ICC Men's ODI World Cup 2019
Sliding doors: 1999 World Cup semi-final
Reflections on the greatest World Cup game ever played and how it shaped the cricketing futures of Australia and South Africa
When World Cup programmers scheduled Australia and South Africa as the last preliminary match of the 2019 men's tournament, they doubtless envisaged a reprise of the combatants' previous showpieces in the UK 20 years earlier.
That was, of course, when the arch-rivals met twice within the final week of an event the Proteas seemed destined to win, only to be crushingly denied by Australia in a semi-final that remains regarded as the most memorable World Cup game ever staged.
But when the adversaries turn out on Saturday for their first ODI showdown on British soil since that 1999 epic, the organisers’ hopes of another taut thriller have been replaced by the reality of a dead-rubber.
True to the form line they have traversed since that tied match at Edgbaston two decades ago, Australia have already secured a semi-final berth and a realistic shot at a fifth World Cup from six attempts.
By contrast, the ill-fortune and under-achievement that has dogged South Africa at every quadrennial tournament since 1999 has magnified to the extent they sit third-last among the 10 competitors at the current event having never looked likely to reach the finals.
Indeed, even allowing for the final-ball heartbreak in the 2015 semi-final against New Zealand, the Proteas have never come closer to reaching a World Cup final (along with Bangladesh and Afghanistan, the only current competitors not to have done so) since that mesmeric June afternoon in 1999.
So how different might the men's cricket fortunes of Australia and South Africa been had Lance Klusener been able to find that solitary extra run from Damien Fleming's ultimate over?
On the only evidence that can be tendered – circumstantial and retrospective – the answer looms as "hugely".
From Australia's perspective, the golden era spawned by their 1999 World Cup triumph over Pakistan three days after the Edgbaston semi-final might not have been quite so lustrous had they lost to South Africa at the penultimate stage.
Then captain Steve Waugh revealed later in his career that, following his team's faltering start to the 1999 Cup campaign, he was told by selection chair Trevor Hohns that his tenure as ODI captain was in peril if Australia failed to progress deep in the tournament.
In the weeks prior to the pivotal Super Six match against the Proteas at Headingley (where Waugh posted a stunning century that carried his team to the subsequent semi-final at Edgbaston), Hohns had delivered the skipper a blunt assessment.
"If the results didn't meet expectations, 'a change at the top of the one-day team might occur'," Waugh recounted of that conversation with Hohns 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."
While it's unlikely that forecast change would have come to pass in the event of a narrow semi-final loss to a Klusener-led South Africa, that World Cup week was critical to the dynasty Waugh - and subsequent Australia teams - were to build.
Herschelle Gibbs's infamous dropped catch at Headingley had effectively saved Waugh's one-day skin, and the innings the Australia captain played after that incident would echo for years to come.
As cricket journalist and historian Gideon Haigh noted when Waugh announced his retirement from Test matches in 2003: "The (Headingley) innings, and Australia's rout of Pakistan in the World Cup final at Lord's a week later, were the making of Waugh's captaincy career".
"Having always been identified with triumph by resilience, he became associated with victory by attack."
That was the foundation upon which the World Cup heroics that followed – Australia did not lose a World Cup match for a dozen years and collected three titles across that journey – was built.
And in the Test arena, just months after their 1999 World Cup win, Waugh's team embarked on a spree of 16 consecutive victories – a record matched only by the group that Ricky Ponting oversaw having inherited the captaincy.
By contrast, within a year of their Edgbaston defeat, South Africa had plunged into crisis as their skipper Hansie Cronje confessed to receiving money from illegal bookmakers to fix outcomes in international matches before and after the World Cup.
But another intangible to flow from the moment of mid-pitch madness that cost South Africa the 1999 semi-final was the career path taken by Australia's Shane Warne.
It has been well documented that Warne's relationship with Steve Waugh soured during that World Cup campaign, as a result of then-tour-selector Waugh's decision to drop the star leg spinner from Australia's Test team during the preceding tour of the Caribbean.
Warne's form continued to be scratchy as the World Cup progressed, and he returned 1-104 from 15.2 overs in the Super Six matches (against India and Zimbabwe) that immediately preceded the South Africa game at Headingley.
Despite turning around those figures with player-of-the-match performances in the semi-final (4-29) and final (4-33), Warne's disillusionment remained palpable when he fronted the media at Lord's after Australia lifted the trophy.
"I'm going home to have a good think about what the future holds for me," Warne revealed, while also describing the final week of that World Cup campaign as the best of his cricket life to that point.
"Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be having a good chat about what's going on and having a good think before I make a decision.
"Hopefully, whatever the future holds, I'll be happy."
In typical fashion, having polarised some teammates who felt his cryptic melodrama unnecessarily dragged the spotlight from the group's achievement, Warne used his newspaper column the next day to hose down the retirement speculation he had sparked.
He suggested, instead, that he was considering a lengthy sabbatical from the game, a prospect that failed to materialise when he returned to the Test fold in Sri Lanka months later.
