KARACHI: That South Africa have never defeated Australia in a World Cup fixture for 27 years is attributed to their infamous tag of ‘chokers’. Upon their return to international cricket, they made an immediate impact with an emphatic nine-wicket victory of the 1992 tournament co-hosts in Sydney.
But since that day in February, the Aussies have called the shots. In the long history of the World Cup, two matches involving Australia and South Africa stand out as probably the most exciting of all matches. Remarkably both those encounters came in the space of just five days during the 1999 tournament hosted by England.
The first of those epic clashes came at Headingley. After defeats against Pakistan and New Zealand, Australia were left with no margin for error in the Super-Six stage where they started with wins against India and Zimbabwe but were still far off from reaching the semi-finals.
Australia’s task became stiffer when they slumped to 48-3 in the 12th over after South Africa had made a competitive 271-6 in their 50 overs on the back of opener Herschelle Gibbs’ century (101 off 134 balls).
Steve Waugh was required to lead from the front at that point to keep Australia in the tournament. The doughty captain did exactly that but with a dint of luck. Having advanced to 56 in a team score of 152-3, he flicked a half-volley from Lane Klusener to midwicket where Gibbs, of all people, momentarily held the ‘catch’ but in his haste to celebrate the ball popped out of his hands.
There was no looking back for Waugh, who was regarded as the man with a steely determination and hunger for success when the chips were down. After adding 126 with Ricky Pointing (69), Waugh completed a magnificent hundred before finishing unconquered on 120 (110 balls, 10 fours and two sixes) and guided Australia to 274-5 with two balls to spare.
These sides then came face-to-face in the second semi-final at Edgbaston where Australia recovered from 58-4 to 213 all out in 49.2 overs after Waugh (56) and Michael Bevan (65) put on 90.
Allan Donald (4-32 in 10 overs) was South Africa’s star with the ball but his heroics were in vain when Shane Warne bamboozled the clueless South African batsmen with a brilliant figure of 4-29 in 10 overs.
Klusener kept South Africa’s hopes alive with powerful strikes until the scores were levelled. With one run required from the last four deliveries, Waugh brought all fielders in the circle and on the fourth ball, Klusener sprinted to the non-striker’s end but found Donald had dropped his bat before finally setting off. By then Mark Waugh had gently flicked the ball to bowler Damien Fleming who then rolled it to wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist while Donald was yards away from making the crease and palpably run out.
The incredible game ended in a tie with the teams heading in different directions — Australia to the final at Lord’s (which they won) and South Africa flying home.
Australia maintained pressure on the Proteas in the 2007 World Cup, winning both the group match and the semi-final with consummate ease.
Feb 26, 1992 — Sydney, South Africa won by nine wickets
June 13, 1999 — Headingley, Australia won by five wickets
June 17, 1999 — Edgbaston, match tied
March 24, 2007 — Basseterre, Australia won by 83 runs
April 25, 2007 — Gros Islet, Australia won by seven wickets.