therapy to try and get to terms with what actually happened there.
"It was ugly, it was one of sport's very, very big disappointments and one of the biggest mistakes that you'll ever probably see in cricket that I wouldn't wish upon my worst enemy."
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Part of the reason it remains so perpetually raw is that South Africa has since come close but never got closer to reaching a World Cup final, and it is widely agreed the 1999 title was theirs for the taking had Klusener and Donald held their nerve.
Subsequent World Cups have only compounded the angst – bounced out on a dressing room miscalculation on their home turf in 2003, brutalised by Australia in a far more lopsided semi in 2007, thwarted by rain and Grant Elliott's historic blow for New Zealand last year.
But 1999 will always be, for Donald and for so many long-suffering South Africans who have seen so many powerful teams form but fail to grasp history, the one that was thrown away.
"I felt we had the best team in that World Cup without a question of a doubt, the best one-day side that I think I've ever played in," he mused.
"It was a wonderful team and to have gone out in that way was fairly sickening.
"But maybe some day … maybe some day South Africa will get there."