However, if Warne's extraordinary deeds at Edgbaston had counted for little and Australia was eliminated from the World Cup by the brute force of Klusener's bat, then it's probable the leg spinner would have wallowed deeper in introspection.
And the animosity he felt towards Waugh, which Warne revisited in his most recent book No Spin, could well have seen him re-double his earlier efforts to wrest the one-day captaincy if he felt his rival's hold was weakened through Australia's World Cup shortfall.
Simpler to quantify is the impact the tied result at Edgbaston delivered to South Africa's cricket fortunes.
The pressure of expectation that was born from previous failures and came to haunt the Proteas' psyche in major tournaments for the ensuing two decades was obvious even before the 1999 semi-final got underway in Birmingham.
Not only had Gibbs's fluffed fielding effort at Headingley enabled Australia to wriggle into the tournament's final week, it robbed South Africa of a likely semi-final against their African neighbour Zimbabwe to whom they had lost only once in ODIs (earlier in the '99 campaign).
The realisation of the predicament they had profligately created for themselves was etched on the grim, unblinking faces that stared from the Proteas' Edgbaston dressing room following their training session two days before the semi-final showdown.
Waugh also played his part, announcing in the afterglow of Australia's win at Headingley that he would "hate to be in their (South Africa's) shoes" facing the same opponent just days after such a gutting defeat.
Then, having chosen to bat first at Headingley, the narrow loss to Australia that ensued in Leeds saw them reverse their tactics for the semi-final encounter, with Cronje deciding to bowl upon winning another coin toss four days later.
That decision – supposedly made on the potency of South Africa's pace-bowling attack and the form allrounder Jacques Kallis had found with the ball – was at odds with the experience of their coach Bob Woolmer, who had previously worked with Warwickshire at their Edgbaston home ground.
South Africa batter Daryll Cullinan later recalled: "He (Woolmer) said that in his time there, he probably only remembered about five occasions when the team batting second won the match."
"But we still bowled first."
Woolmer had tried to boost spirits he sensed were flagging in the wake and circumstances of the Headingley loss by declaring in the lead-up to the semi-final "I think it's time for South African cricket to show its true bearing".
However, the crippling effect of pre-tournament favouritism coupled with Cronje's rigidly regimented game plan – he did not push hard for wickets when Australia were reeling at 4-68 after 17 overs at Edgbaston– helped forge a reputation South Africa has since struggled to shed.
Cullinan later lamented that, contrary to modern practices, nobody from the Proteas dressing room thought to run out to the centre with fresh gloves or some other flimsy pretext to deliver a message as Klusener and Allan Donald entered that fateful, final over.
The enormity of the opportunity missed when Klusener lost his trademark steely nerve and set off instead for a kamikaze single with scores level (and two deliveries still remaining) was obvious from the funereal silence that enshrouded the Proteas' rooms.
It was a pall that some believe will never fully lift until South Africa claim a World Cup.
Waugh remembered Cronje's "zombie-like" appearance at the post-game presentation where the South Africa skipper seemed unable to comprehend what had happened.
Cullinan recalls the stunned silence that greeted Donald's shambolic run-out set a tone whereby the failings of that day were never fully explored and explained, while Donald admitted later he wouldn't wish that mistake "upon my worst enemy".
'We have always been labelled as "chokers" and it is a horrible word, I personally despise that word," Donald conceded when interviewed a decade after his darkest on-field moment.
"But we really messed it up when we had chances to put teams away.
"I suppose, being dead honest, we have choked."
Waugh went further in his autobiography and claimed the legacy of that 1999 failure was an even greater calamity four years later, when South Africa hosted the World Cup but failed to progress beyond the group stage due to an embarrassing run-rate miscalculation.
"I was later told by Bob Woolmer, who left the South African team after the (1999) tournament, that they never had a post-mortem on the result," Waugh wrote.
"Some would say they needed to, for it seemed there were unresolved issues that would plague them at the next World Cup, when again they crumbled under pressure at precisely the wrong time."
Even if Klusener and Donald had found that final run at Edgbaston, it's not a given that South Africa would have lifted the trophy and staged the 2003 World Cup from the exalted position of reigning champions.
But it's difficult to imagine that, with the galvanised self-belief gained by defeating Australia and their track record of success against Pakistan, Cronje would not have received the World Cup trophy on the pavilion balcony at Lord's.
In a domination that included the teams' sole meeting in the Super Six stage of the 1999 tournament, South Africa had recorded 13 consecutive ODI victories over Pakistan stretching back almost five years prior to the Lord's final.
Perhaps the cruellest irony – or the most calculated barb – after Australia pocketed the prize that was seemingly South Africa's for the taking was Waugh's post-match assessment of the game plan his team took into the final against Pakistan.
It was a template drawn directly from the professionalism and pragmatism that the Proteas had practiced until their dual implosions against Australia.
"South Africa are a very disciplined, persistent and consistent team and they keep going at the opposition," Waugh told the celebratory media conference in the aftermath of his team's triumph at Lord's.
"So we knew that if we played in a similar style, the pressure would tell on the Pakistanis."
History suggests a similar weight has pressed ever-heavier on South Africa's ODI outfit since that sliding doors moment two decades ago.