My best sports memory – Cricket World Cup 1999

All sports fans have a singular, glorious moment that will forever stand out above all of their other sports memories. A memory that will bring you to tears just thinking about it.

Except for Chicago Cubs fans — their tears flow for a different reason.

But since I myself am not a Cubs fan (though I don’t dislike them), I do in fact have a singular special sports memory.

Right now the 2011 Cricket World Cup is being played in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. My greatest memory comes from the 1999 Cricket World Cup, which was played in England.

I was living in England at the time, country number four for me (after Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong). I was 11 years old and a hardcore fan of the Australian national cricket team.

Australia was doing well in the tournament and made it to the semifinals, where the team was matched up against South Africa. The winner would be headed to the final against Pakistan.

In this sense, my sporting memory resembles the 1980 “miracle” semifinal win of the US hockey team over Russia at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid.

Australia’s “miracle” took place in the semifinals, and the final itself was pretty much an afterthought.

There are three main versions of cricket: test cricket (in which matches are five days long), one-day cricket (self-explanatory) and 20-20 cricket (which is a shortened version of one-day cricket).

The matches at the Cricket World Cup are one-day cricket matches. The basic format is that one team bats first and puts up a score, and then the other teams bats and tries to beat that score. Each team bats until either they have batted for 50 overs (an over is a set of six “bowls,” the cricket version of “pitches”) or until the team has lost all 10 of its “outs.”

In the 1999 Cricket World Cup semifinal between Australia and South Africa, Australia batted first and put up a score of 213 — a very makeable target for South Africa.

The Aussies did a good job of keeping the South African batsmen in check early on, but ran into trouble later when South Africa’s star batsman came to the crease — Lance Klusener.

Klusener had pretty much been a one-man wrecking machine in the earlier rounds of the tournament. He didn’t lose any of his touch in the semifinals.

His team was running out of overs to reach Australia’s score, but Klusener managed 31 runs off of 16 bowls to tie the score with three bowls remaining in the match, but only one out remaining.

Score one run in the final three bowls, and South Africa would be in the final. Score no runs or lose their final out, and Australia would win the tiebreaker and be going to the final instead.

By this point, I was up on my feet bawling my eyes out in front of the TV, convinced that there was no way Klusener and Alan Donald (two batsmen are in the game at any one time) would fail. Convinced that Australia’s World Cup had come to an end.

To score a run in cricket, the ball needs to be hit into the field (which is oval in shape) and the two batsmen need to switch ends of the strip (which is in the middle of the field, with a wicket at each end) and successfully make it to the other wicket without being run out.

Klusener was on-strike (the one receiving the bowl). He hit the first of the final three bowls down the middle of the ground, and ran headlong for the other end.

In cricket, you don’t need to run every time you hit the ball.

Donald thought that Klusener’s hit wasn’t good enough to score the final run, so he chose not to run and wait to score on one of the final two bowls.

The miscommunication between the two batsmen spelled doom for South Africa.

Australia fielded the ball, threw it to the wicket Donald should have been running towards, getting him out.

The final score —213-213.

Australia was headed to the World Cup final.

My tears turned into pure joy, as I jumped up and down as high as I could, running like a madman around the living room. The Aussie cricketers burst into celebration all over the field, as Klusener and Donald were left standing in shock, realizing that they had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Australia held Pakistan to 132 runs in the final, utterly demolishing them by catching the total in only 20.1 overs, as one-sided a World Cup final as there has ever been.

I apologize if anyone has had a hard time following my cricket descriptions above. Here is a link to a video of the glorious moment:

Still brings tears to my eyes.