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Match reports

South Africa v Australia, 2005-06

South Africa v Australia, 2005-06

Neil Manthorp
Neil Manthorp
15-Apr-2007
At Durban, March 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 2006. Australia won by 112 runs. Toss: Australia.
Under floodlights - and with barely a suggestion of natural light to assist the players - Australia wrapped up the series on the final evening. The controversial decision to allow the game to continue was in direct contravention of the playing conditions for the series. The senior umpire, Steve Bucknor, steadfastly kept the players on the field with the match drawing to a gripping climax, although on previous days - and in far better conditions - both sides had been offered the light.
If his decision stemmed from a desire to avoid controversy, he was misguided; if from a belief in natural justice, then fair enough. Australia were again comfortably the better team and deserved to win - and as so often Ponting, their inspirational captain, was at the forefront of their success. For the second time in three Tests against South Africa, he hit twin hundreds.
Hard work and patience were required in bucketloads on the first day, and both Langer and Ponting duly knuckled down. Langer survived 125 balls for his 35, and Ponting uncharacteristically faced 224 balls for his century. Even more uncharacteristically he drove the next ball straight to short extra cover.
The normally fluent Martyn batted almost three hours for his 57 against tight seam bowling on a helpful surface, and only when Warne arrived at the crease did the innings gain any momentum. Encouraged by the ease of Warne's strokeplay, and batting with consummate skill, Hussey squeezed 110 from the last three wickets to turn a decent total into a formidable one.
Smith promptly emulated Hayden's awful waft at a wide ball, and South Africa, like Australia, were one down for nought. A second wicket fell quickly, but de Villiers and Kallis fought back, and their stand of 134, spanning 38 overs, laid a firm foundation. However, de Villiers could suppress his impetuosity only so long, and a full-blooded slap to gully resulted in one of Hayden's ridiculously good, speciality catches. Kallis scurried to a fifty from 48 balls, but then returned to type, his last 64 runs occupying 175. Eventually, a delivery from Clark popped on him, and he was caught off the splice.
Lee then sliced through the tail with the keenness of a butcher's knife, taking four wickets in 15 balls. On a pitch that tended to help the bowlers, a lead of over 100 looked likely to be decisive - just as it was at Cape Town. Perhaps the wicket had flattened out by the third innings or, more probably, the batsmen were simply too good for their opponents. First time around, the Australians had to fight; now it was men against boys. Even so, Hayden and Ponting took care to push rather than hit their drives, and placed the ball with precision. Their stand of 201 batted South Africa out of the game.
Gilchrist's appearance at No. 5 signalled quick runs before a declaration. His nineball 24 was stunning enough, but some thought his utter disregard for his average, now dipping below 50, more remarkable still. He struck Nel for 22 in one over, causing him to boil over in a froth of abuse. Gilchrist's departure brought the declaration, though bad light meant South Africa, set a notional 410, faced just seven overs before the fourth-day close.
Next day, with the pitch finally showing signs of wear, Warne raised his game to grab four of the first six wickets, removing both openers after a stand of 91, luring de Villiers out of his crease and persuading Smith to turn a classic leg-spinner to leg slip. South Africa limped to 181 for seven and, seemingly, certain defeat. Then the fightback started. Boje exploited wildly attacking fields to blast a rapid 48, while Boucher, all snarling determination, was still there after more than 50 overs.
Nel too hung around for over an hour as the rain threatened and the light deteriorated. For the final few overs Gilchrist, captaining while Ponting was absent with food poisoning, had no option but to bowl Warne and Symonds's off-spin. And when No. 11 Ntini walked out, the scene was set for a day/nighter rather than a Test. But Bucknor let play continue, and Warne, with a perfect googly, had Ntini lbw. He didn't pick it. But in that light, nobody could.
Man of the Match: S. K. Warne. Attendance: 32,860.

Neil Manthorp is a South African broadcaster and journalist, and head of the MWP Sport agency