Australia 254 for 6 (Ponting 62, Martyn 51) beat South Africa 230 (Pollock 69, de Villiers 68, Lee 4-48) by 24 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball commentary
How they were out
Australia withstood a fine partnership between AB de Villiers and Shaun Pollock to keep the series alive with a 24-run win at Port Elizabeth. Ricky Ponting returned to the side, compiled an assured half-century, and marshalled Australia's most complete performance of the tour. Brett Lee roused himself with four wickets after a couple of quiet matches, while Australia's fielding responded in superb style under pressure.
It was only a matter of time before the real Australia showed up in South Africa and the side was far steadier under the guidance of Ponting. He kept his cool as de Villiers and Pollock engineered a brilliant stand of 119 in 22 overs, keeping the asking rate in single figures. Ponting entrusted a vital period of play to Shane Watson and Michael Clarke - given the major spinning responsibility ahead of Brad Hogg - and they responded to their captain's call.
Pollock inside-edged Watson to fine leg, suggesting the luck that had deserted South Africa with the dismissals of Herschelle Gibbs and Boeta Dippenaar had swung back the way of the home side. But next ball Pollock chanced his arm once too often and the old adage of "you miss, I hit" worked for Watson. de Villiers knew there was no point laying down and continued to try for boundaries - it looked like his powerful swing off Clarke had found the rope. Hogg, though, had other ideas and flung himself backwards at full stretch, holding on to an amazing catch at long on.
In the bigger picture for South Africa it was a vital innings by de Villiers. This was his 17th ODI and he was struggling to settle into the short form of the game. He'd shown his hitting ability at Centurion with a 30-ball 43, but the ugly heave at Cape Town suggested he was still unsure of his role. Today he had no option but to try and rebuild the innings after South Africa slumped to 69 for 5, and he took his time, reaching fifty from 72 balls. Although he wasn't able to turn the match around this knock will have done wonders for his belief.
Lee is a man never short of belief, but he hadn't been at the top of his game in the first two matches. Today the opening spell was more like his usual self as he removed Graeme Smith in characteristic fashion to give Australia the early boost they needed.
Gibbs quickly stamped his authority on proceedings, but Australia then enjoyed two huge strokes of luck. Firstly, Dippenaar crunched a straight drive, which Stuart Clark managed to clip with his finger: Gibbs flung himself towards the crease, but his bat was fractionally in the air as the bails were removed. South Africa will have felt further aggrieved 17 runs later when Dippenaar was sent lbw despite the ball from Watson heading over the stumps.
The next two wickets were down to some superb planning and knocked the stuffing out of South Africa. With Ponting sensing a crucial moment he returned to Lee, and his main striker was on-song as Boucher chased a good-length delivery through to the keeper. When Justin Kemp hooked tamely to long leg, the beefy middle-order was crumbling. Pollock and de Villiers produced a fine recovery effort but despite some impressive late blows from Roger Telemachus, the top order's mixture of ill-fortune and poor shots had left too much to do.
Australia's innings, while being far from spectacular, was based around solid contributions from the leading batsmen and a late flurry from Clarke and Michael Hussey. Simon Katich played soundly before being brilliantly run out when he pushed the ball wide of de Villiers and was left well short when the fielder dived and, off balance, threw down the wicket.
Ponting brought a sense of permanency to the No. 3 slot, which had been missing with his temporary replacements. He wasn't at his fluent best, struggling like most of the batsmen to force the pace on a slow pitch, but ensured Australia had a platform for some late acceleration.
Damien Martyn struck a 68-ball fifty after four single-figure innings in ODIs, and wickets in-hand allowed the later batsmen to club 40 off the final four overs. That late dash proved crucial and gave Australia the breathing space they needed. It has taken them time to find their feet, but with Ponting back and Lee firing the series may go down to the wire.
How they were out
Adam Gilchrist c Boucher b Pollock 25 (36 for 1)
Nicked attempted back-foot slash
Simon Katich run out (de Villiers) 49 (99 for 2)
Brilliant direct hit after diving pick-up
Ricky Ponting c Peterson b Pollock 62 (173 for 3)
Excellent catch tumbling backwards at deep midwicket
Damien Martyn c Telemachus b Ntini 51 (214 for 4)
Chipped full toss off bottom of bat to wide mid-on
Mike Hussey c Gibbs b Hall 22 (243 for 5)
Lofted drive to wide long-off
Michael Clarke run out (Boucher) 25 (244 for 6)
Run out trying to steal the strike off a wide
Graeme Smith c Gilchrist b Lee 10 (15 for 1)
Pushing outside off stump
Herschlle Gibbs run out (Clark) 16 (43 for 2)
Straight drive from Dippenaar clipped bowler's fingers
Boeta Dippenaar lbw b Watson 16 (60 for 3)
Played back, but going well over the stumps
Mark Boucher c Gilchrist b Lee 5 (68 for 4)
Thick edge to one that left him
Justin Kemp c Bracken b Clark 0 (69 for 5)
Hooked to long leg
Shaun Pollock b Watson 69 (188 for 6)
Gave himself room to hit through the covers
AB de Villiers c Hogg b Clarke (192 for 7)
Stunning catch by long on, peddling backwards and diving at full length
Andrew Hall c Gilchrist b Lee (197 for 8)
Top-edged a swing to leg, keeper ran round to gully area
Robin Peterson c Gilchrist b Lee (199 for 9)
Thin edge to a big swing
Roger Telemachus lbw b Bracken 29 (230 all out)
Missed a sweep