A tale of two run out dismissals, 15 years apart

The muddying white cricket ball rolled, almost obediently, from Ross Taylor’s blade back to Dale Steyn. The big South African swooped down to pick it up, sprinted back to the non-striker’s wicket and broke it with an action that tempted one writer to call it a left upper-cut that could have floored a baby giraffe.

Steyn authored a fiery and fantastic final over to earn his team a heart-stopping two-run victory over New Zealand in a group A game in the ICC World Twenty20 in Chittagong on Tuesday. Left to defend six runs, the world’s best fast bowler conjured an immaculate over and emerged his team’s hero of the night.

There were three wickets in that final over, two to superlative catches by wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock and skipper Faf du Plessis who forgot that he was not supposed to test his hamstring and came up an amazing effort at extra-cover, Taylor’s final ball run out, two dot balls to Nathan McCullum and just one scoring stroke.

Not a few hearts reached out to New Zealand’s Ross Taylor who had played a superlative knock of 62, with a strike rate of 167.57. But give Steyn credit for having kept him away from strike till the very last delivery.

The sight of the South African continue sprinting, quite child-like, very aimlessly and with a broad smile, in relief and celebration after running Taylor out will be etched for sometime, even if nature of the tournament itself does not usually allow us to remember such moments for long.

Yet, watching Steyn on Tuesday evening, it was tough to stop the mind from slipping back to another run out dismissal some 15 years ago. Back in 1999, another South African fast bowler Allan Donald was run out, denying his team victory over Australia at Edgbaston and place in the World Cup final.

The left-handed Lance Klusener, who had hit Damien Fleming’s first two balls of the game’s last over to the cover boundary, charged down the track for the single but Donald couldn’t hear his call in the din. His protective instincts taking over, Donald turned to get back to the crease since the ball went between him and the wickets.

Mark Waugh – one the best fielders – charged from mid-off and, in one fluent motion, flicked the ball at the stumps. He missed the wicket but found its way to Fleming who relayed the ball down the track for Adam Gilchrist to break the stumps with Donald, having dropped his bat, only halfway down the pitch.

The Australians converged in the middle, yelping in joy. A distraught Klusener continued running towards the pavilion, perhaps aware that he had erred in attempting that single though two more deliveries were left. Donald walked back to pick the bat up and continued sullenly to the pavilion.

Unlike on Tuesday night when New Zealand lost the game, Donald’s run out in 1999 saw the World Cup semifinal end in a tie. Since Australia had beaten South Africa in the Super Sixes four days earlier, Steve Waugh’s team went through to the final where they beat Pakistan comfortably to win the World Cup again.

Have South Africa finally shaken the chokers’ tag that came to be associated – perhaps unfairly at times – with the team from the rainbow nation since that day in June 1999 and continued to dog successive teams, including the present squad that lost a game to Sri Lanka earlier in the tournament?

Indeed, two run out dismissals in ICC games featuring South Africa; nearly 15 years and 8000km apart, have a strange way of triggering thought.