Down Memory Lane: When Gibbs ‘Dropped’ The World Cup

The 1999 World Cup in England was pretty entertaining and well fought. It will be remembered for Australia’s emergence as the number one side of that era for a while to come. However, it will also be remembered for a peculiar incident that happened in the Super Six stages of the event. An incident, that even after 19 years, remains etched in people’s memories because of how it unfolded and the subsequent events afterwards.

The said incident happened in the much-awaited, high-octane clash between Australia and South Africa at Leeds on Jun 13, 1999.

After batting first, South Africa had posted a formidable 271-7 in their 50 overs courtesy a fine 101 by opener Herschelle Gibbs. Australia had a task on their hands as a loss here would have meant their exit from the tournament.

Australia were on the backfoot at 48-3 when captain Steve Waugh came on to bat. He formed a vital partnership with Ricky Ponting (69) and the pair was going well when Waugh committed an error. Waugh flicked a relatively simple Lance Klusener delivery on his pads straight to mid-wicket, into the hands of an eagerly waiting Herschelle Gibbs. Gibbs, however, was so excited that after pouching the catch, he instantly wanted to throw it into the air. Unfortunately, though, the ball slipped from his fingers and fell to the ground, thereby giving Waugh a precious life.

Gibbs, normally an outstanding fielder, could not believe what he had done. There was a stunned silence among the South African fielders and captain Hansie Cronje simply shook his head. South Africa knew that they had let go of a golden opportunity to put Australia firmly down. Waugh made full use of his life and went on to score a match-winning unbeaten 120 that helped Australia win the match by 5 wickets.

After the match, it was revealed that Steve had gone up to Gibbs and said: "How does it feel to drop the World Cup, Herschelle?”.

What was incredible about this supposedly arrogant statement was how eerily true it turned out to be later in the event. The win not only kept Australia in the tournament, it also put them above South Africa in the Super Six stage. This proved to be a vital factor in the tied semi-final between the same two sides four days later as Australia marched ahead because of it. Australia later won the World Cup and South Africa was left ruing their luck. Had Gibbs held on to that catch, the scenario would have been completely different.

It is no wonder hence that the dropped catch still haunts Gibbs. He believed he had caught the catch completely. In fact, in his autobiography, he wrote: “But I have honestly always believed that I had the ball under control before I tossed it and ruled it a dropped catch. If you watch the slow-motion replays closely, you can see that I have actually caught the ball. I caught it and chucked it away. That constitutes control in my book. You can even tell that I have caught it by the look on my face. I am looking over at the Aussie dressing room, wanting to send them the message, ‘That’s you gone, done and dusted.’ From my point of view, I caught the ball… I caught it 100 percent,”

While it is understandable that Gibbs feels frustrated by what happened, there is no denying that his dropped catch cost South Africa the World Cup 1999. And whether or not Steve Waugh actually said those words to Gibbs, the dropped catch shall forever remain a painful memory in the minds of the South African cricket fans and will always haunt them for what could have been.

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