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World Cup Memories
'Ninety per cent of the team were in tears'
March 3, 2011
A month before his death, Bob Woolmer looked back at the 1999 World Cup - including the Edgbaston thriller and its aftermath
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Series/Tournaments: ICC Cricket World Cup
Teams: South Africa
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The mother of all mix-ups: Allan Donald is run out and the game is tied, Australia v South Africa, 2nd semi-final, World Cup, Birmingham, June 17, 1999
The mother of all mix-ups and the Edgbaston semi-final is tied

Akhila Ranganna: The South African team arrived in England for the 1999 World Cup and was greeted in the country by one of its greyest springs ever, so was this inclement weather something that really bothered you at all?

Bob Woolmer: Interestingly when we [the South African team] arrived in 1999, the weather had cleared up. I remember I was going to Hove in Brighton to start our pre-World Cup warm-up. The weather was beautiful; we were in jerseys, playing down by the sea there. We had a wonderful practice at Hove. I do not remember it being that gloomy. But I do remember a very, very cold match against Sri Lanka in Northampton. I do not remember it being a bad summer as far as we were concerned. I thought, may be the good weather followed South Africa around.

Akhil Ranganna: Before you arrived in England, you had played some warm-up games in Cape Town, so as a coach were there any strategies and gameplans that you were looking to implement there and carry forward into the World Cup?

Bob Woolmer: Well, our warm-up was in Cape Town and we worked very hard. We tried to cover all our bases, in terms of practicing with the tailenders, as they might have to score quickly in the end, practicing big hitting, running between the wickets, against the moving ball specifically as we felt the ball would be moving around early on. It would be really tough up front, but the runs would come later on down the order. One of our strategies was Lance Klusener coming in with 35 overs to go. That was a key strategy for us and it worked brilliantly. Klusener had a wonderful cup. We even had the ear pieces ready to go. We were looking pretty much at every aspect of the game. We were pretty confident. We had just beaten West Indies comfortably in the series in South Africa. We had beaten New Zealand away from home - which is always tough. We won that series 3-2. So were pretty confident. We thought we had got our doubts in order, our batting order was settled - everything was pretty good. We were confident going into the World Cup.

AR: There was a lot of ambiguity surrounding the format of the 1999 World Cup, especially when it came to the Super Six stage. Can you elaborate a bit on the format for us?

BW: It had its strengths and weaknesses. Everyone felt it was a good idea that everyone played everyone else in the second round but carrying the points through was an issue, on whether you should or should not. Of course it caught up with us in the semi-final. On the whole, everyone sort of accepted it and just got on with it. There were certain things that happened which affected other people. But in the end, I think it was a pretty good World Cup. Generally, it was pretty fair.

"Hansie got everyone around and said, 'Look guys, we have given our best shot, it turned out not to be good enough. We are professional cricketers. We shouldn't dwell on this, we have to get over this. We must all take credit for how we played, let's all take the blame for how we lost'"

AR: There were reports that you as a coach were planning to instruct the captain, Hansie Cronje, on the field through an earpiece. This plan backfired; how do you think this would have actually helped, had it materialised?

BW: Firstly, there was no way in which I was going to instruct Hansie Cronje. I think we have to put this particular myth to bed. The most important thing was that it was to be used as a communication channel. If Cronje wanted to know something he would tap his head, and I would try and second-guess what he wanted to know. It was really how I saw the game from outside, it wasn't in any case an instruction. The most important part of the earpiece would have been for the batsman, underneath the helmet, where we would have contacted them, in situations where we might have wanted them to step up the rate or when everything was fine, just to give them peace of mind at the crease. We fielded first, so that was never going to be an issue. Hansie himself decided to use the earpiece, it was never thrust on him. We practised it a little bit in New Zealand, on the tour before that. I was quite surprised by the ICC reaction, which I have to say was a timid reaction. I could not see how it could affect anyone in particular.

AR: How important was the preliminary stage of the 1999 World Cup? What was your key strategy going into the stage?

