The 5-match ODI series contested as part of Australia’s tour of South Africa in early 2006 was remarkable for several reasons. Both sides had a phenomenal array of talent at their disposal, leading to some outstanding and scintillating individual performances. The series began as a heavily one-sided contest, and yet ended on the finest of margins with one of the most famed matches in the history of the format. It would not be an exaggeration to say that it represented some of the best entertainment that one-day cricket has to offer.
1st ODI, Centurion, 26 February 2006
After an exciting T20 match that saw South Africa emerge victorious by just two runs, the two sides began the one-day series in Centurion. Before the game, Australia had already suffered a major setback as it was announced that captain and key batsman Ricky Ponting would be unable to play in the first match due to a stomach injury. They were offered some solace, however, when stand-in skipper Adam Gilchrist won the toss and duly elected to bat.
However, the tourists found themselves in hot water straight from the outset as they fell to 25 for 3, including losing Gilchrist himself, thanks to South Africa’s clinical new-ball partnership of Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini. After these early blows the Australians managed to steadily rebuild their innings somewhat, with middle-order heavyweights Michael Clarke and Mike Hussey each making a half-century as they added 100 runs to the total without losing any further wickets. Fearing the game could get away from his side, South Africa captain Graeme Smith turned back to Pollock to make something happen. Pollock duly delivered, dismissing both the batsmen in the space of two overs. From here, a combination of good bowling and poor running – resulting in 2 run-outs – meant Australia lost wickets regularly. Their only salvation came from Brett Lee batting at number 8, who made a 28-ball 38 to propel Australia to the respectable total of 229 for 8 off 47 overs, with rain delays preventing the full allocation of over from being bowled.
The South African run chase, started by Smith and Boeta Dippenaar, began convincingly until the latter was bowled by a ball that kept low from Nathan Bracken with the score at 24. He was quickly followed by Herschelle Gibbs, who was run out thanks to some fine work from Michael Clarke, having only faced one ball. From here, though, Smith led the way, racking up a fine century, with capable support from AB de Villiers, who made a quickfire 43, and later Justin Kemp, who merely needed to stick around while the captain did his job. Indeed, the South Africans were not deterred by further rain, which saw their target reduced to 204, as they eased to victory with 6 wickets and 21 balls in hand. Unsurprisingly, Smith, who finished unbeaten on 119, was awarded man of the match, with the home side satisfied with what was a comprehensive win.
2nd ODI, Cape Town, 3 March 2006
South Africa and Australia met again in Cape Town five days later, with the tourists a game down and still missing their captain. The South Africans, meanwhile, received another boost as Graeme Smith won the toss and elected to bat, as his side aimed to build on his excellent batting performance in the previous game to take a substantial series lead.
Smith and Dippenaar got off to a solid start, reaching 45 for no wicket before the Australian bowlers struck back, bowling both openers as well as the dangerous de Villiers to peg back South Africa to 95 for 3. Their innings, though, was kept ticking over by Herschelle Gibbs, who made a composed fifty from number 3. He was joined by wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, with the two putting on 80 runs together before Gibbs was caught and bowled by Brad Hogg. The home side did not relent, though. After Boucher too departed, Kemp and Pollock put on a quickfire partnership with the former making an unbeaten fifty and the latter scoring 38. This late effort, which saw 93 runs come off the last 10 overs, saw South Africa post the commanding total of 289 for 7.
It was fair to say Australia’s response never really got off the ground. Almost immediately they were floored by an inspired spell from Ntini, who tore through their top order with 4 wickets in his first 5 overs, leaving the Australians in dire straits at 7 for 4. By this point, the match only seemed to be going one way. The South African bowlers did not let up, with Andre Nel claiming further wickets as Australia were bundled out for 93, as only four of their batsmen went beyond single figures. The star of the show, though, was of course the often-unplayable Ntini, who finished with outstanding figures of 6 for 22. He claimed man of the match as his side cruised to a 2-0 lead.
3rd ODI, Port Elizabeth, 5 March 2006
Being 2-0 down in a 5-match series of course means only one thing: you must win every single game left in the series, with no margin for error. While the Australians were no doubt fully aware of this, they would have been equally aware that if any side was capable of pulling off such a comeback, it was theirs. Boosted by the return of Ricky Ponting as captain, they were put in to bat by South Africa.
Australia got off to a steady start despite losing Adam Gilchrist to Pollock for 25 in the 9th over, with Simon Katich and Ricky Ponting building a fifty partnership. While Katich was run out just one short of his half-century though, courtesy of some excellent work from de Villiers, the score was 99 for 2, meaning the match was back in the balance. Yet it was Ponting who took the initiative, showing his side exactly what they had missed while he had been injured. He and Damien Martyn each made accomplished fifties before being dismissed, leaving Clarke and Hussey to up the ante in the later overs to guide their side to 254 for 6 in their 50 overs.
South Africa’s innings got off to a poor start as they fell to 69 for 5 by the 21st over. Brett Lee was in top form, taking the wickets of Smith and Boucher, while Stuart Clark also contributed by dismissing Kemp and effecting the run-out of Gibbs. With the game apparently all but over, de Villiers and Pollock launched a stirring fightback to keep South African hopes alive. Each scored a fifty as they put on 119 before both falling within the space of five balls to ensure Australia remained on top. After this, only number 10 Roger Telemachus offered any resistance, giving the Australians a scare as he smashed three sixes in a 13-ball 29 to get South Africa within 25 runs of their target. He eventually fell too, though, lbw to Nathan Bracken as the final wicket to fall, giving Australia a 24-run victory. This was a crucial win for the tourists, offering them a way back into the series.
