At Johannesburg, May 5, 6, 7, 2006. South Africa won by four wickets. Toss: South Africa.
The pitch needed ten days of preparation - twice the norm - and it spent the last two of those under an artificially heated tent. For Ntini, however, the match was an opportunity to burnish an already golden season, and he took his chance in a New Zealand first innings in which he willed another five wickets. Ntini was at his rasping best even as the end of a marathon season finally loomed, and the fact that he went wicketless in the second innings had everything to do with three dropped catches.
On a responsive surface Smith put New Zealand in again, and this time they subsided to a miserable 119. Both openers went before a run had been scored, and Styris soon followed. Four batsmen made ducks, while six fell to catches in the arc from wicketkeeper to third slip. Papps also perished via the edge by dragging Ntini on to his stumps. "I hope I'm not putting any of the South African bowlers down, but I don't think they knew which way it was going either," said Astle, who gritted out 20. He might have added that the quality of much of the strokeplay on offer suggested that the batsmen knew rather less than the bowlers. This criticism was valid for both sides, in all four innings.
Expectation of an early finish increased when South Africa managed a lead of only 67, despite resuming on the second morning at 133 for four: 11 overs later they were all out. Half-centuries by Smith, his first in a year, and Amla looked to have set them up, but Pollock's unbeaten 32 from just 20 balls was the only other double-figure score. Quite what made the South Africans insist on playing loosely on a pitch that demanded circumspection was a mystery. Martin wasn't about to help them solve it, and he hardly seemed to raise a sweat in taking five wickets. After lunch came a moment to treasure when Fleming miscued a drive and edged Kallis to third slip. That made Kallis only the second man after Garry Sobers to have scored 8,000 runs and taken 200 wickets in Tests.
By the close of that second day, 26 wickets had fallen for less than 20 runs apiece in 146 overs - and no one blamed the pitch. New Zealand, who began the third day with four wickets standing and a lead of 147, were steadied by a defiant 60 by Vettori before folding in the second hour to leave a target of 217. Steyn bowled fast and straight again and took four wickets.
The resolute Smith clipped his second half-century of the match, and victory seemed as imminent as the approaching evening cool when he was caught behind. But the season wasn't quite ready to be consigned to the record books, and South Africa needed Prince's prosaic approach to take them to what slid slowly down the descriptive scale from triumph to victory to, merely, win. That was achieved an hour after tea. In South Africa and New Zealand everyone noted the fact that the cricket season had finally ended. Then they went back to reading the rugby scores.
Man of the Match: G. C. Smith.
Man of the Series: M. Ntini.