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At Johannesburg, March 12, 2006. South Africa won by one wicket. Toss: Australia.
The 2,349th one-day international was, quite simply, a match that surpassed all the other 2,348. On perhaps the best batting surface ever prepared in South Africa, Australia became the first team to sail past 400. And lost. With a ball to spare, Mark Boucher hit Brett Lee to the long-on boundary, giving South Africa the match and the series. This took the match aggregate to 872, increasing the old record of 693 by a quarter.
There were extraordinary innings from both No. 3s, Ponting and Gibbs. In a blur of outrageous shots, neither needed more than 100 balls to reach 150. Records cascaded almost as fast as runs: highest (and second-highest) total; fastest (and second-fastest) international 150; most expensive bowling figures; most runs in boundaries... and many more.
It was no day to be a bowler, though Bracken produced some very good deliveries and managed to take five wickets. Tales of disaster were more common. After eight overs, Telemachus had the respectable figures of one for 47 (and the game's only maiden). But brought back at the end, he bowled four consecutive no-balls in a ten-ball over costing 28 - though it did contain Ponting's wicket. His figures ultimately read 10-1-87-2. Yet Telemachus had a good day compared to Lewis, whose journey from Durban hero to Johannesburg zero could not have been starker. Less than 48 hours after hitting the winning runs at Kingsmead, he became the first person to concede 100 runs in a 50-over one-day international. (Martin Snedden conceded 105 in 12 overs for New Zealand against England in the 1983 World Cup.) Lewis's reputation for bowling yorkers at the death was left in tatters.
The barrage of runs was incessant from the start. Gilchrist walloped 55 from 44 balls, and Katich, in theory Australia's anchor, hit 79 from 90. And even when Ponting and Hussey were together and the score a meteoric 301 for two after 40 overs, they kept on pushing into the unknown, refusing to back off though they must have believed the game won. Oddly, the scale of the South Africans' task set them free. In the interval, Kallis had broken the ice in a sombre dressing-room with the words "Come on, guys: it's a 450-wicket. They're 15 short!" As Smith and Gibbs admitted afterwards, it allowed the team to have a "little chuckle" before the reply, and the pair played with an abandon inspired by their sense of the absurd. The coach, Mickey Arthur, remained pragmatic, setting an initial target of 185 from 25 overs. The score was actually 229 for two.
Swinging his bat like a battleaxe, Smith zoomed to 90 from only 55 balls, including 13 fours and two sixes, even outscoring the flying Gibbs. South Africa's most serious wobble came in the 43rd over when, still needing 80, they lost their sixth wicket. But van der Wath launched three sixes in five balls to keep the fantasy alive.
With the last pair in and two needed from three balls, Lee bowled a near-perfect yorker to Ntini. However, instead of his usual swish, he calmly steered the ball to third man for a single. Scores level. And then Boucher hit the next ball for four, completing one of his finest fifties - and the most phenomenal of games. South Africa had won the series. And how.
Men of the Match: H. H. Gibbs and R. T. Ponting.
Man of the Series: S. M. Pollock. Attendance: 32,000.