An unbeaten century from Damien Martyn and an excellent bowling and fielding effort has seen Australia break its VB Series points duck with a 27-run victory over South Africa here at the 'Gabba ground in Brisbane tonight. In front of a record crowd, the Australians held their composure to bowl the Proteas out for a total of 214 in the 49th over as they chased the home team's 4/241.
Martyn's innings of 104 (from 121 deliveries), which ultimately secured him the man of the match award, was the key component in Australia's win. He came to the crease with his team in trouble after another poor start but proceeded to take the match out of the South Africans' clutches as he compiled a defiant 171-run stand for the third wicket with Ricky Ponting (80).
After a run of outs that had netted the Australians losses in each of their first three matches of the tournament, the new opening combination of Mark Waugh (15) and Matthew Hayden (10) found no ready cure to their team's ills. Waugh survived two confident lbw appeals before inside edging to be brilliantly caught by wicketkeeper Mark Boucher off paceman Steve Elworthy (2/53) while Hayden, dropped at 8, then mistimed a pull to be held at mid off from the same bowler.
The Australians also lost their way at the other end of their innings, watching as Ponting drove a Lance Klusener (1/48) delivery to Herschelle Gibbs at cover and Andrew Symonds (3) play off a leading edge at spinner Nicky Boje (1/43). Only 42 runs were collected from the final eight overs as Martyn and Steve Waugh (22*) were pegged back by Shaun Pollock (0/28) and Boje in particular.
In between times, though, Martyn and Ponting made batting look easy on a true surface. Driving was a feature of their respective innings: Ponting regularly finding the boundary while Martyn's excellent placement and running between the wickets also cleverly accelerated the scoring rate.
In the context of South Africa's later inability to mount any more than one half-century partnership, their ability to guard against the consistent loss of wickets also proved crucial.
"There is always pressure to win and we knew we had to win the game," said Australian captain, Steve Waugh, at the end of a match played before 35,671 people - an all-time record attendance for a one-day international match in Brisbane.
"We wanted to make sure we improved tonight."
Waugh later added that he was "disappointed" by recent media criticism of his side though "not surprised" by the attacks in the wake of Australia's surprisingly slow start to the tournament.
Neil McKenzie (68) led a determined South African chase, and received useful support from Jacques Kallis (37) along the way. But the comparatively early surrender of openers Gary Kirsten (22) and Gibbs (18) always made life difficult for the tourists.
The South Africans had begun their pursuit aggressively, reaching a mark of 0/34 in the seventh over before Gibbs hit Glenn McGrath (4/37) to Andy Bichel at mid on for an easy catch. His error set the tone for generally indiscreet shot selection and the fall of wickets on a regular basis.
McGrath, though he dropped a comfortable catch off Bichel's bowling as Kirsten top edged a cut to third man, was a persistent thorn in the tourists' side, snaring a pair of wickets at either end of the innings. Symonds (3/48) and Jason Gillespie (2/60) combined to wreck the middle order and Bichel (1/27) - arguably the pick of the attack - restrained the run flow superbly.
Gillespie snared the two key wickets, trapping Kallis in front of his stumps as the talented right hander shuffled marginally across his crease and then luring McKenzie into playing one of the few false stokes of his innings.
McKenzie, though starved of meaningful support at the other end, had still been threatening to steal the game at that stage - and almost any hope of a finals appearance away from the Australians as well.
But when he tried to guide a Gillespie delivery through the slips in the 41st over only to see the ball disappear into wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist's gloves, the Proteas' aspirations of victory suffered a major setback.
Pollock (18) followed him to the pavilion three overs later, mistiming a pull at Symonds to hit a catch to Hayden at deep square leg and effectively end the contest.
Symonds had earlier induced Jonty Rhodes (2) to thin edge a catch to Gilchrist and had also caused the demise of Boucher (10) as he dived forward to complete an inspirational caught and bowled dismissal.