A fan’s view on the epic semi-final at Edgbaston in 1999….
Remember being nine and vehemently supporting your favourite team while your mom bites your ears off asking to go sleep because you have school the next day?
I, for one, have a distinct, eidetic memory of the night of June 17, 1999, the day when perhaps the greatest of One Day Internationals played out at Edgbaston in the semi-finals of the ICC Cricket World Cup.
Mom would taunt and pester me to go sleep but for a kid who had just discovered the insane joy that a World Cup brings while watching the 1998 FIFA World Cup, the semi-finals of a cricket World Cup where his favourite team and the best team of the tournament, South Africa, were playing Australia was just too big to be missed.
When Shaun Pollock charged in and had Mark Waugh caught behind off the first ball of the over, I rejoiced. It would continue as Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock reduced the Aussies, who were buoyed by Shane Warne’s emotionally charged speech the day before, to 68/4.
I clearly remember watching Steve Waugh batting with Michael Bevan. Having watched Waugh’s gritty batting before, the child in me related to him as my rather grim English teacher at school. When Michael Bevan, famous as the man with the best batting average in those card games of old, combines with Waugh, things can’t be good for the Proteas.
In a 90 run stand, Waugh and Bevan made me bite my nails to no end. But when Pollock hand them both walking back in the same over, I was overjoyed to the point of believing that this match was firmly in South Africa’s grasp.
That belief persisted right until Shane Warne came into the attack. Herschelle Gibbs, one who I repeatedly tried to imitate while batting at the school ground, was bowled around his legs by a Warne special and Gary Kirsten fell next over to another of Warne’s magic deliveries.
Once Warne had his share of fun, like the Waugh – Bevan stand, Jacques Kallis and Jonty Rhodes resurrected South Africa’s innings. By now, I had started nervously moving around the room in the dark. When my dad introduced me to World Cups he never told me how nerve-wracking it can be. That said, at that point of time, I had no idea that a severe heartbreak, that would change my entire perspective towards the sport, would occur later in the night.
When Lance Klusener got stuck with Allan Donald, I had fingers and legs crossed. I had seen Klusener bat throughout the tournament without batting an eyelid but from what my coach at school taught me, I knew Donald could barely hold a bat.
Surely, nine in an over is too many. Surely, Damien Fleming would choke the run flow and bring Donald on strike and the game would be done. My heart had already sunk in despair but to my utter joy, Klusener made me howl in ecstasy as he smashed Fleming for back to back boundaries and brought the scores level.
A ball later I watched in horror as Donald attempted a freakishly difficult single and almost ran himself out. I had no idea what a tie would mean then. A ball later, the World came crashing around me as Klusener, much like Donald in the previous ball, ran and his partner didn’t. A run-out ensued and I watched confused and dazed as Australia celebrated. Wasn’t it a tie? Why are Australia celebrating? The nine-year old me had tears in the eye. I knew from the sullen faces in the South African dressing room that their World Cup was over and Australia’s wasn’t.
It’s 19 years since that unfolded before my eyes. But to this day it remains a painful memory. I obviously understand the nuances of what a tie meant then at a better level now. But do I understand why a previous result helped Australia qualify? No. I’d still say the Proteas were unlucky that night but one game taught me a million life lessons.
From joy to despair and back to joy and again despair, I experienced a myriad of emotions that night. To this day, I have had the courage to watch the clip of that final over only once afterwards. The nine-year-old child didn’t know what a tied result meant then. But a 27-year old present-self knows not to take anything granted in life. If anything, the memories of the heart-wrenching emotions I went through that night shaped my future life. One match changed me and my life forever and today when I sit and watch a game, I am fully aware that it isn’t over until the very last ball. In cricket, it never is, trust me.