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At Durban, March 15, 16, 17, 18. South Africa won by five wickets. Toss: South Africa.
Australia found themselves on the back foot for the first time in six Tests when South Africa put them in and reduced them to 182 for five. They still seemed more than capable of retrieving the situation, and claimed a large first-innings lead. But impressive as South Africa's spirit was in pulling off a consolation victory, the truth was that Australia were emotionally and physically spent. Five consecutive wins, complete vindication of their supremacy, and a mere two days for it all to soak in, left them understandably short of their characteristic fight.
Ponting provided fine value, with barely a mistimed stroke. His bat was all middle, spanking 16 fours in 100 deliveries before a dynamic run-out by Gibbs. Once again, however, it was Gilchrist's day. The sight of him seemed to transform the bowlers from confident attackers into whimpering strays simply hoping not to be hit too hard. He was nearing his third century in consecutive Tests when he decided he could not rely on Gillespie and slogged Adams to deep mid-wicket. By his recent standards, 91 from 107 balls was ordinary - just plain brilliant - and it sent his series average tumbling from 366 to 228.50.
Despite Gilchrist's efforts, there was almost an air of celebration by the end of the day. South Africa had dismissed Australia for 315 and then closed at 48 for one, with Gibbs in splendid touch. Barely an hour after lunch on day two, their depression had returned - a total of just 167, a deficit of 148. Lee blew through the innings like a tornado, destructive, furious and expensive, while Warne, who admitted to feeling "a bit stiff " after his 98 overs in the previous game, bowled well within himself but still lured four victims into his traps.
Australia's second innings was all over-confidence and lack of concentration. Five of the top seven made starts, but the top score was only 42 by the beleaguered Steve Waugh. He battled for two and a half hours before he was ninth out, to an astonishing one-handed slip catch by Kallis, which only confirmed the adage that form and luck go hand in hand.
Ntini was quick and hostile, while Kallis's out-swingers were effective for the first time all summer, with two wickets in his opening over. A classic dismissal from the outside edge of Martyn's bat made Boucher the fastest keeper to reach 200 Test dismissals, in terms of both matches (52) and age (25 years 103 days). Australia subsided for 186 - the first time in 11 Tests since Trent Bridge in August that they had been out for less than 300.
Even so, South Africa required 335, four more than Australia at Cape Town, and 38 more than their own highest fourth-innings total to win a Test, at Melbourne in 1952-53. Though they had nearly three days to do it, sceptics talked of their decade-long tendency to choke on the big occasion. But this was not a big occasion. No one seemed to remember how efficient South Africa could be in pursuit of a victory of little consequence.
The openers set the tone with a stand of 142 until Gibbs sold Kirsten a dummy and Lee dived into the stumps, ball first. Gibbs atoned for the error by continuing, with rare restraint, to complete his sixth and best Test century, lasting just under five hours. In desperation, Steve Waugh turned to his brother's off-spin, and Smith's bullish 42 ended with a daft slog in Mark Waugh's second over. Even dafter was Gibbs's lame swat to wide long-on in Waugh's third. The third day ended with South Africa needing another 71 runs, Australia six wickets.
Kallis was the key, and he saw the job through with an unbeaten 61. He stretched his partnership with Prince to 99, which all but won the game. When Warne had Prince caught at slip, his 450th Test wicket, with four runs required, Boucher came in to end the game with a six. The shot, like South Africa's victory, was a modest note of defiance in the face of Australia's proven superiority.
Man of the Match: H. H. Gibbs.
Man of the Series: A. C. Gilchrist