Boucher holds nerve for South Africa
South Africa have finally taken the crucial step necessary to beat Australia and they did it despite a poorly timed rain interruption. Since the 1999 World Cup the Proteas have often had their southern hemisphere rivals in serious danger before letting them escape - often spectacularly - and today they faced a similar scenario until Mark Boucher and Justin Kemp pushed them to victory after a shower arrived with five runs and ten balls remaining.
South Africa were ahead by nine runs on the Duckworth-Lewis system during the unscheduled break, and they returned for three deliveries to secure the five-wicket win they deserved. An unfair rain rule ruined their World Cup return in 1991-92, but today they had no complaints and their worries in this match between the world's top two teams were self-inflicted after Australia recovered from the severe trouble of 6 for 71 to post 228.
The home side kept springing back from discomfort during the competitive three-Test series and today they were in a strong position until Brett Lee grabbed a replacement ball for the 46th over and was thrashed for 17 by Boucher and Kemp, who drove a straight six into the second tier of the northern grandstand. Kemp missed two catches late in Australia's innings and made up for his embarrassment with 29 from 22 balls while Boucher, who had scored 5 from his first 21 balls and was dropped by Adam Gilchrist on 24, accelerated magnificently to finish with 63 from 62.
Boeta Dippenaar, the opener, steered South Africa's controlled chase for the first 40 overs, but when he departed for 74 the innings stuttered until the late flurry. Needing 100 runs from 80 deliveries, the margin was reduced to 69 off 60 through Dippenaar and Boucher before drifting out to 47 from the final five overs. Boucher and Kemp did it easily with a 69-run partnership to place Australia's late-innings bowling under more scrutiny after the ballooning final overs of the Chappell-Hadlee Series.
Hussey and Lee revived Australia from a dreadful start with a record-breaking 123-run partnership as they scurried to a competitive total. Starting patiently, they edged Australia back into the game on a bouncing and seaming surface before they gained the advantage and set a national mark for the highest seventh-wicket partnership.
A calm and exceptional performance is now expected from Hussey, but Lee's 57 off 72 balls was an important innings for a player continuing to enhance his all-round reputation. Lee hit three sixes and was also struck an uncomfortable blow on the jaw from Jacques Kallis when he turned to avoid a short ball.
The pain didn't affect Lee's batting and he finished with his highest limited-overs score and his second half-century. Hussey's fifty came from 84 balls and he added only five boundaries in his 73 from 108 before becoming Garnett Kruger's maiden wicket in his debut match.
Australia opened the VB Series with a 116-run victory over Sri Lanka, but any chance of a lazy Sunday in front of a ground-record 39,874 spectators was ended by Shaun Pollock's opening burst, which reduced them to 3 for 29 in the ninth over. Gilchrist played on to Pollock's first ball, Simon Katich edged him to Graeme Smith and Damien Martyn gave himself too much room and was bowled.
Pollock, who ended with 3 for 30 and the Man-of-the-Match award, punched the air and another three cheers quickly followed. Monde Zondeki, playing his ninth ODI, accounted for Ricky Ponting for 33, and when Andrew Hall dented the chances of a quick recovery by dismissing Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke for single figures they were under massive pressure.
Like Australia, the visitors gave up early wickets, but Dippenaar avoided the damage and collected some stylish boundaries to set up the base for a victory push. The support arrived and played its role to perfection and as the wet seats glistened under the lights Kemp drove Nathan Bracken for four through cover and South Africa understood the joy of winning the moment that mattered most.
Graeme Smith c Katich b McGrath 12 (1 for 27)
Lobbed pull shot to square leg
Jacques Kallis run out 0 (2 for 27)
Gave up running and was easily beaten by Symonds' direct hit from point
Herschelle Gibbs c Martyn b Bracken 12 (3 for 55)
Disappointed to miscue to mid-off
Ashwell Prince c Hussey b McGrath 19 (4 for 125)
Amazing diving, left-handed catch running back at square leg
Boeta Dippenaar run out 74 (5 for 162)
Beaten by Clark's underarm in his follow-through
Adam Gilchrist b Pollock 0 (1 for 0)
Played back and played on
Simon Katich c Smtih b Pollock 0 (2 for 4)
Ball angled away and easy catch at first slip
Damien Martyn b Pollock 12 (3 for 29)
Stepped down the pitch and to leg, and missed with big swing
Ricky Ponting c&b Zondeki 33 (4 for 60)
Punched drive straight back
Andrew Symonds c Boucher b Hall 9 (5 for 64)
Inside edged big attempted drive
Michael Clarke c Boucher b Hall 8 (5 for 71)
Nibbled away from his body
Michael Hussey b Kruger 73 (7 for 194)
Yorked while trying to force to legside
Brett Lee run out 57 (8 for 207)
Chased second run but beaten by Pollock return
Stuart Clark b Hall 15 (9 for 228)
Slogging to midwicket
Glenn McGrath run out 0 (228)
Chased a bye but beaten by Hall's flick at the bowler's end
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo