When the pressure is at its biggest, the champions thrive and come out on top. Every single run counts in a close finish and that multiplies manifold when the setting is a World Cup semi-final. Here below we chalk out the knockout games that made the heart miss a beat in the biggest prize of them all - the World Cup.
1999 World Cup
Australia vs South Africa
Considered to be one of the best One-Day International (ODI) games of all time, South Africa took on Australia in the semi-final of the 1999 World Cup at Edgbaston. On a gloomy day in Birmingham, Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald ran riot, finishing with nine wickets between them to bundle Australia out for a modest 213.
Steve Waugh was once again a thorn in the Proteas’ flesh, scoring 56, while Michael Bevan chipped in with a valuable 65 to take Australia to a respectable total. A few days earlier, in a Super Six game, Waugh had denied South Africa a win, thanks to his sublime unbeaten 120, but he had some luck as Herschelle Gibbs dropped a sitter, which reportedly cued Waugh to taunt the fielder with “You just dropped the World Cup.”
The semi-final was however all about Lance Klusener, who had an excellent tournament till then, but failed to score the required two runs in the final over, paving the way for Australia to reach the summit clash for the third time in four editions.
2015 World Cup
New Zealand vs South Africa
Batting first in a rain curtailed game, first South Africa posted 281/5 in 43 overs thanks to half centuries by Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers and a blitzering 49 from Miller. As per the DLS method, New Zealand were given a revised target of 298.
In reply, New Zealand made a mockery of the chase with Brendon McCullum going berserk in the opening powerplay. Due to his exploits, the Kiwis reached 71 inside just 6 overs – but then, McCullum got out to Morne Morkel while trying to come down the wicket to a short of length ball, and the Kiwis lost their momentum. From 81/1, they were down to 128/4.
New Zealand found a ray of hope in the form of all-rounders Corey Anderson and Grant Elliot who produced a century stand before Morkel came back to break the partnership with the score reading 252/5 and the Kiwis needing 46 in 5 overs for victory.
The Proteas bowlers managed to connect dot balls into tight overs. In the penultimate over, Grant Elliot skied a mistimed pull shot but lack of communication between JP Duminy and Behardien resulted in a spilled catch.
It all came down to the final over with 11 required, though New Zealand could go through with a tie on 10 thanks to having finished above South Africa in the group stage. Dale Steyn, suffering from a hamstring niggle, conceded singles off the first two balls before Vettori squeezed out a boundary in the third. It was down to five from two.
Elliot swung for all he was worth, the ball rocketed into the stands, the South Africans sank to the ground with heads in hands, and a celebrating Elliott contemplated the irony: Having made the squad only because of injury to James Neesham, he had just won the game for his country of adoption, in the process knocking out the country of his birth.
Prudential Cup 1979
England vs New Zealand
There was no build up for this semifinal as nobody expected the Kiwis to get that far. Batting first, England scored 221 for the loss of 8 wickets thanks to half-centuries from Mike Brearley and Graham Gooch, the latter the glue that held the top order together. In reply, New Zealand had hope as long was John Wright was out there, but once he got himself run out, the batting side collapsed like ninepins. Despite a gallant effort from Glenn Turner New Zealand fell short by 9 runs.
1987 Reliance World Cup
England vs Australia
Arch-rivals England and Australia met at the iconic Eden Gardens. In front of a packed house, Allan Border won the toss and decided to bat. Geoff Marsh and David Boon added 75 for the opening wicket; Boon and Dean Jones carried on with another 50 run stand. After Eddie Hemmings removed both, Australia posted a modest 241 thanks to a late flourish by Mike Veletta.
In reply, England lost Robinson for a duck, but managed to put together a string of small partnerships to stay in the chase. And then Mike Gatting lost his head, attempted to reverse sweep a fairly straight ball from Allan Border, and bobbed a catch to Greg Dyer. And that was that; Alan Lamb scored a gritty 45, but it was too little too late and Australia won by seven runs. The Gardens rose in appreciation of not only the winning side, but also of England for having tried gamely with ball and then bat.