Australia on fire heading into finals
Adam Gilchrist generated a high-energy batting performance that gave Australia the ideal warm-up for the VB Series finals as they thrashed South Africa by 57 runs at Sydney. Gilchrist slammed 88 from 66 deliveries to guarantee a massive total and Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn and Michael Hussey cashed in to catapult the side to 6 for 344. Only occasionally were the visitors in sight of the huge target.
South Africa must now win their final game against Sri Lanka on Tuesday to meet Australia in the best-of-three finals and they must hope Shaun Pollock recovers quickly from a bruised heel. While Pollock rested, his bowling team-mates collected serious bruises from the home side's batsmen which must heal if they are to make a further impact on the tournament.
Gilchrist starred in the first act of an incredible performance, Martyn and Hussey finished it off with an 81-run stand from 9.1 overs, and the bowlers made sure their opponents rarely travelled at more than five an over. Mark Boucher and Herschelle Gibbs gave South Africa a chance of keeping pace with an escalating run-rate, but each time they closed in a serious disruption arrived and they had to start again.
Needing more than seven an over from the outset, they lost Graeme Smith to a sensational one-handed, legside take from Gilchrist before Boeta Dippenaar (27) and Gibbs (46) departed after bright but ultimately inconsequential rallies. A one-day personal best of 76 drove Boucher and he clung on to the hope of a successful pursuit, but after launching two sixes in the same Brad Hogg over the pressure of having to find - or clear - the boundary told.
His attempt at a third six fell about five metres short and was caught by James Hopes. As the match lost its impact despite the excitement of Johan van der Wath's four sixes, spectators thronged to the exit, which was a turnaround from the opening ten overs as people raced to their seats.
Gilchrist lit up the innings in an amazing example of power driving and was on target for a huge score - he admitted at the dinner break he thought about a double-century - until he miscued a pull from Charl Langeveldt in the 18th over. His one other moment of difficulty was an lbw shout on 65, but the rest of the time he charged at the South African attack with 14 boundaries.
His fifty came in the eighth over from 29 deliveries as van der Wath and Monde Zondeki, who was subbed in the 14th over after giving up 42 from four, were punished. Driving, cutting and flicking, Gilchrist was unstoppable no matter how many men Graeme Smith placed on the offside.
Smith delayed his second Powerplay after Australia were 121 from 15 overs and the ploy worked as Gilchrist went to the relief of the bowlers and the disappointment of a buoyant crowd. Ricky Ponting took Gilchrist's lead and drove superbly as he collected eight boundaries in his 72 from 61 deliveries and it was such a powerful team display that it felt like Martyn was crawling, even though a fierce pull brought up his half-century from 55 balls.
Hussey played his usual role of late-over storming to pound 47 from 33 and it seemed Australia could do nothing wrong as mis-hits and full-blooded strokes found the fence. In partnership with Martyn, who added a fine 79, Hussey dominated in muscular fashion and ended the innings with four fours and a six. It was an appropriate conclusion to a reign of terror begun by Gilchrist.
The total lifted Australia, who were again missing Glenn McGrath after he ruled himself out due to his wife Jane's cancer. He has also withdrawn from the finals to spend time with his family.
South Africa had few moments of joy despite the early departures of Simon Katich and Andrew Symonds. van der Wath, who spilled 82 runs against Australia on Friday, was thrashed for 76 today while Andrew Hall gave up 69, and Smith and Johan Botha were pleased to go at the relatively quiet pace of five an over. The side has one game to set things right if they want a chance for finals revenge.
Graeme Smith c Gilchrist b Lee 6 (1 for 7)
Gloved ball into body for one-handed legside take
Boeta Dippenaar c Hussey b Clark 27 (2 for 52)
Beat Hogg for catch running back from square leg
Herschelle Gibbs c Gilchrist b Symonds 46 (3 for 105)
Given out to inside edge hitting to legside, but was stumped too
Justin Kemp c Bracken b Hogg 28 (4 for 172)
Drove to deep mid-off
Mark Boucher c Hopes b Symonds 76 (5 for 199)
Holed out wanting to hit third six
Ashwell Prince run out 25 (6 for 236)
Direct hit at the batsman's end by Ponting
Simon Katich c Kemp b van der Wath 11 (1 for 65)
Smart take at wide first slip
Adam Gilchrist c Boucher b Langeveldt 88 (2 for 138)
Toe-ended a pull shot high in the air
Andrew Symonds c Hall b Smith 7 (3 for 168)
Drove arm ball to mid-off and a superb running catch
Ricky Ponting c Gibbs b Botha 72 (4 for 203)
Flicked straight to midwicket
Michael Clarke c Rudolph b Hall 27 (5 for 263)
Hit hard to deep mid-on
Damien Martyn run out 79 (6 for 344)
Chasing last ball two to midwicket
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo