Australia achieve highest winning score in PE one-dayer
Building on the back of a thunderous Adam Gilchrist 52, Australia produced a masterly batting display to achieve the highest winning score by a team batting second in one-day history when they beat South Africa by three wickets in the sixth match of the Standard Bank series at St George's Park on Saturday.
South Africa's 326 for three was the highest score made against Australia, but after Gilchrist had ripped into the opening overs - the tourists were 123 for three after the first 15 - Ricky Ponting and Darren Lehmann played with complete conviction in a fourth-wicket stand that produced 183 off a shade under 30 overs.
It was, perhaps, the consummate one-day partnership; a right-hander and a left-hander combining with absolute assurance to give the fielding side hardly a sniff of a breakthrough as they scored at around or above six to the over from the 12th over onwards.
Lehmann was finally out for 91 off 94 balls in the 42nd over at 287 for four, backing away so far to leg to try and cut Graeme Smith that Mark Boucher took the ball outside leg stump and in front of the batsman before stumping him. The spadework, however, had been done.
And so Australia were able to afford losing Damien Martyn and Ponting, for 91 off 106 deliveries, off successive balls without serious damage being done to their prospects. Any side that has Michael Bevan, the one-day game's best finisher, coming in with 15 needed off four overs is hardly guaranteed to choke at the final hurdle.
There was even a late run out, as Shane Watson committed suicide with the scores level, but the game had long since been won and lost.
For South Africa, the result was yet another failure in that they were again unable to put two halves of their game together in the same match. In the early matches of this series the home side managed to restrict Australia to scores in the 220s, but was unable to chase modest targets.
In this last match South Africa's batsmen, notably Smith, Jacques Kallis and Jonty Rhodes, posted a score that would surely have won 99 ODIs out of 100. But such was the devastation wreaked by Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden in the opening overs that Australia had five balls to spare to spare when Shane Warne hit the winning boundary.
The Australian 50 came up in the fifth over of the innings; the 100 in the 12th as Gilchrist clubbed his way to his 50 off just 27 deliveries. He slowed down somewhat thereafter, was bowled by a Makhaya Ntini no-ball on 51 and was more legitimately dismissed one run later when Ntini held a spectacular catch coming off the midwicket fence, but the damage had been done.
Australia were able to shrug off the loss of three wickets inside four overs as Hayden (35) and Ian Harvey (4) followed Gilchrist as Ponting and Lehmann took control. So utterly assured were the two that the tourists started to look like winning from 25 overs out and South Africa were eventually reduced to giving Smith a bowl with his gentle offspinners.
At around lunchtime, though, South Africa had every reason that they might be looking at their first win in the seven-match series. After being dismissed in the 40s in his first two one-day innings, Smith was able to kick on to make 84 with the sort of confidence that suggests he will be around the international game for many years to come.
The real charge, though, came when Rhodes joined Kallis to add 131 in a shade over 15 overs in an unbroken partnership for the fourth wicket. It was explosive batting with Kallis crunching 80 off 58 balls and Rhodes 71 off 50 deliveries.
The last 10 overs of the innings produced 102 for South Africa as, for once, Australia were forced onto the back foot.
There might have been warning signs, though. By international standards St George's Park is a small ground with close square boundaries and, apart from a little movement off the seam in the opening overs, the pitch offered the bowlers very little. Indeed, when Shane Warne was first brought into the attack Smith and Herschelle Gibbs helped themselves to 15 off his first over.
The South Africans' lunch, however, quickly turned to acid as Gilchrist hit the second ball of the innings for six and then really got stuck in.