A performance of awesome power and intent
South Africa have won the greatest one-day international in the history of the game.
Andrew Hall seemed to have the match in the bag when he pulled Brett Lee for four through the vacant midwicket region but, with two runs needed from four balls and two wickets in the bag, he spooned his very next delivery to Michael Clarke at mid-on. That meant that it would be the No. 11, Makhaya Ntini, on strike to face the decisive deliveries.
His first delivery was clipped down to third man for a single, which left the scores level and Mark Boucher on strike. He made no mistake.
48.2 overs South Africa 423 for 8 (Boucher 43*) need another 12 runs to beat Australia 434 for 4 (Ponting 164, Hussey 81, Katich 79)
Mick Lewis became the most expensive bowler in the history of one-day cricket, as his 10 overs disappeared for 113 runs, and suddenly South Africa needed 13 runs from 12 balls, and the match was more or less in the bag. Lewis's final over was cracked for four, two, one, four, two, four, as Mark Boucher and Roger Telemachus carried their side to the brink of the most glorious win in history. But when Telemachus spooned an attempted drive and was brilliantly caught by a sprawling Mike Hussey at long-off, a final twist was on the cards.
46.3 overs South Africa 399 for 7 (Boucher 31*, Telemachus 0*) need another 36 runs to beat Australia 434 for 4 (Ponting 164, Hussey 81, Katich 79)
When Justin Kemp steered Nathan Bracken to backward point to be caught for 13, South Africa were 355 for 6 and it seemed their heroic challenge was beginning to fade. Instead, Johan van der Wath strode out to the middle to transform the equation once again with another wave of blistering hitting.
van der Wath belted Mick Lewis over long-off for two sixes in an over then added a six and a four in Nathan Bracken's eighth, as the requirement dropped from a tricky 77 from 42 balls to a gettable 36 from 22. But then van der Wath holed out to extra cover, and the scales tilted again.
40 overs South Africa 342 for 5 (Boucher 10*, Kemp 14*) need another 93 runs to beat Australia 434 for 4 (Ponting 164, Hussey 81, Katich 79)
Jacques Kallis fell for 20 to a smart return catch from Andrew Symonds, as the Wanderers run-fest hurtled towards a thrilling conclusion. With ten overs remaining, South Africa needed 93 runs to win with five wickets still standing, and the crucial pair of Mark Boucher and Justin Kemp at the crease.
31.5 overs South Africa 299 for 4 (Gibbs 175, Kallis 1*) need another 136 runs to beat Australia 434 for 4 (Ponting 164, Hussey 81, Katich 79)
Herschelle Gibbs's joyride came to an end on 175 from 111 balls, as Australia saw a glimmer of salvation amid the wreckage of their bowling performance. Having just smacked the sixth and seventh sixes of his monumental performance, Gibbs got underneath his next attacking stroke against Andrew Symonds, and chipped a simple chance to Brett Lee at long-off.
Australia were cockahoop and little wonder, but with batsmen of the quality of Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher at the crease, the chase was still very much on.
30 overs South Africa 279 for 2 (Gibbs 156*, de Villiers 14*) need another 156 runs to beat Australia 434 for 4 (Ponting 164, Hussey 81, Katich 79)
Herschelle Gibbs hurtled to 150 not out from just 100 balls, and brought up the landmark with his fifth six of the innings and the 21st of a bedlamic contest, as South Africa continued to close in on the most remarkable run-chase in the history of one-day cricket.
Needing the small matter of 435 for victory, Gibbs kept the flows coming at a torrent, with Mick Lewis taking the brunt of his onslaught, with 72 runs coming from his seven overs. Brett Lee returned to the attack as Ponting played the last of his three Powerplays and for a moment Australia seemed to be regaining some control, but then AB de Villiers slotted him over the top for a one-bounce four, and the momentum had been maintained.
de Villiers eventually fell just after the drinks break, caught on the cow-corner boundary as he heaved Nathan Bracken into the deep. But Gibbs was still there, and as Jacques Kallis came out to join him, South Africa were still in the box seat.
