As part of Wisden’s 1990s in Review series, Taha Hashim looks back at Shane Warne’s second World Cup semi-final masterclass.
No.1: Shane Warne’s 4-29
Australia v South Africa, 1999 World Cup semi-final
June 17, 1999
It may surprise you to learn that Shane Warne took just one five-wicket haul in his ODI career. To offer a comparison, Muttiah Muralitharan, his great Sri Lankan counterpart, finished with 10.
But there were plenty of four-fors: 12 in total, four of them at World Cups, three right at the death. All three have arguments to sit at the top of this list. In 1996, Warne tore through West Indies with 4-36 in a miraculous semi-final win at Mohali: needing 43 from 53 balls, the two-time winners collapsed from 165-2 to 202 all out. Defeat would follow in the final at the hands of Sri Lanka, but redemption came three years later at Lord’s against Pakistan. Warne’s 4-33 took Australia to their second World Cup title and their first of a three-peat.
But Australia wouldn’t have reached London were it not for Warne’s mastery days earlier in one of the greatest cricket matches ever seen.
Legendary names decorated the World Cup semi-final between South Africa and Australia at Edgbaston. Pollock took five and Donald four as Australia were dismissed for 213 in the final over of their 50. The elder Waugh and Bevan had both offered hope with half-centuries, but a steady start from Kirsten and Gibbs took the Proteas to a solid base of 43-0 after 10 overs. Enter Warne.
The game’s finest leg-spinner wasn’t so fine, though, with a shoulder operation in 1998 having chipped away at his dominance. “It felt like someone else’s shoulder was attached to my arm,” he later wrote of his rehab in No Spin, his 2018 autobiography. Such was the decline of a once indomitable force that in April 1999, Warne, Australia’s vice-captain, was dropped by Waugh in Antigua with the Frank Worrell Trophy on the line. The discarded man smoked in the toilets as Australia won without him, his anger at Waugh for not backing him palpable.
Less than three months on Waugh needed Warne to rediscover old habits, to find the opening that would breathe life back into a contest going one way. And Warne knew it. “I thought, ‘Stuff the shoulder, stuff everything, let’s give them a rip and get the boys back into the game – and make them believe we can win this’.”
From the second ball of his second over, Warne returned to happier days, recreating the Gatting ball in the cauldron of a World Cup semi-final, the leg-break well and truly ripped to take Gibbs and the top of off on a ride. While six years earlier he’d used that ball to announce his powers to the world, the message here was that he’d rediscovered them.
Kirsten fell from the first ball of Warne’s next over, cleaned up after he failed to connect a slog sweep. Once again, Warne wasn’t cheering; he was roaring. From the third ball, Cronje found slip. Whether it hit the bat or Cronje’s foot was irrelevant; the game was under the will of Warne. At the end of his spell, the 29-year-old’s figures read beautifully for those backing the men in yellow: 8-4-12-3.
When Warne returned 17 overs later, a photo finish looked like a dead cert. Rhodes was the only loss in the intermission, but the run rate had climbed to leave South Africa requiring 61 from 48 balls. After just two runs from his ninth, Warne suddenly looked human once more in his tenth as Pollock launched him for a six and four to keep in tune with the see-saw nature of the overall affair.
But Kallis was the man with a half-century to his name and so it would have to be him that Warne cut down with his finishing touches. Taking away the pace, Warne forced a tame chip that found Waugh at cover.
That Klusener’s first ball was to be Warne’s last felt apt; the baton handed over from one commanding presence to another. Klusener’s outlandish power with the bat would take South Africa to 213 but no further, that failed attempt at a winning run bringing an end to a contest no-one had previously seen the like of. Australia were in the final and Warne, the comeback king, had masterminded it.