Mark Waugh's magnificent fourth-innings 116 clinched a wildly fluctuating Test and, with it, the series - South Africa's first home defeat in six series since resuming Test cricket in 1992. Australia began and finished strongly, but for much of the match South Africa seemed bound to square the series. The key was the pitch, which had such a thick mat of grass that it looked like an Essex ground of the 1950s, Westcliff or Clacton maybe. It was automatic that Taylor would bowl.
Australia were unchanged, but South Africa dropped Hudson, Rhodes and Klusener and brought in Bacher, Gibbs and McMillan, now fit again. This meant three inexperienced batsmen in the top six, and they were swept aside by Gillespie's first five-wicket haul for his country. Bowling an impeccable line and length at high speed, he helped to reduce South Africa to 95 for seven. Then the Australians were convinced Richardson was caught behind before scoring, but he remained to add 85 for the eighth wicket with McMillan. A total of 209 was a good one on that pitch. Again, the lack of a third pace bowler hampered Australia, although Warne bowled beautifully in conditions entirely against wrist-spin.
The Australians lost Hayden on the first evening and their reply next day was a peculiar one. They somehow got through the morning with only three wickets down, despite inordinate movement off the greentop. They were helped when Pollock was forced out after tearing a hamstring. The turning point came when Bacher ran out Elliott for 23, the top score of the innings. That started a collapse of seven wickets for 44, and Australia trailed by 101. Donald bowled with fearsome hostility and frequently beat the bat, but Blewett was his only victim in the Test - a statistic almost as extraordinary as the fact that Healy took only one catch. The tourists complained because hessian mats were not used under the tarpaulin covers to reduce overnight sweating, as they were in the First Test. Raman Subba Row exonerated the ground authorities, though he later recommended to ICC that covering should be uniform in each country.
South Africa's openers extended their advantage to 184 as batting conditions improved, which put them almost out of sight. But on the third day, a red mist cost them all ten wickets for 85. Bacher was responsible for another run-out, but this time the victim was his partner, Kallis, and five more dismissals from rash strokes gave Australia a hope of victory. Only Cronje displayed the necessary obduracy, batting for 21 overs until he failed to read a googly from Bevan, who wrapped up the innings with Warne.
Australia needed 270. Though two and a half days remained, another 40 or 50 might have defeated them. But the chance was there and Mark Waugh took it. He later described it as his best innings in any cricket: it lasted nearly five and a half hours and included a six and 17 fours. Stern defence was twinned with innate elegance after he arrived in a crisis - 30 for two. Taylor failed again, and Hayden was comically run out when he and Elliott lunged for the same crease as Cronje burst between them to knock down the other wicket.
Waugh reached his fifty by the close, when Australia were an encouraging 145 for three, with his brother Steve digging in at the other end. But Kallis had Steve caught in the covers and, when Adams bowled Blewett, at 192 for five, South Africa were back in the match. The crowd, though disappointingly small, was close to delirium. Bevan came in to help Waugh to the brink of victory but, with 12 still wanted, Kallis dismissed Waugh and Cronje had Bevan caught at slip. Warne soon followed. Two wickets were left, five needed. But not for Healy the Hirst- Rhodes tactic of getting them in singles-he swung Cronje high over long leg for six.
Man of the Match: M. E. Waugh. Attendance: 44,782.
Close of play: First day, Australia 10-1 (M. A. Taylor 7*, M. T. G. Elliott*); Second day, South Africa 83-0 (G. Kirsten 41*, A. M. Bacher 38*); Third day, Australia 145-3 (M. E. Waugh 54*, S. R. Waugh 11*).