4th ODI, Durban, 10 March 2006
By the time of the next game, both sides had been strengthened by the return of previously injured players. South Africa welcomed back legendary all-rounder Jacques Kallis, while Australia were reinforced by destructive batsman and useful part-time bowler Andrew Symonds. South Africa, still seeking the win that would hand them the series, won the toss and elected to bat first.
The hosts almost immediately got off to the worst possible start, losing skipper Smith in the first over, followed shortly after by Gibbs, as both batsmen were caught behind off Bracken. This time, though, it was Dippenaar’s chance to shine, as he patiently set about building a substantial innings, supported by starts from de Villiers, Kallis and Boucher. However, as several Australian bowlers chipped in with wickets falling regularly, there was a danger that nobody would be around to support Dippenaar as he ticked over, particularly as South Africa fell to 173 for 6 with less than 10 overs remaining. From here, though, Pollock came in to expertly build on his impressive innings in the previous game, hitting an unbeaten 53 from just 33 balls to give his side some late impetus. Dippenaar, meanwhile, managed to reach his century late in the innings before being dismissed for 101, as South Africa made 246 for 9 in their 50 overs.
Australia’s openers Gilchrist and Katich responded positively, putting on 87 for no wicket within the first 18 overs. After each fell just short of a half-century, however, their side suffered something of a wobble, with Ponting and Martyn also departing cheaply to Telemachus to leave the score at 101 for 4. The task of rebuilding the run chase fell to the recently recovered Symonds, who scored a scintillating innings of 76 at more than a run a ball. Wickets continued to fall, though, as the ascendency swung repeatedly between the two sides. When Symonds departed, though, followed the next ball by Lee, the game hung in the balance, as Australia required 29 more runs with just two wickets in hand and plenty of overs still to be bowled. Tailenders Clark and Bracken inched the Australians towards their target before Bracken fell with 6 runs still to get. It was down to number 11 Mick Lewis, playing his first (and only) innings in international cricket, to hit the winning runs off the first ball of the final over. Australia had won the thrilling encounter by one wicket, coming back from 2-0 down to leave the series all square with one game to play.
5th ODI, Johannesburg, 12 March 2006
The deciding match of the series will go down as one of the most iconic one-day matches of all time. Batsmen on both sides will remember it fondly, while it was the sort of game to make bowlers wake up at night in a cold sweat. Everyone involved, however, would surely agree that the game’s climax was a fitting end to what had been a wonderful series.
Australia, winning the toss, chose to come out to bat, hoping that the momentum that had seen them come back from 2-0 down would continue to propel them. It certainly appeared that way when Gilchrist and Katich got them off to a rapid start, with the former making a quickfire fifty before falling with the score on 97. Katich continued to make a confident 79, but it was his new batting partner Ponting who stole the show, sending to ball to all corners of the ground as he launched an all-out assault on the bowlers. After Katich was caught at third man, Ponting continued on the rampage. Barely content with scoring a century, he blasted his way to 164 off 105 balls, putting on 158 in under 16 overs with the equally destructive Mike Hussey, who added a 51-ball 81. After both departed, either side of their side reaching 400 (already making it at this stage the highest ODI innings of all time), it was down to Symonds and Lee to add the finishing touches to a monumental innings. They finished on 434 for 4, having dismantled South Africa’s bowlers. Kallis had come in for particularly brutal treatment, going for 70 runs in just 6 overs.
It was clear that South Africa had the most gargantuan of tasks before them. They would have to re-break the record Australia had just broken for the biggest total in ODI history, and surpass the previous record for a successful ODI run chase by more than 100 runs. Things went from bad to worse for the home side when they lost Dippenaar, their star man in the previous match, for only 1 run. Smith and Gibbs, however, refused to be deterred by the task at hand, compiling a devastating 187-run partnership in just 20.5 overs. While Smith was dismissed before reaching his century, after holing out to Michael Clarke, Gibbs kicked on, bringing up a fine hundred from just 79 balls. He dominated a partnership with de Villiers, who scored just 14 of the 94 runs the two put on together. After both were dismissed in quick succession, though, with Gibbs having made a masterful 175 from 111 balls, South Africa lost their way somewhat. They fell from 284 for 2 to 355 for 6, still requiring 80 runs with fewer than 8 overs left and only the lower order to come. Boucher and van der Wath led the way, guiding South Africa to within 36 runs of their target before the latter was dismissed by Bracken (who would go on to claim 5 wickets). Yet the home side battled on, until they required 7 from the final over, bowled by Lee, with two wickets in hand. Andrew Hall hit the second ball of the over for four, meaning his side needed just two to win, but was caught at mid-off the following ball, meaning Australia just needed one wicket for victory. Last man Ntini managed to guide the fourth ball away for a single to tie the scores, before Boucher drove the next ball for four to take his side home by one wicket, with one ball to spare. For good measure, the boundary also brought up his own half-century. The series, which had ebbed and flowed dramatically between the two sides, had been decided by perhaps the greatest match in the history of ODI cricket. The world record total had been broken twice in one day, along with countless other records, as the home side claimed a 3-2 series victory. Indeed, South Africa’s effort in Johannesburg remains by far the highest successful run chase ever, and will live long in the memory of players and spectators alike.
Image Credit: Dees Chinniah