There is one match that covers both the highs and lows of my one-day playing career – the 1999 semi-final of the World Cup at Edgbaston, South Africa against Australia.
We went into the game knowing we could have already knocked Australia out of the tournament. We had had Australia on the rack in the Super Six match at Headingley, but Steve Waugh, the player who more than any other epitomised courage and fortitude, had reversed the momentum we had in that match, turning the tables and seeing Australia home. Looking back, this was probably the writing on the wall, regardless of the dreaded caught, and then not caught, catch by Herschelle Gibbs.
Yet ahead of Edgbaston we truly felt that if we won the semi, then nothing could stop us winning the final at Lord's a few days later.
At the beginning of the game, if you had offered us 213 as the Australian total, we would have accepted that 10 times out of 10. Having scored 271 against them at Headingley, 213 seemed like a dream chase, and one step closer to the final. But then cricket is a funny game.
After a very shaky start to our chase (we were 61 for 4), Jacques Kallis and Jonty Rhodes steadied the ship in the middle order to get us within striking distance of the target. We were 175 for 5 before Kallis was out. "Zulu" (as we called Lance Klusener) was in incredible form and with him, Shaun Pollock and Mark Boucher still to come we felt that the momentum was swinging back our way. But with the loss of Jacques, Polly, Bouch and yours truly within the space of four overs we were suddenly up against it at 198 for 9. It was left to the man who had saved us so many times in the tournament to pull another rabbit out of the hat. Zulu had one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time (but not necessarily the world's best batsman) supporting him at the other end, Allan Donald.
After I was run out – or not as I felt looking at the TV replay that Glenn McGrath had knocked the bails off without the ball – trying to get Zulu back on strike, I watched the proceedings unfold from our dressing room. I didn't even take my pads off, as I sat and stared at the TV. What followed was almost impossible to imagine. Picturing the scene now some 12 years on, I remember Herschelle Gibbs standing in front of the TV with a bottle of Champagne, ready for the celebrations, with Jonty and Darryl Cullinan sitting quietly in their favourite spots.
Out on the field, Australia's Paul Reiffel was feeling the pressure, having just dropped Zulu and in the process palming the ball over the rope for six, closing the gap and keeping up our momentum. It all came down to the last over, nine runs needed, one wicket left and three players in the spotlight: Zulu, AD and the Aussie bowler, Damien Fleming.
It took just two balls of the final over to tie the scores. Zulu was about to do it again – surely! He crunched the first two balls of Flem's over for four, the boundary riders having no chance of stopping his tracer bullets. Back in the dressing room, the look on the players' faces was a picture, the Champagne corks were about to fly... but the third ball of the over was one that no one watching would have believed. Darren Lehman somehow missed running out AD from point blank range, and that felt like the last opportunity Australia had of reaching the final. Time seemed to slow down and everything that followed happened in agonising slow motion.
Zulu and AD did not discuss what had happened, Zulu just stood his ground and waited for the next delivery. Flem bowled it and chaos erupted as Zulu ran, AD stood still, then decided to run, then dropped his bat. Mark Waugh missed with a backhand throw at the bowler's end, Flem gathered the ball and rolled it along the ground to Gilchrist.
It was done, the scores were tied, we were on our way home and, thanks to their higher placing in the Super Six, Australia were heading to Lord's and winning the World Cup. No one could take in what we had seen. Four balls remaining in the final over of a World Cup semi, scores tied, the Australians packing the inner ring, the man of the moment Zulu facing; what were the odds of a mis-hit and a run out? But what an amazing experience, with such highs and lows, and undoubtedly the most memorable match I ever played in.
Steve Elworthy played 39 ODIs for South Africa and is now the ECB's Director of Marketing and CommunicationsReuse content