South Africa routed by pace of Lee
However, the side's one serious concern is the health of Glenn McGrath's wife Jane, who has been diagnosed with cancer again, and his pre-match withdrawal meant Lee's mid-tournament holiday was called off. South Africa must have wished for the original team as Lee made the start of their chase almost impossible, dismissing Graeme Smith to an unlucky lbw from the second ball of the innings, and leading a wonderful team bowling performance.
Swinging the ball at around 150kph under the Telstra Dome roof, Lee was brought back three times to cause trouble and produced an impressive 4 for 30 to take his series tally to 14 wickets. His opponents were under pressure from the first ball to the last and with the required run rate starting at more than five an over they could not stay in touch.
Herschelle Gibbs struck 33 before slogging at James Hopes, the Supersub, and Johan Botha, who was strangely promoted ahead of Kemp, Boucher and Pollock, made 46 before the life left the game in Lee's eighth over. Justin Kemp clipped Lee to Hopes at fine leg - his brilliant back-pedalling take resulted in a bump on the head, a cut tongue and a trip to the dressing room - and he added Mark Boucher and Botha to claim three wickets in six balls. The Australians celebrated wildly, their performance improved with the return of Ricky Ponting from a two-game rest.
Ponting had given his side a steady start with a half-century, but the target-setting had taken some hits when Symonds and Hussey joined for a breathtaking sixth-wicket stand of 109 in 12.4 overs. The impressive conclusion contained 19 from Graeme Smith's final over, which included Symonds's fifty from 52 balls, and four consecutive boundaries from Hussey before he raised his bat for the seventh time in ODIs.
Symonds muscled five fours and a six to finish with 65 while Hussey collected 62 off 44. It was a loud finish after a reasonably quiet opening. South Africa seemed to stack their lower-order in an attempt to replicate the performance, but it was a brilliant one-off.
Ponting walked back into the office with his side needing a productive performance on a pitch playing up-and-down and he responded like a leader. He went as close to mastering the conditions as any of the top order and his contribution was missed when he departed for 53 from 63 deliveries. South Africa fought back by collecting Damien Martyn for 34 and Australia were soon 5 for 167 as they lost Ponting and Michael Clarke.
The conditions were ideal for Shaun Pollock and he bowled a superb ten overs; his first six went for only nine and he finished with 0 for 20. He was let down by his opening partner Charl Langeveldt, who was Supersubbed for Johan Botha after spilling 50 from his six overs, and the expensive death overs from Smith, Hall and van der Wath (2 for 82).
Australia's sprint over the last five overs proved too costly and South Africa have another chance to seal their finals place in the last two matches of the group stage against the hosts on Sunday and Sri Lanka on Tuesday. South Africa hold a three-point buffer over third place, but they must improve their bowling in the final stages and overcome the threat of Lee if they are to test Australia.
Graeme Smith lbw Lee 0 (1 for 0)
Overbalanced playing full toss heading down leg
Boeta Dippenaar c Gilchrist b Clark 9 (2 for 13)
Thick edge giving himself room to hit over cover
Jacques Rudolph run out 19 (3 for 48)
Survived lbw appeal before mix-up with Gibbs and Hussey hit from gully
Herschelle Gibbs b Hopes 33 (4 for 69)
Slogging to leg
Ashwell Prince run out 24 (5 for 117)
Well short attempting second to Dorey running around from fine leg
Justin Kemp c Hopes b Lee 20 (6 for 155)
Great take running back and lunging just inside the fine-leg boundary
Mark Boucher c Ponting b Lee 0 (7 for 156)
Skied pull to midwicket
Johan Botha c Gilchrist b Lee 46 (8 for 156)
Guided edge straight to keeper
Shaun Pollock c Martyn b Symonds 13 (9 for 183)
Caught at point thrashing for a boundary
Adam Gilchrist b Hall 33 (1 for 45)
Stayed a touch low as he tried a swivel pull
Simon Katich c Pollock b van der Wath 25 (2 for 71)
Fine catch running towards the boundary at mid-on
Damien Martyn c Botha b Smith 34 (3 for 145)
Drove a wide one moving away to gully
Ricky Ponting c van der Wath b Botha 53 (4 for 163)
Slog-swept to man on square-leg boundary
Michael Clarke run out 1 (5 for 167)
Symonds hit to Prince at square leg; Clarke too slow getting back to bowler's end
Michael Hussey b van der Wath 62 (6 for 276)
Tried to slog slower ball
Andrew Symonds run out 65 (7 for 281)
Direct hit from van der Wath pushing for last-ball single
Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo