Australia level series in thriller at Durban
Australia kept their nerve and eked out a one-wicket win against South Africa to level the five-match series 2-2 in a thrilling match at Durban. After Boeta Dippenaar (101) and Shaun Pollock (53 not out) had guided South Africa to 246 for 9, Australia were in some strife at 101 for 4. But Andrew Symonds blasted 76 from just 71 balls, and with the rest of the cast chipping in as well, Australia crept home with five balls to spare.
Australia began their run-chase superbly, with Adam Gilchrist and Simon Katich adding 87 for the first wicket in less than 18 overs. However, four wickets then went down for 14, with Ricky Ponting being one of the casualties as well. Australia's hopes rested on the broad shoulders of Symonds. The pressure didn't tell, initially: striking fours and disconcertingly powerful sixes with his usual strength, he kept Australia on course to win. With Mike Hussey providing support with a characteristically impish innings, the pair put on 52 at a run-a-ball. However, a canon-like drive from Symonds at the end of the 39th over reached Andrew Hall at mid-off whose dead-eye threw down the stumps to leave Hussey scrambling.
Symonds drove beautifully throughout his innings, always with a straight bat, and intelligently bisecting the field with a combination of timing and power. However, with Australia needing 29 from 43 balls, his adrenaline-fuelled cross-batted swat at Roger Telemachus's inswinger ended his innings on 76 to swing the momentum South Africa's way. His face was a picture of fury and anger; South Africa were jubilant.
Brett Lee followed the next ball, edging Makhaya Ntini - who had bowled poorly earlier in the innings - to Mark Boucher, the wicketkeeper, who snaffled his fourth catch. It was suddenly South Africa's game for the taking.
Stuart Clark - who played with a composure that belied his lack of experience - chipped away at the target with Nathan Bracken, who batted with tail-end gusto. In the 46th over, Bracken placed Telemachus over mid-off's head for four - somewhat fortuitously, with the ball looping tantalisingly in the air - but fortune favours the brave, especially if they bat at No.9. His bravado didn't last long: Andrew Hall finally got his yorker working, which zeroed in on Bracken's lack of defence and his leg stump. Clark, though, was unfazed throughout, creaming two fours behind backward point to edge Australia home. It was Mick Lewis, Australia's No.11, who hit the winning runs as Australia crept home by a single wicket.
It appeared Australia might win at a canter at one stage, though. Gilchrist and Katich were untroubled in their opening partnership, with Gilchrist in particularly venomous mood. Some magic was required to break the stand, which Jacques Kallis duly provided. Attempting to pull Andrew Hall - who, like Ntini, struggled with his length - Katich top-edged to deep midwicket where Kallis was prowling. Running forward and with the ball spiraling, he somehow found the ball nestle in his hands as he tumbled; it was a fine bit of fielding which began Australia's first collapse of the day.
Gilchrist followed soon after, his lazy drive at a wide loosener landing in de Villiers's hands at cover; both Ponting and Damien Martyn then fell to near-identical prods at Telemachus who, at this stage, was bowling with impressive fire. Michael Clarke showed plenty of patience, taking 23 balls for his 7, before commiting suicide when his attempted pull found the top-edge to give Boucher another catch. It was an injudicious shot given the match situation, but Australia's tail wagged impressively to mask the errors their senior batsmen had shown.
South Africa's batsmen played their share of poor shots too. de Villiers and Dippenaar, who struck his fourth one-day hundred and his first against Australia, rallied South Africa's innings after Bracken had removed Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs. Dippenaar played excellently for his hundred and, although named the Man of the Match, he was unable to receive it in person after being put on a drip for heat exhaustion.
Much as Australia's innings had stalled in the middle overs, and so did South Africa's. They were indebted to a classy and clean-striking fifty from Pollock to inject some energy into an innings which threatened to die a slow death. Pollock's eight fours - four of which came off one over from Lee - led South Africa to a total which had appeared out of reach earlier in the day.
In the end, it wasn't quite enough, though. The return of Symonds for Australia proved more decisive than Kallis's return for the hosts. South Africa were one wicket away from winning the series and, with the first Test beginning in six day's time, Sunday's final one-dayer has taken on a greater magnitude.
Simon Katich c Kallis b Hall 46 (87 for 1)
Top-edge spiralled to deep midwicket, excellent, low tumbling catch
Adam Gilchrist c de Villiers b Kallis 45 (99 for 2)
Limp mis-timed drive straight to cover
Damien Martyn c Boucher b Telemachus 1 (100 for 3)
Squared up by a good length delivery
Ricky Ponting c Boucher b Telemachus 7 (100 for 4)
Wrong length to drive, beaten by the bounce
Michael Clarke c Boucher b Kallis 7 (140 for 5)
Wasteful pull produced a top-edged skier
Mike Hussey run out 19 (192 for 6)
Symonds's drive found Hall at mid-off, non-striker inches short
Andrew Symonds b Telemachus 76 (218 for 7)
Gave himself room, cross-batted swish
Brett Lee c Boucher b Ntini 6 (218 for 8)
Beaten by pace, regulation outside edge
Nathan Bracken b Hall 7 (241 for 9)
Done in by a fast yorker
Graeme Smith c Gilchrist b Bracken 1 (1 for 1)
Late swing, failed to withdraw bat in time
Herschelle Gibbs c Gilchrist b Bracken 1 (9 for 2)
Prodded forward, beaten by swing
AB de Villiers lbw Lewis 38 (81 for 3)
Sharp in-cutter trapped him on the crease
Jacques Kallis c Hussey b Symonds 21 (118 for 4)
Dreadful slog, slick catch at deep point
Mark Boucher c Gilchrist b Lewis 19 (170 for 5)
Wasteful heave to a short and wide delivery
Justin Kemp lbw Clark 1 (173 for 6)
Inswinger, marginal call
Boeta Dippenaar c Clarke b Lee 101 (245 for 7)
Roger Telemachus run out 0 (246 for 8)
Quick single, slow to take off
Andrew Hall run out 0 (246 for 9)
Stumps shattered by keeper's throw
Will Luke is editorial assistant of Cricinfo