Australia has maintained its unbeaten Carlton Series record heading into next week's finals against West Indies with victory over Zimbabwe here at the WACA Ground in Perth today. But only just.
After electing to bat first and riding a superb Damien Martyn (144*) century to reach a massive 5/302, Australia reduced Zimbabwe to 3/91 from nineteen overs before the tourists charged back behind a record-breaking fourth wicket partnership of 187 between Stuart Carlisle (119) and Grant Flower (85).
Needing fifteen runs from the last Glenn McGrath over, however, the Zimbabweans fell an agonising one run short. This was despite the production of two audaciously leg glanced boundaries from Douglas Marillier (12*) which handed them a golden opportunity.
The final margin was even more cruel in view of the fact that Carlisle had earlier run one short while batting with Flower - potentially a match-equalling run.
Australian captain Steve Waugh said that, while Zimbabwe deserved a win, his side had expected to come up trumps after posting such a big target.
"We dropped a couple of catches and missed a few run outs, which probably cost us," Waugh said.
Meanwhile, Martyn said it was fantastic to open the batting in his home town instead of coming in down the order, adding that he simply tried to capitalise on the flat pitch and remain unbeaten during the innings.
"I think it was special just being at home - it's a big crowd in and all of your friends and family are here, so it's good to do well," Martyn said.
Pushed to the top of the order to partner vice captain Adam Gilchrist after returning to the side, man of the match Martyn carried his bat in Australia's innings to help establish the huge target. In turn, he was brilliantly assisted late in the innings by a flurry of hitting from Ian Harvey (37).
Martyn's 149-ball knock generated the fourth highest one-day score ever by an Australian and a record for matches played at the WACA, eclipsing Mark Waugh's 130 against Sri Lanka in 1995-96. Australia's total fell just seven runs short of the ground record (309), posted by West Indies in 1984-85.
In his three chances as a one-day international opener, Martyn has now made two centuries and one half-century - all unbeaten.
Zimbabwe's valiant charge was chiefly due to Carlisle and Flower's record partnership, the 187-run stand eclipsing the country's previous fourth wicket best set by the latter and his brother Andy last year.
As it was, the partnership might never have been allowed to flourish at all. Carlisle was dropped by Steve Waugh in the gully during the fourth over amid a spate of early fielding errors. Brett Lee, who endured a horror afternoon, also let slip a golden opportunity to run out the Zimbabwean number three when - with his back to the batsmen - he somehow threw the ball past the stumps from only the shortest of distances away and with Carlisle completely stranded in the middle of the pitch.
Carlisle survived all that and, together with Flower, was soon scoring runs at a comfortable pace, despite the fact that the required rate of scoring swelled to more than nine runs per over at one stage during the middle of the innings.
Needing twenty-six runs from the last three overs, the tourists ran into trouble when McGrath had Carlisle caught at mid on by Mark Waugh. Flower and Heath Streak (9) then fell in consecutive balls, the former run out pushing for a second run and the captain caught and bowled by Harvey (1/49 off nine overs), developments which set the scene for the dramatic last over.
The daring Marillier, playing his first game of the series, stepped away outside the line of off stump to lift shots to the unattended fine leg fence and help Zimbabwe reach the last ball needing two to tie and three to win.
But McGrath (2/46 from ten overs) produced a full pitched delivery to limit the scoring to a single.
Zimbabwean captain Streak said it was a pity that the rejuvenated batting effort did not occur on Friday, when a win over West Indies would have almost certainly assured his side of a spot in the finals.
"It's just hard to put our thumb on why we didn't bat like that against the West Indies," he said.
Streak observed that, in spite of the notion that it fell short by the barest of margins, the result showed the side has the ability and spirit to compete with the best outfits - provided it can find some consistency.
"To do that against the best side in the world at the moment is no mean feat," Streak said.
Carlisle said he considered his innings the most satisfying performance he has given Zimbabwe, especially as it came against the potent Australian bowling attack.
He added the short run, which reduced a pair to a single, was ultimately something on which it was not worth dwelling.
"There's a lot of ifs and buts in cricket, but it was very unfortunate," he said.
While the game marked the end of Zimbabwe's national tour - the team is due to return home tomorrow - it also proved there is never any such thing as a certain victor.
It may well provide West Indies with some much-needed confidence in the lead-up to the first of the best-of-three finals series, in Sydney next Wednesday. Conversely, it may also shake any complacency from the Australian camp.
Waugh said that, while the close call was "probably good" approaching the finals after Australia had cruised through the earlier matches, the side had been focusing on next week's games for some time now.
"We didn't play very well today, so we have to make sure our game is there come the first final," Waugh said.
"It's been a long haul. We haven't lost any games this season so, at some stage, you are going to expect the opposition to play well."