24 years on, ghost of Edgbaston continues to haunt South Africa

South Africa vs Australia, Edgbaston 1999 World Cup semi-final
Edgbaston 1999: The image that continues to haunt South African cricket. (Pic: cricket.com.au)

What if Lance Klusener had scored one more run and lifted South Africa to a famous win in the epic 1999 ODI World Cup semi-final against Australia at Edgbaston? Would Proteas’ cricket journey have been a different story to what it is today? One would never know. But what can perhaps be stated with some certainty is that somewhere, somehow, the ghost of Edgbaston continues to haunt South African cricket.

South Africa, led by the late Hansie Cronje, went into the 1999 World Cup as one of the favorites, just like the previous edition. The Proteas stumbled in 1996, undone by Brian Lara’s genius in the quarter-final in Karachi after crushing all their opponents in the league stage.

Three years later in England, though, they were a much stronger side, with the likes of Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis, Jonty Rhodes, Shaun Pollock, and of course, Klusener, more or less at the peak of their powers. Allan Donald was still around and remained a force to reckon with.

South Africa suffered only one setback in the group stage, going down to Zimbabwe by 48 runs. They comfortably topped Group A, hammering India, Sri Lanka England, and Kenya. They were in trouble against Pakistan in their first Super Six game, but Klusener (46*) hauled them over the line.

After New Zealand were crushed by 74 runs, the Proteas went down to Australia by five wickets in their last Super Six clash, which featured Gibbs’ much-debated dropped catch of Steve Waugh (120*) while attempting a premature celebration.

The loss notwithstanding, South Africa had qualified for the knockouts and were to face Australia again at Edgbaston in the second semi-final. A lot has been said and written about the game, considered by many critics and fans as the greatest cricket World Cup match ever. The game ebbed and flowed and, in the end, it all came down to that one run, which cost South Africa a place in the final.

It would be unfair to blame Klusener for what many refer to as a ‘mad dash’. There was almost a run-out off the previous delivery and one would never know what would have happened had Klusener not attempted that suicidal run. The repercussions of that lost opportunity, however, seem to be felt in modern-day South African cricket, especially in ICC events, where they continue to find ways to choke.

What happened in South African cricket after the Edgbaston horror?

Just a year after their heartbreaking loss in the 1999 World Cup semi-final, South African captain Cronje was banned for his role in the match-fixing scandal. Tragically, he passed away in 2002 in a plane crash at the age of 32.

A year later, Shaun Pollock-led South Africa crashed out of the World Cup at home after an inexcusable DLS blunder in their last group match against Sri Lanka.

To their credit, the Proteas have registered some famous triumphs in Test cricket. But when it comes to white-ball ICC events, the wounds of Edgbaston 1999 resurface.

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Edited by Renin Wilben Albert
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