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At Sydney, January 2, 3, 4, 5. Australia won by ten wickets. Toss: Australia. Test debut: J. L. Ontong.
One of the most anticlimactic rubbers in memory ended late on the fourth day of the Third Test, when Australia swept the series clean. What had been promoted as the "Title Fight" had long since become a catchweight contest. The result had been in little doubt since tea on the first day, when Australia were 215 without loss, with Hayden and Langer again set like concrete in their fourth double-century opening partnership in ten starts. Only Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes had shared so many opening doubles in Tests, and they had taken 134 innings.
South Africa seemed present only to negotiate on a margin of defeat; they had already had to negotiate the selection row which dominated the preliminaries. With the out-of-form Klusener sent home, Jacques Rudolph was lined up for his debut. But on the eve of the match, their board president, Percy Sonn, insisted the place should go to a "player of colour", Justin Ontong, in accordance with the board policy of promoting non-whites when the opportunity arose. The intervention was clumsily handled, though Ontong and Rudolph - who were room-mates - responded with dignity, and Ontong did not disgrace himself on the field, either, making some useful runs and running out Ponting.
After an uncertain start - 12 runs in eight overs - Hayden and Langer revealed a rich array of strokes, rewarded by a fast outfield, and pounced on every bowler. When Henderson came on, Langer hefted him into the crowd at mid-on. When he resumed after lunch, Langer hop-scotched into a cover drive to the boundary. Pollock gave himself one more over: Hayden walloped a long-hop over the mid-wicket fence. Donald was recalled: Langer slashed through gully for four. Kallis returned: Hayden flailed three consecutive boundaries. Langer was the first to reach a hundred, his 12th in Tests, and celebrated expansively; half an hour later, Hayden, who was perhaps even more authoritative, marked his with the sign of the cross.
Not for the first time, Pollock's choices were flawed. Kallis, who was looted for almost a run a ball, was overused, while Boje, the left-arm spinner returning after injury, was held back until the 55th over, with 190 on the board, when he proved the most economical of the lot. Although the Australians lost five for 93 in the final session, they were made impregnable on the second day by 117 from Martyn, scored in 166 balls with 13 fours. With the tailenders pitching in usefully, the last four wickets added 198 in less than 40 overs.
South Africa's attempt to reply lasted only five balls longer than Langer and Hayden's partnership. After two early blows from McGrath, Australia showed why they had picked two spinners for the first time in the series. MacGill secured a couple of key wickets by the close, and Warne struck in his first two overs of the morning to maintain the impetus. South Africa were following on before lunch, and looked like losing in three days when Lee whisked Gibbs's off stump away four overs after the break. They might have done had Mark Waugh held a regulation chance at second slip when Kirsten was 12. But the Australians grew impatient, conceding 22 boundaries in the afternoon as they tried to force another breakthrough. Kirsten and Dippenaar added 149 for the second wicket in 42 overs - South Africa's biggest stand of the series, and also their most fluent, which cast doubt on their earlier policy of self-denial.
Though it was too much to hope for a real fight, this was a handy subsidiary bout. Australia often tied Kirsten down, but took seven and a quarter hours to uproot him. After Dippenaar, several batsmen wasted useful starts. South Africa led by only three runs when their ninth wicket fell. Pollock struck 47 out of a last-wicket stand of 49 in 57 balls, including three sixes, one of them from overthrows. But Langer and Hayden disposed of their target inside 11 overs before sharing the match award. At the presentation ceremony, Steve Waugh announced that Australia would donate their $A51,000 prize money to a public appeal for victims of bushfires, which had burned out half a million hectares of forest round New South Wales during the Test.
Men of the Match: M. L. Hayden and J. L. Langer.
Man of the Series: M. L. Hayden