Gibbs sparkles on a rainy day
Herschelle Gibbs did his best to push South Africa's cause of forcing a series-levelling win, but he was thwarted by the wet weather at Sydney as only 20.3 overs were possible on the fourth day. South Africa added 90 in that period, with Gibbs creaming 67 of those in a mere 74 balls, but with only a day left in the game - and the weather forecast iffy for tomorrow as well - it'll require a minor miracle for the result to be anything other than a draw.
Showers kept the players off the field for an hour in the morning, but when action finally started Gibbs quickly stamped his class on the game, easing the dressing-room nerves after the early dismissal of Graeme Smith, lbw for the fourth time in the series. Replays showed that this was a harsh call by Billy Bowden - while the ball struck Smith in line, it would have gone over the stumps.
Through this series, Gibbs has been in reasonable form, scoring 184 runs in five innings, but before this knock, the fluency had been lacking - his 94 at Melbourne took him all of 234 deliveries, while his match total of 54 at Perth came off 147 balls. Here, though, with the team in need of quick runs, Gibbs responded magnificently. He made his point early in his innings, creaming Brett Lee for two magnificent cover-drives on bended knee, and flicking a leg-stump half-volley to the midwicket fence, all in one over.
Australia had a chance to nail him, but Shane Warne put down a tough catch at first slip after getting a hand to the ball when Gibbs was on 34. McGrath, the unlucky bowler, suffered more agony when Gibbs celebrated with two fours in the same over - a rasping pull and a copybook punch through cover. Another trademark extra-cover drive brought him his half-century, off just 58 balls, before a sharp shower forced the players to scurry towards the pavilion for an early lunch. In sharp contrast to Gibbs's flourish, Jacques Kallis was completely becalmed. Hampered somewhat by an elbow injury, Kallis didn't even attempt to rotate the strike and allow Gibbs to take aim.
Another hour was lost before the players returned in what turned out to be a brief, six-over session. South Africa managed to add 29 more, but lost the crucial wicket of Gibbs when Kallis failed to respond to a call for a sharp single. A direct hit found Gibbs well short at the non-striker's end, ending a stand of 86 in which Kallis's contribution was a mere 14 off 47 balls.
The rains then forced the players to take an early tea break, after which no further play was possible. With more showers forecast for the final day, what was turning into an intriguing contest will almost certainly finish as a draw.
Graeme Smith lbw b McGrath 5 (2 for 6)
Given out to one which hit in line but would have sailed over the stumps
Herschelle Gibbs run out (Hodge) 67 (3 for 92)
Direct hit at non-striker's end after Kallis turned down a single to leg
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo