Lance Klusener swats it down the ground and takes off for the single that seems destined to send South Africa through to their first World Cup final. Allan Donald hops in his crease, turns around to see where the ball is going, drops his bat. Klusener keeps running. Donald’s feet turn to lead.
Klusener makes his ground at the non-striker’s end. Australia captain Steve Waugh gestures frantically to throw the ball to the keeper’s end. Damien Fleming rolls it along the ground, Adam Gilchrist whips the bails off. The Australia team go wild with celebrations. Klusener keeps running till he is across the ropes. The cameras pan to Hansie Cronje, whose face is obscured by the glass of the Edgbaston dressing room, his hands still clasped in bootless prayer.
The last few moments of the 1999 World Cup semifinal, between South Africa and Australia on June 17, offered one of the most unbelievable climaxes to a cricket match and probably the sport’s most famous incomplete run.
— ICC (@ICC) June 17, 2020
“There it is, this will be out surely – oh it’s out, it’s gonna be run out…oh, that is South Africa out – Donald did not run, I cannot believe it. Australia go into the World Cup Final – ridiculous running with two balls to go. Donald did not go, Klusener came – what a disappointing end for South Africa. What a match for our viewers right around the world.” Commentator Bill Lawry summed up the disbelief everybody was feeling at what had just transpired.
The Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack said in its report: “This was not merely the match of the tournament: it must have been the best ODI of the 1,483 so far played. The essence of the one-day game is a close finish, and this was by far the most significant to finish in the closest way of all – with both teams all out for the same score. But it was a compressed epic all the way through, and it ended in a savage twist.”
Steve Waugh said it was “the best game of cricket I’ve played”. Speaking at the post-match presentation, he said, “I almost feel sorry for South Africa.”
Michael Bevan, saying that both dressing rooms were completely silent after the match because of opposite reasons, said in a 2007 Rediff interview: “It was really one mistake that cost them. There didn’t seem to be any definite plan or communication when Allan Donald came in. If it was not for that then quite easily they would have won.”
Bob Woolmer in an ESPNCricinfo interview said in 2007 that Donald and “90% of the team” were in tears in the dressing room and had towels around their heads so nobody could see their faces. “It was THE game. It could have gone either way. History could have gone either way,” he said.
A moment of tragedy
Even years later, with the Proteas still not having won an ICC trophy, that run out continues to remain a seminal moment of tragedy in South Africa cricket.
Klusener said in a Cricket Monthly interview recently: “Getting one off the last ball, that’s not hard. I can do that. All the hard work was done. And then you just didn’t do what you needed to do. Yes, we could have waited and hit the next ball for four… Yes, we could have waited and got bowled out and people would have asked: “Why didn’t you run the ball before?” That’s the tough way of looking at it. I am upset with myself that I had done all the hard work and then I didn’t do the easy part. That’s the regret.”
Asked if it bothers him how the moment has become a part of history for all the wrong reasons for South Africa, Klusener said, “No, it doesn’t bother me. I know what happens. I have seen the movie before. I made the movie.”
The scars are deeper for Donald perhaps. “I suppose that YouTube thing will never stop. They will never take that off. I’ve watched it a hundred and whatever times, and I think that’s just something I had to deal with personally – being involved in that sort of incident,” he told cricket.au in 2016.
“My wife burned letters that were written to me, a lot of abuse was flying around. I had to deal with all of that and I had to deal with the guilt, so to speak, of not making that happen,” he told Wisden in 2019.
The Klusener-Donald run out is talked of with dread even by later cricketers. AB de Villiers writes in his autobiography, AB, that the match was his first brush with heartbreak.
“I remember my father being so angry. He could not believe how we had lost. I just ran to my room and cried,” he writes. He also writes that his most recurrent cricket dream is that he effects a run out and then South Africa win the World Cup. A run out leading to a World Cup title is probably the closure that all of South Africa need to overcome the sorrows of 1999.