Frequently in recent years, Australia's opponents, set a stiff last-day target, have crumbled in the face of leg-spin sorcery from Warne. This time the magic failed to work, although it was not for want of trying: in the second innings, Warne sent down 44 overs, 35 of them on the last day, when he often seemed to be pushing the ball through a little too quickly. He beat the bat frequently, but with little luck.
Despite the relatively low scoring rates, this was a fascinating match, and the result remained in doubt until the last few deliveries. Appropriately, attendances were high: 73,812 was the third-highest Boxing Day crowd at an MCG Test (behind the 85,661 in 1975-76, against West Indies, and the 77,167 against England the year before that, though none of these compare to the 130,000 who thronged the place for the evangelist Billy Graham in 1959).
South Africa, needing 381 to win or, more realistically, needing to bat through 122 overs, managed to survive. They owed much to an upright 101 from Kallis, his maiden century in his seventh Test, which featured many stylish drives - and an indifference to the sledging of the close fielders that left them wondering if he was deaf. There were still 24 overs remaining when, after nearly six hours, Kallis played on, but the lower order hung around, despite some close lbw calls.
The pitch, at least on the first three days, was low and slow, and inhibited most of the strokemakers, apart from Ponting, whose second Test century included 14 fours to all parts of the ground. A more prosaic 96 from Steve Waugh, who was caught behind off a Donald no-ball when 83, helped Australia to set up a lead of 123. That looked enough, even when Donald took three quick wickets in the second innings. Taylor resisted in typical style until he was unluckily given out caught at slip to a huge turner from Symcox, which missed the bat by some distance. (In equally typical style Taylor marched straight off and refused to criticise the umpire.) It was the only success of the innings for Symcox, who disappointed by pitching too short too often on a helpful surface, on which he had claimed his best Test figures earlier in the game.
Even so, Australia were in some trouble at 128 for seven - only 251 in front. But the tailenders helped Reiffel (whose unbeaten 79 improved his highest Test score from 77 a few weeks before) add another 129. That at least ensured that Australia would not lose. Donald, always a threat, finished with six wickets in the innings and nine in the match. His final scalp, Kasprowicz, was his 171st in Tests and took him past the South African record set by Hugh Tayfield. It was the second South African aggregate record to fall here: when wicket-keeper Richardson ran to catch Elliott's top-edged hook on the first morning, it was his 142nd dismissal, taking him past John Waite.
Man of the Match: J. H. Kallis. Attendance: 160,182.
Close of play: First day, Australia 206-4 (S. R. Waugh 87*, R. T. Ponting 56*); Second day, South Africa 94-4 (G. Kirsten 61*, B. M. McMillan 6*); Third day, Australia 67-4 (M. A. Taylor 30*, R. T. Ponting 8*); Fourth day, South Africa 79-1 (A. M. Bacher 34*, J. H. Kallis 40*).