Match of My Life

'Every ball was really felt'

When South Africa set Australia 117 to win in Sydney in 1994, few gave the visitors a chance. They won by five runs

Allan Donald
Fanie de Villiers rides high after the win  •  Getty Images

Fanie de Villiers rides high after the win  •  Getty Images

The Sydney Test in 1994 is my choice of the best Test I played in - because of the way in which South Africa came back and won. We had set Australia a target of 117 to win and we defended it.
There was a lot of talk about the pitch before the match started, and Shane Warne even said something to the effect of: it doesn't matter what score South Africa get in the second innings, it won't be enough. He got 12 wickets in the match, so he had a bit to talk about.
I remember when I was batting in the second innings with Jonty [Rhodes], he kept saying to me, "Just stay there for a few more minutes and we'll win the match." I got 10 and he made 76, and while we were at the wicket we could see that it was getting harder and harder to hit the ball through the line. The highlight was when Jonty hit Craig McDermott for a six and took 16 off the over.
The first time we thought we might have a chance when we were bowling was when Fanie [de Villiers] came back for his second spell and got David Boon, Tim May and Mark Taylor in the space of five runs. They were 63 for 4 overnight, so they only needed about 50 the next morning, but we said we'd come back and have a fresh start in the morning, because we don't know what they will be like then. The wicket was getting slower and lower, and it was just starting to reverse-swing a little.
We went to the Aussie dressing room for a drink after play on the fourth day - we would always have an end-of-day drink in the batting side's change room - and Mark Waugh said something I will never forget. "Just put a couple of plebs in there, toss it up, and let's get this match over with," he said. He meant that we should let guys that don't bowl too often have a bowl. It's things like those that you don't forget.
I went back to the hotel and I said to my wife that we probably had an outside chance but we'd need a bit of luck on the final day. Kepler [Wessels] called us all into a meeting, although he wasn't going to be on the field on day five, because of a broken thumb, and Hansie [Cronje] was the acting captain. Kepler said that if, in the first hour, we bowled anything like what we were capable of bowling, and squeezed them for runs, we could win it.
When we went into the Australian dressing room for a drink, Mark Waugh said, "Just put a couple of plebs in there, toss it up, and let's get this match over with." Things like those you don't forget
When I bowled Allan Border with the second ball on the last morning, I thought that could be a turning point.
After that wicket, Hansie's qualities as a leader really come through. The way he moved the field around and squeezed the Aussies from both ends was superb.
I then got Mark Waugh out lbw. I thought that we were getting within reach. There weren't many people in the stadium at that stage. I think everyone thought that the Aussies would come and read us the last rites in the morning, but when that wicket fell and then Ian Healy dragged one on off Fanie, it started to fill up a little bit.
All that while, Damien Martyn was hanging on for dear life. He couldn't score a run, and I remember thinking that I was glad we didn't have to bat on that pitch on the last day. Eventually he chased a wide half volley and was caught by Andrew Hudson at cover. And that seemed to be the end of him. He didn't play for six years after that.
We only had the tail left but I was worried about McDermott. He came in and played the right way, hitting his shots, and he could have won the game for them. But Warne took a silly single. Fanie was trying to york him and Warnie hit it to long-on, where Gary Kirsten was fielding. He wanted the run but he couldn't get back in time. It ended shortly after that, when Glenn McGrath hit a slower ball back to Fanie.
Of all the Tests I've played, that was the one with the most pressure. It was the most exciting day of Test cricket I have been involved in. Every ball was really felt. At that stage Kepler was still the captain, but the way Hansie handled the last day was a sign of how he would lead. He was very smart and very calm, and it showed when he took over the captaincy shortly after.

As told to Firdose Moonda