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“A resolute Waugh instructed Ricky Ponting to go for his big shots, while Waugh targetted across the park himself. He reached a half-century off 47 balls. Between the overs 20 and 30, Australia piled up as many as 82 runs and hence kept the fielding side alert. However, some Proteas players were not as attentive, apparently”

The winners of 1987 and runner’s up of 1996 Cricket World Cup, Australia, found themselves on the verge of elimination in World Cup 1999. Courtesy of their losses to Pakistan and New Zealand, Australia had to win all the matches in Super Six stage of the tournament to qualify for the semi-final.

Following their wins over India and Zimbabwe, Steve Waugh’s Australia side were back into the race but a defeat to South Africa in the next game could end their run in the tournament.

It was a pressure-filled situation for Waugh, who took over the captaincy during the 1997-98 season, but still had not made a mark for himself as an Aussie captain. He was made the captain, keeping in mind a modern team for the 1999 World Cup, as the Australian board chose to drop captain Mark Taylor and his deputy Ian Healy. Waugh’s Australia did not take off instantly. They lost all the four preliminary matches to South Africa in the Tri-Series that also involved New Zealand.

Also read: World Cup Heroes: The birth of Inzamam-ul-HULK

However, once Waugh and the management elevated Adam Gilchrist to the opening, Australia witnessed a change of fate as they ended up winning the series by defeating the same Proteas in the three-final 2-1. The subsequent away ODI series against the West Indies ended in a 3-3 draw in the Caribbean. In the lead up to the 1999 World Cup, Waugh found himself in a struggling phase having scored only 135 runs at 22.50 and taking two wickets at 33.0.

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One-time champion, Australia, did not have the best of the starts as they lost two out of their five Group games. On the eve of the do-or-die fixture against South Africa, Waugh once again witnessed a tricky situation in the dressing room where his teammate Shane Warne warned the other Australian members not to walk if they ended up hitting a catch to Herschelle Gibbs. “He has a tendency to flick the ball away before accepting it properly,” Warne said, according to reports.

Although he was greeted with laughs, the situation looked very alarming.

Next morning in Leeds, South Africa won the toss and opted to bat first against Australia. The Proteas, ironically, rode on Gibbs’ 134-ball 101 and powered to 271 for 7 in 50 overs. Opening with Gary Kristen, the two put up 45 runs for the first wicket before the latter was dismissed for 21 from 46 balls. Meanwhile, Gibbs went on to register an excellent World Cup century and en route that, he smashed six and 10 boundaries.

Australia’s response to Gibbs’ century was a bit drab as Gilchrist was bowled, Mark Waugh run out, and Damien Martyn lobbed a catch to mid-on. When Waugh walked in at 48 for 3, Australia’s hope of saving the match looked in shambles and that’s when Gibbs taunted the Aussies, “Let’s see how he takes the pressure now.”

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A resolute Waugh instructed Ricky Ponting to go for his big shots, while Waugh targetted across the park himself. He reached a half-century off 47 balls. Between the overs 20 and 30, Australia piled up as many as 82 runs and hence kept the fielding side alert. However, some Proteas players were not as attentive, apparently.

When Waugh was on 56 and Australia had 152 runs on the board, he flicked a ball from Lance Klusener to midwicket. Gibbs, who took the catch, dropped it in anxiety to celebrate by launching the ball skyward.

Herschelle Gibbs retrieves the ball having dropped Steve Waugh in their World Cup match at Headingley in 1999. Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian
Herschelle Gibbs retrieves the ball having dropped Steve Waugh in their World Cup match at Headingley in 1999. Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian

The Aussie skipper went on to give back Gibbs for the latter’s earlier comment, by saying, “I hope you realise that you’ve just lost the game for your team.”

From there on, the Proteas bowlers failed with whatever they had tried. On a bouncy pitch, the worst-hit the pair of Hansie Cronje and Boje who, in the absence of Kallis with an abdominal strain, had to chip in with bowling 10 overs, that yielded 79 runs. The South African skipper Cronje brought back Donald and Pollock, who returned with some terrific display of bowling at the end but were not good enough to stop Australia’s momentum.

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Waugh, who raced to 120 in 110 balls, only his second century in 266 ODIs, remained unbeaten as his captain’s knock kept Australia’s campaign alive as they clinched a five-wicket victory with two balls to spare.

Australia advanced to the semi-finals.

Thanks to captain Steve Waugh!

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