BW: It was always important to take your point through into the Super Six. That was the key to the preliminary stage, it was important in that respect. We had to try and win as many games as we could against the sides, who may or may not come through with us. That was our key strategy. We took one game at a time, to try and win every game if we could. We did not worry about what's happening or try and not read into the rules too much, we just really wanted to win every game. We wanted to win enough games to get through to the semi-finals, let's put it that way. Really, by putting that out of our mind, it did not matter to us whether England or Zimbabwe or whoever got through to the Super Six.

AR: South Africa took on Sri Lanka in Northampton on a pitch that seamed around quite a bit, and a couple of decisions did go against you. What are your memories of this particular match?

BW: It was a difficult one, as it was tough pitch to play on. It seamed around and swung everywhere. We had one or two average decisions - Shaun Pollock got caught when the ball had clearly bounced on the ground, then Daryll Cullinan got caught on the boundary. Chaminda Vaas fell over the boundary and threw the ball back in, and was still given out. There were one or two very controversial umpiring decisions in that game which went against us. At one stage we were in lot of trouble. Then Klusener went out and batted absolutely brilliantly, Jacques Kallis bowling with the new ball. We won comfortably in the end. It was a nerve-wrecking game all the way through. Batsmen, bowlers, umpires, fielders all made mistakes, it was one of those horrible games. We just hoped that the stronger side got through in the end, which South Africa did. At that particular stage they had the level.

AR: Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand and South Africa entered the semi-finals, and the Proteas were to face the Australians. Could you break down this stage of the 1999 World Cup for us?

BW: That was interesting because we had a chance to knock Australia off the cup. There was this moment when Steve Waugh was on 50 and he chipped the ball to Herschelle Gibbs at square leg or midwicket. Herschelle in the way, as he does always, having caught it, was on the way of throwing it up and the ball went down. Steve Waugh stood there and went on to win the game. The famous line, whether he said it or not, "With that catch you just dropped the World Cup". It was a very crucial catch at that time. Like everything you shouldn't really dwell on it, many years down the line now. You shouldn't dwell on it. But at that time, it was very crucial. Then to tie that semi-final against Australia, and leave by a 0.0015 run difference was hard. You could look at little icons along the way, and say what we had done then. We had a chance to play Zimbabwe in the semi-final if we had knocked off Australia at Headingley. Pakistan had an interesting and wonderful bowling attack. Shoaib Akhtar, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis were in the team, they had some pretty good batsmen as well. But their bowling attack was a furious bowling attack. We had been playing well against them. We had 11 straight wins against them over the years. We were pretty comfortably placed to beat Pakistan. New Zealand were beaten by us in the Super Sixes. We were pretty confident getting through Australia. If anything went against South Africa it was that catch at Headingley, where Herschelle dropped Waugh.

AR: This is probably one match that you would not want to remember - the infamous semi-final in Birmingham against Australia. South Africa needing one run to win. What happened there?

Lance Klusener pulls, 13th match: England v South Africa, World Cup, The Oval, May 22, 1999
"Lance Klusener went out there and gave 150% all the time" © Getty Images

BW: It was a see-saw game. It was one of the great one-day games, in the sense it was played on a pitch which was not a 300 pitch. It was a hard-work pitch against two fantastic bowling attacks, two great batting line-ups. It was a real titanic struggle. We were in a situation, when we needed nine off the last over, which was going to be tough against Australia. Klusener smashed the first few balls like tracer bullets, one through wide of mid-off and one through the covers.

With one run to win and four balls to play everyone was dancing around in the pavilion. There were stories in South Africa that everyone was cheering as there was huge relief. Everyone thought, "Oh! We are going to get to the final at last." You should never ever make that prediction in cricket till the game is over. There goes a saying, "It ain't over until the fat lady sings" [laughs]. I was in the dressing room, and we knew we needed one run to win. We had tied the match, but we needed one run to win.

The only lesson that I learnt was to never ever have two fast bowlers at the crease when you need one run to win because their technique of running between the wickets went straight out of the window. I remember the third ball of the over, Klusener smashed it to mid-off and Allan Donald started running, the ball went to Darren Lehmann and he under-armed it at the stumps and missed. Donald would have been out by three yards. I remember Steve Waugh saying they thought they had lost it when Lehmann missed the stumps. They really thought they were gone.

