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At Centurion, March 21, 22, 23, 24. South Africa won by eight wickets. Toss: South Africa.
Though they had won their last six series (excluding the one-off Test in India), the Australians had developed a habit of losing when ahead or already victorious, and it happened again here. They were not helped by their selectors: though the Test side was unchanged, it was decided to send home Elliott, Hayden and Langer before the one-day matches, and the untidy leaking of the news affected morale. Meanwhile, criticism needled the South African players sufficiently to get them on to top form. Schultz, Klusener and Symcox replaced Gibbs, Adams and the injured Pollock, which meant a gamble with an extra bowler. But Donald and Schultz made an outstanding new-ball pair, while Symcox strengthened the spin department.
The pitch looked green enough for Cronje to field first, but the faster bowlers got little help and they relied heavily on batting errors before tea. Hayden and Mark Waugh were bowled by straight deliveries, Elliott was caught hooking, and Taylor's longest innings of the series ended after three and a quarter hours when he chased a wide one and got an inside edge. Steve Waugh and Blewett - together again - put conditions into perspective by adding 80. But, when Blewett was caught behind off Symcox, the last six fell for 37. Schultz, whose last Test had been against England on the same ground 16 months earlier, marked his comeback with three in four overs, including Bevan and Warne, both lbw, in three balls. That followed a controversial decision - one of several by English umpire Merv Kitchen - that Steve Waugh had been caught down the leg side by Richardson. A little later, Richardson also caught Healy to give Donald his 150th wicket in his 33rd Test.
A total of 227 gave South Africa a chance to take control, and they did, but in topsy-turvy fashion. When Kirsten became Healy's 300th Test victim, McMillan, promoted to No. 3, batted solidly to put on 102 with the promising Bacher. By the end of the second day, Bacher had a patient 94 and had helped his side to a small lead with seven wickets standing - ample power to increase it against an attack desperately missing a third fast bowler. He became becalmed next morning, however, scoring only two from 63 balls before he was lbw to McGrath, who took three for 23 in a 14-over spell.
That left South Africa on 262 for seven, and Australia were back in the game. But their unbalanced attack could not prevent Cronje hitting 79, including nine fours and two sixes. He added 68 in 16 overs with Klusener and then 54 for the last two wickets, of which Cronje hit 42. Warne's return was 36-11-89-0, his worst in his last 49 Tests - he took nought for 107 from 22 overs in his third game, against Sri Lanka in 1992-93.
Although Australia trailed by 157 and soon slumped to 28 for three, the Waughs dug in and had taken the score to 94 ten minutes before the close. Then Mark Waugh dragged on an attempted expansive off-drive against Symcox. He had hit seven fours in his 42, but it was a poor dismissal. Donald was irresistible next day, yorking Blewett and Gillespie and getting Warne lbw. Only Steve Waugh held firm, despite a fearful battering in one Donald over. He finished unbeaten with a fighting 60. His match aggregate of 127 in his side's combined total of 412 was a model of concentration; he batted for seven hours and 20 minutes. But Australia went down to their first defeat of the tour on the fourth afternoon.
Healy threw his bat after being out to a catch claimed by Richardson off Schultz; this earned him a two-match suspension, and highlighted several apparent umpiring errors.
Man of the Match: A. A. Donald. Man of the Series: S. R. Waugh.
Close of play: First day, Australia 227; Second day, South Africa 240-3 (A. M. Bacher 94*, P. L. Symcox 5*); Third day, Australia 96-4 (S. R. Waugh 24*, G. S. Blewett 0*).