27 overs South Africa 247 for 2 (Gibbs 131*, de Villiers 7*) need another 188 runs to beat Australia 434 for 4 (Ponting 164, Hussey 81, Katich 79)
Graeme Smith produced an innings laced with fury and Herschelle Gibbs blazed a 79-ball century to give their side a fighting chance of pulling off the most extraordinary run-chase in one-day history. By the halfway mark of the innings, South Africa had rattled along to 229 for 2, and needed a mere 206 to win with eight wickets in hand. Given everything that had gone before, few doubted they could achieve it either.
Only one contest could compare - the extraordinary C&G Trophy contest between Surrey and Glamorgan in 2002, when Alistair Brown scored 268 out of a total of 438 for 5, only for Glamorgan to track his side all the way with a reply of 429. Just as South Africa had discovered in the absence of Shaun Pollock, Australia badly missed the accuracy and reputation of Glenn McGrath.
In McGrath's absence, the likes of Mick Lewis and Stuart Clark were proving to be mere cannon fodder. Smith made a brilliant 90 from 55 balls before holing out to deep midwicket, but Gibbs and the combative AB de Villiers were still going strong - aided by some increasingly nervy Australian fielders. On 130, Gibbs had a massive let-off when Nathan Bracken at mid-off dropped a lobbed drive off a Lewis full-toss, and could only contemplate his navel as the Bullring roared its approval. Something remarkable was afoot.
15 overs South Africa 120 for 1 (Smith 52*, Gibbs 53*) need another 315 runs to beat Australia 434 for 4 (Ponting 164, Hussey 81, Katich 79)
Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs played their shots to keep the decisive fifth one-day international at the Wanderers alive. Even though South Africa needed the small matter of 435 to win, the pair had added an unbeaten century partnership in double-quick time. After 15 overs they were well up with the required run-rate of almost nine an over, with Smith in particularly bullish form, on 52 from 36 balls.
South Africa's response got off to the worst possible start when Boeta Dippenaar - a centurion in Friday's match at Durban - played on to Nathan Bracken's second delivery and was bowled for 1. Even so, Dippenaar is not one of nature's strokeplayers, and his early departure allowed Smith and Gibbs to resume their prolific partnership.
With runs flowing freely on a brisk outfield and against an attack lacking the steadying services of Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee was cracked for 41 runs in his first five overs and the support cast of Stuart Clark and Mick Lewis leaked runs as well. Ponting opted not to play his third and final Powerplay, and instead brought on the spin of Andrew Symonds, in a bid to slow the scoring rate.
50 overs Australia 434 for 4 (Ponting 164, Hussey 81, Katich 79) against South Africa
Ricky Ponting produced one of the most sensational one-day innings of all time as Australia powered to a world-record total of 434 for 4 - the first 400-plus score in the game's history. In a display of cultured slogging that first broke his opponents' resolve then scattered their dignity to the highveld, Ponting creamed 164 sublime runs from 105 balls, with 13 fours and an astonishing nine sixes. It was the finest exhibition of clean-hitting that the Wanderers crowd had witnessed ... since Ponting's last performance on this ground, in the World Cup final in 2003, when he belted 140 not out against India to secure Australia's defence of the title.
By the time Ponting was finally plucked on the cover boundary by a leaping Boeta Dippenaar (a foot either side and he would instead have registered his tenth and most spectacular six of the innings), South Africa had been reduced to a pale imitation of a cricket team. Andrew Symonds - not a bad man to bring out to bat at 374 for 3 - and the promoted Brett Lee helped themselves to 27 runs from the final 14 balls of the innings, and Graeme Smith was left wondering how the series could have gone so wrong.
Smith will need little reminding that his team had led this series 2-0 after two matches, with Australia crumbling for just 93 in the second game at Cape Town. But now, with the Test series getting underway in just four days' time, Ponting and pals had served a stark reminder of where the balance of power really lies. A day that began with Shane Warne fuelling the war of words between the two camps culminated with the sight of Roger Telemachus losing the plot so spectacularly that, just prior to his fortuitous dismissal of Ponting, he managed to serve up four consecutive no-balls that were smeared for a total of 19 runs.
