Australia take fourth ODI by 37 runs
With three modest contributions behind him, Australian captain Ricky Ponting came good in the fourth Standard Bank one-day international in Bloemfontein on Saturday to fashion a masterful century and guide his side to a 37-run victory.
Australia's win gives them an unbeatable 3-0 lead in the seven-match series (the third game in Potchefstroom was tied) and although it is still mathematically possible for South Africa to tie the series, after six defeats in eight one-day encounters against Australia this summer, no one will be holding their breath waiting for this to happen.
Ponting's 129 was the highest one-day score made by an Australian against South Africa and it was about as close to flawless an innings as you could ask for. He came in in the 11th over of the innings and stayed there until the 48th as Australia posted 290 for six, their second-highest total against South Africa.
His runs came off 126 deliveries and included 15 fours and a six and it was, by some distance, the major contribution to the total. All along the way, though, Australia's batsmen chipped in to help the skipper. Adam Gilchrist, who has still not quite fired in this one-day series after his breathtaking exploits in the Test series, made 34; Damien Martyn 24 and Darren Lehmann a typically crafty 39 as South Africa found themselves largely unable to cope with the flow of runs.
Once again South Africa changed their attack around and once again the pick of thwe bowlers was Makhaya Ntini who started with two maidens and, although he failed to take a wicket, conceded only 42. In the circumstances, it was a remarkable effort.
If South Africa were to make a contest of it they needed a decent start. For this match they changed their opening pair, fielding their third different combination in as many matches with Graeme Smith coming in to partner Gary Kirsten. Boeta Dippenaar, who was promoted to open after looking the best of the middle order batsmen in the first two games, was dropped along with Herschelle Gibbs.
The change made precious little difference. Kirsten was out for 3 at 7 and Andrew Hall, sent in at three, was gone for the same score at 14 as South Africa again suffered at the hands of Glenn McGrath.
There was some fight left, though. Smith, who has been in outstanding one-day form at provincial level this summer, made a fighting 41 on debut until he was bowled off an inside edge by Ian Harvey.
Jacques Kallis, too, looked in good touch, making 43 while Neil McKenzie, left out of the side for the first two games, made an inventive 67. With Jonty Rhodes also chipping in, South Africa weren't dead and buried until the 41st over.
Then Brett Lee came on, bowled McKenzie through his legs and bowled Mark Boucher, first ball, with a yorker. From 202 for four, South Africa had slipped to 202 for six in the space of two balls. Jason Gillespie came back to have Shaun Pollock caught behind at 207 for seven and the last of the batsmen, Nicky Boje, was also caught at the wicket at 224 for eight.
Rhodes was eventually last man out for 56, but the game had already been won and lost by then.
As in the first two games, Australia once again had far too much expertise and too clear a vision of what they hoped to achieve than the home team. Only in the third match of the series have South Africa been able to put Australia under pressure, and even then the tourists wriggled out of jail thanks to Jimmy Maher and Nathan Hauritz, two of the least experienced members of their squad.
For this match South Africa named a squad of 14 for reason only the selectors understood. It made no difference. In fact had they chosen 24 it would have made no difference. The simple truth is that Australia are a better equipped, better coached and better managed team than South Africa. The possibility of a 6-0 series victory for Australia still beckons. It is by no means out of the question.