World Cup 1999: Shaped by setbacks, Australia attain WC glory

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ICC CRICKET WORLD CUP

"The semifinal stands out for me. Both sides played such a good game that no side deserved to lose. The tie was the perfect result."

“The semifinal stands out for me. Both sides played such a good game that no side deserved to lose. The tie was the perfect result.” © Getty

In the build-up to the 2019 World Cup, Cricbuzz is publishing an eleven-part series to reminisce every bygone edition. In this seventh instalment, Shane Warne talks about how Australia recovered from a bad start to clinch the title, and that iconic semifinal against South Africa.

Australia went into the 1999 World Cup with the shock defeatto Sri Lankain the 1996 final still fresh in their minds. In fact, they used the result in Lahore to shape their dominance in the next three editions of the tournament.

Shane Warne: I still feel we should have won the 1996 World Cup. You have to give credit to Sri Lanka – they were the best side in that tournament. But I feel we didn’t do our due diligence heading into the final. There was so much dew on the ball that we couldn’t grip it even for a second. If we had done our due diligence, we would have definitely bowled first and then chased. The reason I take you there – to the 1996 World Cup – is because we learnt a lot from that final.

Australia’s start in England, however, was underwhelming. They eased past Scotland but lost to New Zealand and Pakistan in the next two games. The loss to Pakistan particularly dented Australia, with Wasim Akram and Saqlain Mushtaq managing to squeeze a 10-run win.

Warne: The Australian success, I feel, was shaped by the setbacks. We started really, really poorly. At one stage, what did we need? I think we needed to win seven out of seven if we had to lift the title and we did that. I was part of the leadership group as the vice-captain and then to turn things around like the way we did was extremely satisfying. We had a very talented team and all we had to do after the early losses was to click just once. We started to click and got better and better in the tournament. We peaked at the right time.

The campaign was brought back on track by the mauling of Bangladesh, where Australia won with 181 balls remaining, and then the easy win over West Indies. Glenn McGrath starred in those two games, picking up eight wickets in total, while Warne returned combined figures of 3 for 29 from 20 overs in those two games.

Warne: After the losses, there was a lot of pressure on us and I always enjoyed the pressure. The thing in one-day cricket is you want the ball in your hand all the time. As a bowler, you can’t be scared and as a batsman, you can’t be fearful of the situation. You have to say, ‘Give me the ball, I can help the team here.’ It brought out the best in me. Whenever the team needed me, I looked forward to such situations. The wins against Bangladesh and West Indies were easy and I feel those games also got me going.

Nevertheless, Australia did not carry any points into the Super Six, where their first game was against India – a side that had suffered early jitters before recovering with massive wins over Kenya, Sri Lanka and England. They carried the Sachin Tendulkar threat, but as things panned out Australia toppled them without much fuss thanks to Mark Waugh and McGrath.

Warne: A lot of fans saw it as Sachin against the opposition but that wasn’t the case. He was a terrific player but, if you see, India had Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, they had so many exceptional players. Even Navjot Singh Sidhu. A lot of it was seen as Tendulkar against Australia but we never really spent a lot of time focusing on one player. There were so many quality players that for me it was all about how to get all those players out. Once we won against India, and then against Zimbabwe, we were really confident that we could win from any situation.

Despite the two victories, Australia needed to win their final Super Six game against South Africa to qualify for the semifinals. Herschelle Gibbs scored a century to give South Africa a very challenging 271 for 7, before an early wobble saw Australia slip to 48 for 3. With his team’s fate hanging by a thread, it was time for Steve Waugh, the captain, to deliver. Yet, South Africa missed a crucial opportunity when Waugh, on 56, flicked a delivery straight to Gibbs at short-midwicket, where the fielder lost control of the ball as he tried to celebrate too early. Waugh finished unbeaten on 120 as Australia chased down the target with two balls to spare.