Then the next ball, Klusener hit the ball straight, and in a position where the run was on. Donald then, having nearly been run out of the ball before hesitated and you know the saying, "he who hesitates is lost". The rest is history. Donald dropped his bat and Klusener got in. Had Donald looked to Klusener and run like he should have done, as in the textbooks of running between the wickets where generally you keep eye contact with the non-striker, we would have won. The story would have been different. It was a very depressing moment because we knew, although we tied the match, we had lost the game to Australia. We were down on run-rate, that was key area. Australia has been through all sorts of difficulties during the tournament. They really fought back well and ended up very comfortably. But yes the semi-final is something one would like to forget but would never (Laughs).

AR: Allan Donald must have gone through a lot in the dressing room that evening?

BW: Donald was in tears. He put a towel over his head so that no one could see it. It was a desperate moment for the whole team - 90% of the team put towels over their head and they were all in tears. It was a horrible time. But in the end, after about 20 minutes, Hansie got everyone around and said, "Look guys, we have given our best shot, it turned out not to be good enough. We are professional cricketers. We shouldn't dwell on this, we have to get over this. We must all take credit for how we played, let's all take the blame for how we lost." It was a wonderful thing he did, he got the team together. We had a final chat as a team together in a circle. It was a poignant moment in my career, seeing such a strong man, Hansie Cronje, lift the team at a very, very low time.

AR: Coming to the final of the 1999 World Cup - it was slated to be an exciting contest, the Australians against the unpredictable Pakistani's, but in the end it was the Australians who dominated the match.

BW: I was flying back at that time, I only got to watch the highlights. Australia were so fired up in that game that they blew the Pakistani batting out of Lord's. Lord's, at that time did a bit, first thing. It was a good toss to win, to bowl first. That was a key factor. Pakistan just didn't score enough runs, it's simple as that - obviously an anti-climax at that time. Pakistan were a good side, if they had managed to score 220-240 who knows. But they didn't do that. Australia bowled extremely well and Pakistan lost wickets. As the current coach of Pakistan I know that happens [laughs]. Australia just took all the momentum from the last two games against South Africa at Headingley and Edgbaston and carried it forward to Lord's, and just blew Pakistan out of the water. I don't suppose they were complacent, but they were close to thinking that we are in prime form and we can beat these people. But whether they thought that or not - I was not privileged to be there - that's the impression I get. Again when it comes down in the World Cup in tournaments like this, you've got to be on the ball, all the time.

AR: Lance Klusener was the Man of the Series. Your take on Lance Klusener?

BW: Yes, he is a wonderful man, I like him a lot. He never stops trying. He respects everyone and expects everyone to respect him. He goes out there and gives 150% all the time. He tries his best. In that particular tournament he started getting in form against West Indies and the New Zealand. He arrived in England in form. That always is a useful thing. He got in at the right time, you need that little bit of luck, you need that sort of moment for you. At times when the ball is slightly older, you get time to get runs. Then his hitting is just awesome. There was a lot of hard work, it wasn't something he was just natural at. He worked very hard on it. He was really the man of the tournament. He was a good fielder with a brilliant arm from the deep, a great catcher of the ball, and a very useful bowler. I am surprised in a way, sometimes tournaments dish up men of the tournaments like that, and Lance Klusener was clearly the man of the tournament. He played some incredible innings.

AR: Bob, what according to you was the one defining moment of the 1999 World Cup?

BW: I suppose the defining moment has to be the Herschelle Gibbs catch for South Africa. For Australia the defining moment will be the run-out, where they managed to scrape through and go through to the final. That was for me, the two defining moments that I clearly remember. There was one for England, when they were trying to get through Sri Lanka and failed. But if I look back on it, the game at Edgbaston was the most defining moment of that World Cup. It was THE game. A game that could have changed history, it could have gone either way. History could have gone either way. Reminds me of a great film called Sliding Doors. It could have gone on either door, and you didn't quite know what was going to happen. The worst aspect of the World Cup I think was the opening ceremony; otherwise it was a terrifically well-organised tournament.

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