South Africa's bowling figures were a universal horror story. Telemachus went for 87 in his ten overs, Makhaya Ntini, Andrew Hall and Johan van der Wath fared little better, while Jacques Kallis - whom Ponting carted for consecutive leg-side sixes to bring up his fifty and open the floodgates - was clattered for 70 runs in just six overs. And, in one of the most comprehensive team batting performances of all time, each of the four Australians to be dismissed racked up at least a half-century in their time at the crease. Mike Hussey, Ponting's supposed sidekick during their 158-run stand for the third wicket, contributed the small matter of 81 from 51 balls, with nine fours and three sixes.
In theory, this innings ought to have been a good contest between bat and ball. With a hint of moisture in the surface and good bounce and carry being generated for South Africa's pace attack, Australia's openers had some early moments of discomfort. But far from being cowed by the occasional ball that beat the outside edge, Simon Katich and Adam Gilchrist embarked on a thrilling counterattack. With the metronomic Shaun Pollock still absent from South Africa's attack, the remaining seamers lacked the wicket-to-wicket discipline to cope with Australia's intent.
Gilchrist, as ever, was at the forefront of the assault. He survived a tough chance on just 8, when Herschelle Gibbs parried a scorching one-handed leap to his left at point, and thereafter he was in the mood to open his shoulders. Ntini was punished for every error in line with pushes down the ground for four and whips off the legs through midwicket, and Gilchrist's half-century had come from just 35 balls when Hall at mid-on took an incredible one-handed tumbling catch, as he swooped low to his left to intercept a fierce pull shot.
Such brilliance ought to have been an uplifting moment for South Africa, but at 97 for 1 in the 16th over, Gilchrist had done the damage and Ponting was in the mood to cash in. At first he was measured in his approach, restricting himself to clipped boundaries off his legs as Katich, hitherto the more silent partner, took up the cudgels by hoisting van der Wath for a vast six over wide mid-on. He had made 79 from 90 balls before Ntini got one to climb on him and Telemachus at third man completed a simple lobbed catch.
At the halfway mark of the innings, Australia were already cruising towards a vast total, but when Hussey started climbing into Kallis, clubbing him for four, six, four to bring up the fifty partnership, South Africa truly had no place to hide. The final ten overs of the innings realised 133 runs, with sixes being smacked almost at will - seven in consecutive overs, including - appropriately enough - Symonds' heave down the ground off Telemachus to bring up the 400.
It was a performance of awesome power and intent, and it came almost ten years to the day since Sri Lanka posted 398 against Kenya on their way to the 1996 World Cup. Ponting had that World Cup feeling himself today, as Johannesburg was treated to a re-run of that 2003 tour de force that few at the time imagined could ever be bettered.
Adam Gilchrist c Hall b Telemachus 55 (97 for 1)
Incredible tumbling catch, scooped one-handed off turf at mid-on
Simon Katich c Telemachus b Ntini 79 (216 for 2)
Uppercut to third man
Mike Hussey c Ntini b Hall 81 (374 for 3)
Full toss swatted to long-on
Ricky Ponting c Dippenaar b Telemachus 164 (407 for 4)
Blazing cover-drive plucked above head on boundary
Boeta Dippenaar b Bracken 1 (3 for 1)
Dragged onto off stump
Graeme Smith c Hussey b Clarke 90 (190 for 2)
Swatted to deep midwicket
AB de Villiers c Clarke b Bracken 14 (284 for 3)
Heaved to cow corner
Herschelle Gibbs c Lee b Symonds 175 (299 for 4)
Chipped drive to long-off
Jacques Kallis c&b Symonds 20 (327 for 5)
Diving return catch off firm drive
Justin Kemp c Martyn b Bracken 13 (355 for 6)
Toe-ended wide delivery to backward point
Johan van der Wath c Ponting b Bracken 35 (399 for 7)
Holed out to extra cover
Roger Telemachus c Hussey b Bracken 12 (423 for 8)
Spooned drive, brilliant sprawling catch
Andrew Hall c Clarke b Lee 7 (433 for 9)
Slap to mid-on
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo