Australia out of VB Series despite 33-run win in Perth
Australia won the battle but lost the war at the WACA on Sunday, beating South Africa by 33 runs, but failing to bag the bonus point that would have earned them a place in the VB Series finals.
South Africa reached 250 for five in their 50 overs in reply to Australia's 283 for seven, but much more importantly in the context of the competition, they got past 226, the score to which Australia had to restrict their opposition in order to claim the extra point.
It is probably fair to say that while the South Africans would have preferred to beat Australia, keeping the hosts out of the finals was a perfectly adequate consolation prize. There is no doubt that South Africa fancy their chances against New Zealand and although they have beaten Australia only once in all games this summer, they will have found some satisfaction in thwarting their fiercest rivals.
Australia, it must be said, gave themselves every chance of qualifying for the finals with a batting display that took wing in the closing overs of their innings. They would probably have aimed at around 280 when they set out and contributions from Adam Gilchrist (31), Mark Waugh (34), Ricky Ponting (26) and Damien Martyn laid a platform for a later charge.
The opening stages of the match were no without incident. On 22 Gilchrist appeared to be caught at the wicket off an inside edge, Mark Boucher diving low to his right to take the chance off Pollock one-handed. Gilchrist, it seemed, was prepared to walk if Boucher confirmed the catch, but the South African wicketkeeper indicated that he, too, was not entirely sure that he had taken it cleanly.
And so off it went to the third umpire and yet another instance of this particular use of technology causing more problems than it solves. In the crucial angle, Boucher's glove was offscreen at the critical moment for all except those with expensive widescreen television sets. Whatever Darrell Hair's faults as an umpire, he could hardly be faulted for giving this one not out. If television is so keen to involve itself in the game, it would seem the least the broadcaster could do would be to supply the third umpire with adequate equipment.
Gilchrist did not last a great deal longer, though, getting out in bizarre fashion when a ball from Makhaya Ntini went off his thigh pad and helmet, by way of his shoulder, before looping up, over him and onto his leg stump.
For all that the Australians were getting starts, Steve Waugh's 42 was the highest score from the top and middle order (Michael Bevan lasting only four balls for 1 on this occasion) before Darren Lehmann and Brett Lee produced the best batting of the match. Lehmann, in the Australian team for the first time in the series, played an immaculate one-day innings, knocking the ball about for 49 off 46 balls, but it was Lee's thunderous hitting that lifted the score to its impressive proportions.
He hit the great South African fast bowler Allan Donald for six, four, six, four and six as the 48th over gave up 27 (the same amount scored by Shaun Pollock off James Franklin on Friday) and ended unbeaten on 51 off 36 balls as Australia gave themselves, at the very least, a fighting chance of reaching the finals.
Pollock said afterwards that his side intended to wait until the final 10 overs before deciding whether to push for the outright win or settling for going past 226. Thus the innings tended to be watchful without being overly cautious as Jacques Kallis took up the anchor role and allowed his team-mates to bat around him.
It was understandable, though, that the lesser score was South Africa's primary aim and although Herschelle Gibbs (34), Boeta Dippenaar (33) and Jonty Rhodes (20) all got in, they all got out before capitalising on their starts.
And so on went Kallis, at the end partnered by Lance Klusener, to take South Africa past 226, reaching his century off 117 balls and finish the match unbeaten on 104.
In choosing Lehmann Australia sacrificed a bowler and in the end it may well have been their lack of a genuine fifth bowler that left them short of penetration. Certainly, Lehmann justified his selection with his batting, besides picking up two wickets, but Bevan and Steve Waugh cost Australia 43 from the six overs they bowled between them. The hosts played well, but they had not play well to start the tournament and in the end the two most consistent sides - in an inconsistent competition - have qualified for the finals.