South Africa break duck with 65-run win at Newlands
There have been times during the Standard Bank one-day series when hell seemed more likely to freeze over than a South African victory over Australia. On a glacial night at Newlands, however, Shaun Pollock's side finally broke their duck with a 65-run victory in the last meeting between the two teams this summer.
South Africa's delight at winning was understandably tempered by the fact that Australia had long since lifted the series. It was also an untidy sort of game, initially reduced to 43 overs a side after drizzle had held up the start for nearly two hours and then further cut down to 39 overs each after a 27-minute break for rain during the South African innings.
Even so, after all the miseries endured by South African supporters this season a win, any win, will have served to keep the chill at bay, at least for the time being.
With Graeme Smith again looking the part as a new South African opener, the home side put together a most respectable 249 for seven in their 39 overs. Out came Messrs Duckworth and Lewis to decree that the Australian target had advanced by one run to 251, but in the end it made scant difference as the tourists were bowled out for 185 in 39.3 overs.
All season long Shaun Pollock has been suggesting that if only a little luck would run South Africa's way, then his side would be competitive. They had that little bit of luck on Tuesday, mostly in the guise of an Australian team whose minds seemed to have already caught the plane home.
In the circumstances it is difficult to know quite how much credence to give this South African victory. The sensible view, perhaps, is not very much. At the same time, the home team will take their winter break in a slightly better frame of mind than had they been beaten 6-0 in the series.
Understandably, Australia were some way off the pace for this game. They didn't bowl particularly well as Smith made 73, Nicky Boje 49 and Jonty Rhodes a quickfire 39 off 24 balls at the end of the innings and then they didn't bat very well either.
Shaun Pollock snapped up three early wickets as, for once, the new Australian opening pair misfired and even though Michael Bevan was able to ride his luck for a 63-ball 55, Boje spun his way through the tail to finally extinguish any prospect of an Australian victory.
Boje took the last five Australian wickets for 21 to earn himself the man of the match award, the first won by a South African during the series, while Ricky Ponting picked up the man of the series award.
Even so, this rare South African success in no way disguises the gap that has opened between Australia and the rest of the cricket world. Pollock has suggested a comparison with Tiger Woods who opened up a chasm between himself and his peers before the likes of Ernie Els and Retief Goosen lifted their games sufficiently to haul him back in again.
It is an apt metaphor and the challenge that now faces South Africa, not to mention teams like England, New Zealand, India and Pakistan, is to raise their own standards to the Australian benchmark.
In both Test and one-day cricket Australia have wiped the floor with South Africa this summer and although erratic selection and off-field squabbling both played their parts in South Africa's steep decline, the real truth of it is that Australia may well be as good a team as any to have played in the modern era.