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Cricket's greatest comebacks: Australia vs South Africa, 1999 World Cup (Super Sixes)

Steve Waugh

Steve Waugh

The 1999 World Cup was the first time since the ’92 World Cup when the Australian team looked vulnerable. After Border, Mark Taylor had led the side well and they would have won the ’96 World Cup had they not come up against a spirited Sri Lankan side.

A surprise loss against New Zealand and another one against Pakistan meant that Australia needed to win all their Super Six matches in order to progress to the semis. They had won against India and Zimbabwe but these teams were in no way the strongest team of the tournament. Though South Africa had already made it to the semis despite a minor blip against Zimbabwe, it was the Aussies who had to do the catching up (pun intended).

The night before the match, Shane Warne told his teammates not to walk whenever Gibbs caught them. Apparently, he flicked the ball even before completely accepting the catch. Warne’s suggestion was treated with mock derision. It would turn out to be prophetic.

The next morning South Africa powered their way to 271 with a splendid century from Gibbs. Before even 50 runs were on board, Gilchrist, Mark Waugh and Martyn were cooling their heels in the pavilion. In walked Steve Waugh into a cauldron of pressure. Waugh’s captaincy was on the line and there were many who advocated a change of guard in Warne or even Gilchrist.

Gibbs immediate response was a taunt directed at the Australian captain as to whether he would be able to take the pressure. Waugh was unfazed and guided his junior partner and would-be successor, Ricky Ponting, in a fast-paced partnership which kept Australia in the game. The turning point was yet to come.

With the score on 152 and Waugh on 56, he flicked a delivery from Lance Klusener to Gibbs at mid-wicket. What should have been an easy catch turned out to be a nightmare for Gibbs. In a hurry to celebrate, he released the ball before he had complete control over it. For the first time Waugh let off some steam. His response (twisted by the romantics of the game) has since been one of the most iconic quotes of the game – “You have just dropped the World Cup.”

It was far from over though. Ponting departed soon after with the score on 174 and Australia still needing close to 100 at over run-a-ball. Cronje brought back Donald at the start of the 40th over and Pollock soon after. The two fast bowling greats were on top of their game and, on any other day, would have won the match for their team.

Not that day. Donald was crashed over cover and Steve Elworthy swept over midwicket for a six by the man of the moment. Even though Bevan wasn’t striking the ball as well as he should, he provided solid support for Waugh which was extended by Tom Moody as the momentum took Australia over the line.

Waugh finished with an unbeaten 120 which easily matches Richards’ knock in the ’79 final or Kapil Dev’s assault on the hapless Zimbabweans at Tunbridge Wells for grit and value. Waugh had single-handedly taken his team to the semi-finals which would be against the same opposition. Edgbaston was ready for an encore.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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