Warne: Even when we were reduced to 48 for 3 in the chase, we were very confident that we had the players to match any opposition and any attack. When you need to win seven games on the go to win a World Cup, you need a bit of luck. And luckily Herschelle dropped Steve at the stage he did. That game is remembered a lot for the wrong reasons. Steve never really said what’s out there. Nothing like that ever happened. I think he said something like, ‘You’ve cost yourself the game’ rather than, ‘You’ve just dropped the World Cup’.

I still remember the night before in the team meeting, Geoff Marsh, the coach, after his brief, asked if we wanted to add anything. I put my hand up and said that if Herschelle takes a catch, make sure the umpire gives you out because he never really holds the ball long enough. And then the next day it happened. It was pretty amazing and no one could really believe it. When I had actually said it, a lot of the reaction was ‘what are you really talking about?’.

 Before the final, there was a sense of calmness. We realised that we had come this far, after the terrible start we had, and we all were very excited.

Before the final, there was a sense of calmness. We realised that we had come this far, after the terrible start we had, and we all were very excited. ©

Hurt by the loss, South Africa turned up as wounded tigers in the semifinal – hungry to make a point. Australia, in all honesty, had an off-day, putting just 213 on the board. South Africa had a golden opportunity to knock Australia out of the tournament and advance to the final.

Warne: We played the semifinal and as the game progressed I remember thinking at one stage that the game had slipped away from us. They were close to 50 for no loss in about 12 overs and I started to think South Africa have got this. When I came on to bowl, all I was thinking was, ‘I need to take wickets for the team’. I wanted to drag the game with me and give the side some belief. Thankfully I ended up taking a few wickets and then I started thinking: ‘Ah, we are home’. But as luck would have it, South Africa had this great partnership. We thought we were ahead then South Africa thought they were ahead. It all came down to the last over.

South Africa needed 18 in the last two overs before Lance Klusener, the most devastating death batsman in the tournament, struck a six to leave nine for the final over. When the all-rounder hit Damien Fleming’s first two deliveries to the boundary, the scores were level with one wicket remaining. Then panic struck. On the fourth ball, Klusener mistimed a yorker to mid-off and took off for a non-existent single, but Donald was ball-watching. The iconic run-out meant the game ended in a tie but Australia qualified for the final.

Warne: Lance Klusener was so destructive on that day and then he went four-four (in the final over) and I remember that sinking feeling. At that stage, I had accepted that it was game over. We thought we had missed our chance but suddenly panic struck South Africa. Darren Lehmann missed the stumps but we got lucky as Mark Waugh got the ball to Fleming and he rolled the ball to Gilchrist. I don’t think South Africa will ever get over that. I don’t think the players will ever forgive themselves because it was a game that they should have won.

All said and done, the semifinal stands out for me. Both sides played such a good game that no side deserved to lose. The tie was the perfect result. That game is the best one-day game I have played in.

After all of that drama, the final was an anticlimax as Pakistan folded for 132. Warne picked up four wickets to make the difference before the batsmen sealed the title with an eight-wicket win.

Warne: Before the final, there was a sense of calmness. We realised that we had come this far, after the terrible start we had, and we all were very excited. We felt it was meant to be. If you look at it, the tie, the drop, the close games that went our way, we felt we were going to win. We discussed that yes, it was unpredictable Pakistan, but if we start well, with bat or ball, if we put pressure on them, we will do it. Mark Waugh set the tone for that game when he took that catch at second slip. That was the moment, we knew we were on.

When I got the ball, all I was thinking of was putting the foot on the throat. I wanted to bury the game then and there. There were so many dangerous players and I got Ijaz Ahmed, Moin Khan and then Shahid Afridi. We knew they weren’t going to make many from there on. They were in all sorts of trouble. We just played the perfect final. For me to get the Man of the Match award in the semi-final and the final, it was a pretty amazing effort. Something I am really proud of.

© Cricbuzz

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