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Cricket’s Closest Contests: 5th ODI, SA vs Australia, Johannesburg

An unbelievable end to a thrilling series

The 1999 World Cup semifinal between Australia and South Africa was docketed amongst the greatest one-day internationals ever played, but that was until 2006. South Africa failed to win the game that would’ve had them qualify for the final of the World Cup; instead Australia were the ones who advanced and took the title. Contests on the cricket ground between the two teams are intense and the competitiveness between the sides brings out the hostility.

The game played at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on March 12th, 2006, however, redefined the intensity of the rivalry between the two sides and also shifted the title of the greatest one-day game ever played. In Brett Lee’s autobiography, he mentioned how John Buchanan – Australia’s coach then – kept pushing the team to challenge their limits and told them a score in excess of 400 in an ODI was possible. Nobody believed it until that very day. In the 5-match ODI series, with South Africa having won 2, and Australia having fought back and won the other 2 games, this was the decider. The spectacle was put off until the last game, where skipper, Ricky Ponting, steered his team to a score of 434 in 50 overs.

Unbelievable, part 1

The teams started off with two of their key players missing; Australia was missing McGrath due to personal reasons and the Proteas, Pollock due to a back strain. Ponting won the toss and opted to bat. After a solid start by Katich and Gilchrist, Ponting came in to score his fastest 100 ever – in 73 balls. He went on to score his highest ODI score of 164 in only 105 balls, including 13 fours and 9 sixes! After the second-wicket stand of 139, Mr. Cricket came in to score a blistering 81 off 51 balls. Australia scored 40 runs off the last 3 overs and became the first ever team to score more than 400 runs in a one-day international.

While the entire cricketing world was left stunned at the feat and while every other person watching, thought they knew the outcome of the game, the South Africans had different plans. The South Africans knew they had nothing to lose and went out all guns blazing. The Proteas lost Dippenaar very early, which in hindsight was a blessing in disguise. Smith and Gibbs took the attack to the Australians and put up 187 together, with Gibbs scoring his 16th ODI century off just 79 balls and Smith scoring a swift 90. Gibbs then went on to score 175 runs himself and put up another useful partnership with AB de Villiers to keep his team in the hunt. The match went down till the penultimate ball that Boucher dispatched to the boundary and was deafened by the roar from the spectators – some bursting into tears of joy.

“Straight down the ground! What a victory! That is a sensational game of cricket!” exclaimed Greig. “Look, there are tears, they are crying out there! The South Africans at the Bullring today have seen the best one day international ever played.”

Unbelievable, part 2

The South Africans celebrated their legendary win, while the Australians were left stunned. Ricky Ponting and Herschelle Gibbs were awarded the Man of the Match awards, but Ponting refused, saying it belonged to Gibbs. The victory was South Africa’s redemption for the World Cup semifinal. The records from that game are as follows:

Individual

Ricky Ponting set the record for the fastest 150 in ODI cricket, reaching it in 99 balls; Gibbs fell one ball short of matching this in the second innings. The record was eventually taken over by Jayasuriya (in 95 balls).

Herschelle Gibbs’ innings was the tenth-highest individual score in ODI cricket, and the second-highest by a South African.

Mick Lewis finished with bowling figures of 10–0–113–0, which is the most runs conceded in a single ODI match.

Team

Highest successful run chase in an ODI: 438 runs

Second highest total in an ODI (highest at the time): 438–9

Overall

Highest aggregate runs in a match: 872.

Most sixes in a match: 26 (highest at the time)

Most fours in a match: 89

This is and will be, one of the greatest ODI matches ever witnessed. This game in particular just proves how unpredictable a game cricket is; on some occasions, 150 runs are enough to beat an opponent while at times, 434 isn’t. But this very nature of volatility in the game is what makes cricket the beautiful game it really is.

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