They thought it was all over: The year of the photo-finish: Twenty- two yards from the end of the world

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The Independent Online
IN FRONT of South Africa's dressing room the players were ecstatic. Lance Klusener had clubbed two fours in succession, the scores were level in the World Cup semi-final, there were four balls left to acquire a measly single and Klusener was not only on strike, he was on fire. As far as South Africa were concerned they were in the final.

There is a screen in that part of the players' area at Edgbaston and behind it sat South Africa's coach, Bob Woolmer. He was discomfited by the premature back- slapping. One run was still required. "I appealed for everybody to calm down," he recalls. "While Australia were staring down a gun barrel the game wasn't over yet and I thought it would be a good idea for everybody to sit down."

For all his caution, Woolmer cannot have imagined his prescience. What happened next immediately entered folklore. After a long gap, Australia were ready to bowl the third ball of the final over. Damien Fleming came round the wicket. Klusener dug it out to a fielder and there ensued a huge mix-up. The non-striker, Allan Donald, set off, Kluesner did not. The Aussies missed the stumps, Donald scrambled back.

"It was quiet in the dressing room then all right but we still felt one run and three balls with Klusener facing made us favourites," remembers Woolmer. "It was a game we'd been winning for most of the way. Steve Waugh said at the time that while their last chance might have gone by then he felt as though something would happen. As always he was right."

Klusener and Donald did not confer - "there was no communication between the two, Lance thought he'd better go along with Allan, and Allan thought he'd better trust Lance's judgement" - and the result was disastrous. This time Klusener set off, Donald did not and eventually, heart-breakingly found himself run out as the Aussie fielders kept their nerve.

For 45 minutes, South Africa's dressing room was silent, a noiselessness made all the more eerie by the jubilant sounds from next door. At one point, Woolmer, who was departing as coach, went round and tried to wish farewell to his players while stressing how well they had done. It was too soon.

"Players were in tears, Klusener, Donald, Jacques Kallis, I remember. Eventually, Ali Bacher [the head of the country's cricket board] came in and Hansie Cronje, the captain, came back from a press conference and with his lips trembling said how proud he was of the players and they would learn from the experience."

Woolmer could not bear being alone, brooding that night. He asked Cronje to dinner but Cronje was with his wife. Eventually, he met up with an old friend and they shared a bottle of champagne, toasting a wonderful game of cricket. The next day he spoke about it on television but these were all useless attempts to purge himself of the memory.

"The nightmares have stopped now," Woolmer said, "but that took three months and it will stay ingrained on my mind forever."