Cricket World Cup: Two breathtaking overs that shook the world

Edgbaston, 17 June. A game that will never be forgotten. The leading players relive the high drama with David Llewellyn
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The Independent Online
STEVE WAUGH called it the greatest one-day match he had played in. But then his side did emerge triumphant. Whether it was the most exciting, or simply the best ever, Thursday's epic World Cup semi-final was desperately, gut-wrenchingly tense.

If the supporters' nerves were badly stretched at Edgbaston, imagine what it was like for the protagonists. After all, Australia and South Africa had been through the emotional mangle just five days earlier.

There was evidence of the jitters out in the middle or, more accurately, in the deep, where Paul Reiffel was patrolling the long-off boundary. Well before the pulsating climax, Reiffel had the misfortune to drop Jacques Kallis off Shane Warne just after the South African had reached his half- century.

"They had just started to go for it," Reiffel recalled. "We had pulled them right back and had built the asking rate up and you could see the pressure building. Kallis was looking to score faster. It was the first time he had taken any kind of a risk. I had to run in to it, but I would have backed myself to get it most times. I dived forward, but the ball hit the outside of my hand and spilled on to the ground. It was not a critical moment, but I didn't feel that great all the same. At least he was out a couple of balls later."

And so to those last two overs. The crowd were on the edge of their seats, and they were not alone, as the Australian manager, Steve Bernard, revealed. "It was interesting watching the two camps," he said. "We were sitting just a couple of feet apart in front of the pavilion and as each ball was bowled there was a different emotion in each camp. One ball they'd be up and we'd be down, then we'd be off our seats and they'd be slumped in theirs. It was an interesting two overs." The understatement of the season.

Going into that 49th over South Africa required 18 to win, so there were strained looks when Glenn McGrath's first delivery was a full toss, but Mark Boucher failed to cash in. The next ball was the ideal length and removed his middle stump. Steve Elworthy came in and got off the mark with a single off his first ball; 17 needed and Lance Klusener at the striker's end.

Now Reiffel returned to centre-stage for a quick change from villain to hero. He fielded a Klusener shot at long-on with the batsmen going for a second run. "When I threw the ball in to Glenn [McGrath] I wasn't sure whether he had knocked a bail off with his hand. In fact I was more disappointed that I had missed the stumps. I knew Elworthy was out of his ground, but it was not clear, even on the replays, whether it was the ball or Glenn's hand which had hit the stumps."

In fact the deflection was perfectly legitimate. So 16 runs required from eight balls, last man Allan Donald in, Klusener on strike. This one he smote high towards the long-on boundary. To Reiffel again: "Klusener hit the ball with enormous power. But initially, when I saw it, I thought to myself, `That's it, I catch this and it's game over.' I had no problems with it, it was coming straight down my throat, as I thought. In fact, it wasn't. As it got closer I could see it was going really fast and at one point it actually seemed that it was getting higher. It wasn't, but it wasn't coming down either. He had hit it really flat. Once I realised that, I knew I was outstretched. I got my hands to the ball but it just burst through and went straight over the boundary.

"If there was any physical pain I did not feel it. But I did feel a lot of emotions going through me instantly. The chief one was anger and acute disappointment. I could have won the game. There was also a feeling of disbelief. I felt terrible for my team-mates. They were obviously desperate to win the game, we all were. I had had the chance to win it and it hadn't come off. It's not a good thing to go through."

Klusener stole a single off the last ball to keep the strike and now South Africa needed just nine from the final over, to be bowled by Damien Fleming. "I was quite happy at the start of the over," Fleming said. "With nine or 10 wanted off one over the bowling side always backs itself.

"Klusener is a class player so I just wanted to get it up there nice and full, in the blockhole. The first one was perfect. Exactly where I wanted it to go. The problem was it ended up exactly where Klusener wanted it to go. It went twice as fast to the boundary. I thought, `That's a good start'. When the second one went the same way I did begin to wonder what I could bowl to him that he wouldn't be able to hit."

With the scores tied, the Aussie captain was also wondering what to do. "I did have a flicker of doubt when Klusener hit the second of those two fours," Waugh admitted. He brought the field in. Reiffel: "Steve put me in to second slip. I wasn't sure I wanted to be there, but I looked around and I thought, `This is probably the last place the ball is going to go given the way Klusener had hit those last two'."

Fleming, meanwhile, had decided to alter his approach. "I had a gut feeling to come in over the wicket and try to bowl a yorker and I thought it was as good a time as any to try something different. He hit the first one to a fielder and we had that run-out chance." But Darren Lehmann missed the stumps. "I thought we'd missed our opportunity then," Waugh said. "I really thought that was our last chance."

Next ball from Fleming, still one run wanted, one wicket needed. "That last ball went exactly where I wanted it to go, just outside off stump on a yorker length. Klusener hit it and I remember I just heard him call `Yes' straight away. Mark [Waugh] fielded it and I knew Donald was still up at this end and I could hear Klusener coming up. I can't remember taking the ball but I got it back to Adam Gilchrist at the other end. The first couple of minutes after that were just unbelievable. I can't remember such an adrenalin rush.

"I thought, `Jeez, it's a tie, what happens now?' And then I realised we were through. It was just amazing." It was indeed.