Gibbs hundred hands series to South Africa
South Africa 317 for 6 (Gibbs 110, de Villiers 84) beat Australia 256 (Haddin 78, Ponting 53, Clarke 50, Steyn 4-44, van der Merwe 3-46) by 61 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
How they were out
South Africa began the series as the world's No. 1 ODI side and they will finish it in the same position after Herschelle Gibbs' 21st one-day international century helped them to an unassailable 3-1 series lead in Port Elizabeth. Gibbs's near-even time innings of 110 repaid the faith placed in him by South Africa after a stint in rehab late last year, propelling them to a commanding 317 for 6. Australia, who again battled against the spin of Roelof van der Merwe, were seldom in the hunt.
The 61-run victory ensured Graeme Smith's men the honour of becoming the first team to triumph in three successive bilateral ODI series against Australia - a streak that dates back to their historic victory in the 438 match in Johannesburg three years ago. It also means that when the teams return to the Wanderers for Friday's fifth and final match, it will be to contest a dead rubber.
An out-of-form Australia were always likely to be on the back foot in Port Elizabeth and they took a couple of gambles by sending South Africa in and choosing Shane Harwood, who was their third oldest ODI debutant of all time. The former punt looked increasingly ill-advised throughout the morning session, as powerful innings from Gibbs and AB de Villiers, who made 84 from 74 deliveries, ensured a hefty total that left Australia little margin for error in their ensuing run chase.
For a while, they were faultless. Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke clicked as a combination for the first time in the series in a 129-run stand - the highest opening partnership in ODIs at the venue. But when both men fell shortly before the halfway mark, the faultlines appeared and South Africa regained their grip on the match. After Gibbs, at 35, had earlier proved he still had much to offer to ODI cricket, it was a man at the opposite end of his career who led South Africa's bowling effort.
Van der Merwe was playing just his third one-day international and, after collecting three wickets in the Cape Town win, again troubled the middle order to finish with 3 for 46. Clarke (50) played the wrong line and was bowled and van der Merwe quickly added Callum Ferguson and Michael Hussey in a five-over period that completely altered the game.
Haddin's aggressive approach imbued Australia with hope and he batted instinctively in compiling 78 from 61 balls, including four sixes. But after he holed out to long-on off Johan Botha it was a steady decline for Australia and the tail succumbed to Dale Steyn, who finished with 4 for 44. The chase was always going to be difficult after Gibbs and de Villiers dominated with the bat.
They kept the scoreboard moving at better than a run a ball during their 136-run third-wicket partnership and, not for the first time this series, Australia's bowlers failed to offer any real threat through the middle overs. The biggest worry was the spin combination of Nathan Hauritz and Clarke, who between them sent down ten overs for 73.
Both men suffered at the hands of Gibbs, who posted his first ODI century in 14 months - the most recent had come against West Indies in Johannesburg last February. Gibbs dispatched both slow bowlers into the stands and de Villiers sent consecutive Hauritz deliveries over the long-on and midwicket boundaries as he became the aggressor in the partnership.
Nathan Bracken also came in for some rough treatment and his ten overs cost 64 as the South Africans advanced at him with little fear. Gibbs attacked Bracken early with a pair of boundaries, including a slap over long-on after advancing down the pitch, and also took to Johnson with a slash forward of point.
It was an innings that alternated between frenetic and controlled and, on the whole, Gibbs waited for his opportunities in a composed effort. His hundred came from 106 deliveries with a clip for two off Harwood, who at 35 is the same age as Gibbs, yet was making his debut. Harwood won his spot because of a fractured foot suffered by Brett Geeves during the loss in Cape Town.
He was plucked from his Rajasthan Royals training camp and was preferred to Ben Laughlin as an attacking option. So last-minute was the selection that Harwood wore Marcus North's shirt when he became the third oldest Australian, after Bob Simpson and Bob Holland, to make his ODI debut.
He collected 2 for 57 - his wickets were JP Duminy from the last ball of the innings and Jacques Kallis - but like all his colleagues it was too difficult to contain Gibbs and de Villiers. Gibbs was the centurion but de Villiers was every bit as important to his team's triumph. He went after the spinners, swept effectively and continued a brilliant run of form - he has averaged 65.50 in his eight ODIs against Australia
Not surprisingly, his team enjoyed success over the same period. Over the past three months the ODI scoreline reads: South Africa 7, Australia 2. It's only fitting that South Africa remain the No. 1 ranked team in the world. They have earned it.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo