At Melbourne, December 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 2005. Australia won by 184 runs. Toss: Australia. Test debut: P. A. Jaques.
What ended up as a convincing victory for Australia owed much to Michael Hussey, who scored an improbable hundred to transform the shape of the match. Hussey was left to ponder a remarkable start to a career already 15,000 first-class runs old before he made his debut. After five Tests, he had 595 runs under his belt at an average of 85, second only to Don Bradman among Australians, and the sixth-best start of any Test batsman.
Ponting's decision to bat was based more on wanting his two leg-spinners to bowl last, which left him obliged to take first use of a green pitch that had been watered so well the night before the game that the start was delayed by half an hour. The lefthander Phil Jaques, opening on debut in place of the injured Justin Langer, quickly prodded a nip-backer to short leg, and Ponting should have followed when a mistimed pull looped to Nel at midwicket. Usually the safest of outfield catchers, he fumbled it badly. Ponting concluded that crease-occupation was required, and the normally fluent Hayden spent almost four hours - and 177 balls - battling for 65 in a stand of 152 before Pollock finally found the edge. Ponting's reprieve came at 17, and he added exactly 100 more before lashing a cut to gully off Nel, who was clearly pumped up by the huge first-day crowd of 72,000. It was the start of a love-hate relationship between Nel and the Australian public, and also kicked off a stunning spell of four for 11 in 25 balls which reduced Australia to 239 for eight by the close.
MacGill was soon bowled on the second morning, leaving Hussey, who had 27 at the time, with little option but to attack. Before a run was added, he flashed at Pollock and edged a straightforward catch to second slip: inexplicably, Kallis dropped it. Smith responded by spreading the field for Hussey, allowing him singles off the fourth ball of every over. But McGrath comfortably negotiated the deliveries he was left to face, while Hussey blossomed. Consecutive sixes off Nel over long-off were the highlights, but he cut, pulled and drove with complete authority and dominated proceedings to such an extent that McGrath faced only a third of the balls bowled during the 28 overs he was at the crease. McGrath joined New Zealand's Nathan Astle as the only men to have experienced two tenth-wicket hundred partnerships in Tests, while Hussey followed Wilfred Rhodes and Alec Stewart of England, and Australia's Reggie Duff, as the only ones to have shared century partnerships for both the first and last wickets.
Gibbs played some exquisite cover-drives, but the pace of his innings and the intensity of his defence betrayed South Africa's desperation for a lead - and also their anxiety and anger at having allowed their opponents to clamber off the canvas after knocking them down for the second match running. After five hours and 47 minutes of unfamiliar defiance, and just six runs short of a hundred, Gibbs was the seventh man out when he played a Symonds inswinger into his stumps, and South Africa began their slide to defeat.
Crunching pulls and dismissive on-the-up driving helped Hayden become the game's third centurion - his 25th Test ton - during Australia's second innings, but, like the others, he was dropped before reaching 30, a firm, low return chance eluding Nel at 27. Symonds, meanwhile, had started the match with an average of 85 with the ball and 12.62 with the bat after five Tests as his country's all-rounder. To say he was under pressure is an understatement. But he had collected a career-best with the ball the day before, and now arrived at the crease with a lead of 237, tired and part-time bowlers in operation, and his best friend Hayden at the other end. He lofted his third ball back over Smith's head for six, and never looked back, reaching 50 from 40 deliveries and clubbing half a dozen sixes and five fours in a blacksmith's innings of 72 from 54 balls.
Sensitive to the criticism he received after the First Test, Ponting gave the signal to hit out or get out 40 minutes before tea, presenting Kallis with three cheap wickets in the final over before the declaration. South Africa survived that awkward spell, but Warne was not about to waste a scuffed, tired pitch that had some inviting bowlers' footmarks to aim at. Three wickets after tea, plus two more from the rejuvenated Symonds - still bowling useful swingers rather than his largely useless off-spinners - effectively ended the contest.
Man of the Match: M. E. K. Hussey. Attendance: 192,930.