Pressure mounts before semi-final April 23, 2007

Mind games carry weight of history

Cricinfo staff

It seems like yesterday: The 1999 semi-final ends in Allan Donald's run-out © Getty Images

Will any of Australia's players be able to avoid references to choking or pressure when talking about Wednesday's semi-final against South Africa in St Lucia? And will any of the South Africans be able to escape being asked about their exit from the World Cup eight years ago? After the weekend it seems impossible.

Shane Watson was 17 when Allan Donald's run-out sent Australia through to the 1999 final but even he is confident of opening up the old wounds created by the tense tie. Ali Bacher, the former chief executive of the South Africa board, was at Edgbaston that day and prefers the Australia-were-lucky version to the one where South Africa faltered.

After a training session on Saturday the four South Africans involved in the match talked about the positive benefits playing in the game had provided them. The match was staged in another millennium but carries the significance of one decided in the previous 12 months.

"I've been lucky since I've come in we have had, I suppose, a stranglehold over South Africa," Watson said in the Sydney Morning Herald. "Herschelle Gibbs came out before the game in St Kitts and said he's still got mental scars over the 1999 World Cup, so it's obviously affecting a few people.

"We know if we can get them under a lot of pressure in stages of the game, hopefully they continue to have those mental scars and a bit of doubt might creep into their minds. We knew if we got some momentum we could expose some of their players."

Ali Bacher: "No team is invincible and winning streaks always come to an end" © Getty Images

Bacher said in the same paper he still thought South Africa were the best side of the tournament in '99. "Australia is a formidable team, there is no question about that," he said. "But I have been around long enough to know that no team is invincible and winning streaks always come to an end.

"This team has a lot of grit and determination. If the semi-final was in Barbados I would say we were a 50-50 chance, but on a slower wicket in St Lucia I think Australia has a more varied attack and the chances are 40-60."

Shaun Pollock, who was thrashed for 83 in the group phase loss, remains a key component of South Africa's squad and Donald said he must "fasten his seatbelt". "The Aussie batters will come at him," Donald said in The Australian. "He knows that.

"I don't think it matters where Polly bowls. If he opens the bowling or bowls at first change or second change, the same will happen - they will target him."