Match Cricket Match – White-ball cricket is fast food; red ball crickets are good food. It’s hard to argue with this immutable cliché, but there is one almighty exception that proves ODIs can be haute cricket. The 1999 World Cup semi-final between Australia and South Africa was played by Ferran Adria on the Big Mac. It was a test match in all but name, with the same finesse, variations of pace and depth. It wasn’t just stranger than fiction; it was more complex, deeper – and it had a twist that even Hitchcock would have thought was too red.

Two decades on, it’s still hard to fathom how a limited-overs match – any match – can produce such intensity. Towards the end, even Shane Warne, who had experienced such moments, thought he had never felt such tension on a cricket field.

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Warne was part of an ensemble to die for. Both sides featured present and future greats, from Allan Donald and the Waugh brothers in their 30s to Ricky Ponting and Jacques Kallis in their early 20s. Between them, the two XIs would end their ODI careers with 4,584 matches, 106, 188 runs and 2,630 wickets. No one would experience any comparison to a match that is career-defining for many losers, regardless of the winner.

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The history of the semi-finals of the 1999 World Cup begins on February 1, 1994. Warne then led Australia to victory in the third and final Test in Adelaide, denying South Africa a famous series victory. Over the next five years, in both forms of the game, they were routinely thwarted in pressure situations by Australia – and Warne and Steve Waugh in particular.

South Africa beat Australia in the first final of the triangular ODI tournament in 1993-94 and 1997-98, but lost 1-2 each time. In 1997-98, they also defeated Australia in all four group matches. According to Wisden, South Africa are “undoubtedly the best team in the one-day summer”. But Australia won.

Waugh, Australia’s new one-day captain for the triangular tournament, said South Africa “tended to choke under pressure”. South Africa beat an almost full-strength Australia in the 1998 Commonwealth Games gold medal match, although it was their only win against the Australians in a final since they returned to international cricket in 1991. Bob Woolmer, their coach, thought. broke Australia’s psychological hold on his team.

Woolmer’s opinion was not widely shared, and Australia’s result against South Africa dominated the awful trash-talk ahead of the pre-1999 semi-final. South Africa had missed out on eliminating Australia at Headingley four days earlier. They had already qualified for the semi-finals and led the tournament with ominous authority, but a win in their final Super Six match would have ended Australia’s and probably the one-day careers of their arch-enemies Warne and Waugh.

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The history of the semi-finals of the 1999 World Cup begins on February 1, 1994. Warne then guided Australia to victory in the third and final Test in Adelaide.

Instead, Waugh played an astonishing 120 innings not from 110 balls. When he reached 50, some South African players chided him for his poor ODI conversion rate: one century and 36 fifties. Waugh turned the joke into a motivational one. Herschelle Gibbs’ famous delivery at midwicket sometimes overshadows the quality and boldness of Waugh’s innings. There was brutal certainty in his stroke play and he was even a fast bowler by the end. He played like anyone else for several hours.

During the pre-semi-final interview, Waugh deftly managed to call South Africa a stifler while also denying it. “I never said South Africa was a suffocator,” he said. “I said they can’t play well under pressure. But if comments like that upset them, they’re in trouble.”

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They must have upset Woolmer, who was not in the best mood when reporters kept asking him about the C-word before the semi-final. “If they’re going to call us stranglers, they have to go back before 1997,” Woolmer said. “This is 1999, the stranglehold is already out. Why call us stranglers when we have an 80% winning record? You just have to look at the facts.”

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The facts were that in the last four years, South Africa had won 76 and lost 20 of the completed ODIs. The facts were also that seven of those defeats came in 18 matches against Australia.

On the Edgbaston pitch, it was enough for South Africa to bat first when they won the toss, and that decision was immediately enforced. Mark Waugh went for a duck in the first innings, unable to avoid Shaun Pollock’s short ball. After that, South Africa were never really behind in the game; Steve Waugh reckoned that Australia would be decisively on top throughout the match.

Nine and no joy: All but one Australian wicket was taken by Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock to restrict them to 213 © PA Photos / Getty Images

After a slow start, Ponting’s blistering play, including Steve Elworthy’s six and four in successive deliveries, got Australia going. “Sky is running all the time here in the office,” says Elworthy, who is the 2019 World Cup competition director. “The Australians in the organization remind me of this all the time. ‘Elworthy, you’re about to go here for six!’

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Australia lost their way after Ponting’s starburst, losing three wickets in four overs. Ponting and Darren Lehmann fell in the first over of Donald, who then caught Adam Gilchrist at third man Kallis. Steve Waugh also survived a run-out opportunity when Gary Kirsten flashed his wicket past the stumps.

At 68 for 4, with Tom Moody the only batsman to arrive, Waugh and Michael Bevan had no choice but to consolidate. They took time out while the innings were still going on. Initially, Australia wanted 250, but this was revised to 220 after losing early wickets. Bevan was peerless when it came to chasing goals; He was also very good at working with them. “I work on the theory,” he said in The Best of Bevan, “that sometimes you have to do less than your conscience tells you.”

After some early boundaries, Bevan and Waugh managed just six runs in 8.4 overs. It was a nerveless idea of ​​two players who should have been tested after the game to see if they had exceeded the amount of ice allowed in their veins. In that stretch, Waugh scored 16 off 46 balls and Bevan 8 off 40 balls. When you promise you pay – and they did, Waugh scoring 40 from the last 30 and Bevan 57 from the last 61.

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Bevan, the best shortstop of his generation, has played countless game-winning hits throughout his career. His 65 at Edgbaston was almost forgotten by what followed, although it was the highest score of the match; nevertheless, he had a great time and said he had rarely felt so good during a big game.

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The same was not true of Waugh. He smashed a mammoth century to beat South Africa on an up-and-down pitch four days earlier and was comfortable in the zone during the innings. Lehmann had never seen Waugh more excited than when he returned to the dressing room. However, at Edgbaston he felt mentally fatigued and had to keep pinching himself to get out.

Waugh’s 56 dominated the restorative stand of 90 before he fell to Pollock, who then dismissed Moody for a duck in the same over. Australia were in trouble again at 158 ​​for 6, but an even partnership of 49 between Bevan and Warne took them past 200. Donald and Pollock, who shared nine wickets, started things off. Australia had 213 – a total that, while not breaking even, gave them something to work with. That was all Warne asked for.

The pitch did little for the seeders during Australia’s innings. During the break, the sun shone and things changed. In the first ten overs of the South African innings, the ball barely moved off the pitch and Gibbs hit six increasingly beautiful boundaries.

In his first autobiography, Warne said Gibbs was “like a man trying to redeem his soul” after Waugh fell in the Super Six match. It was an event that Warne had predicted. The night before the game, when the Australian team meeting was over, Warne said that whoever Gibbs caught should hold on because he was likely to drop the ball prematurely and the umpires could not dismiss him. Warne’s comment could hardly have been more ridiculous if he told his teammates he was going on a date with Liz Hurley. The next day when it happened, he pretty much yelled “I told you so! I told you so!” to anyone and everyone.

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This moment was one of the few bright spots