March 12, 2006: South Africa were chasing what was then the highest total in ODI history, with 2 wickets left, 7 runs needed and Brett Lee to bowl the last over.
It was the final of the five-match bilateral ODI series between South Africa and Australia and Australia was trailing with 2 losses in 2 ODIs. After a dramatic turn of events in the ODI series, the Aussies made a comeback and levelled the series 2-2. Now was the time for the final of the series at Johannesburg. It was a belter of a pitch for batsmen and that’s why Australian captain Ricky Ponting made no mistake and elected to bat first on winning the toss.
The great Australian massacre
Australia had a decent start to the innings with openers Simon Katich and Adam Gilchrist getting off to a flier. Soon enough, they started to pile on runs with Gilchrist reaching his half-century in a matter of 35 balls. Australia got to the 100-run mark at almost run-a-ball run rate with Gilchrist returning to the pavilion in the 16th over. That’s when skipper Ponting came in to take guard. Till then he knew that Johannesburg pitch was a batting paradise and a smaller outfield meant that he would be attacking the ball as soon as he gets on the crease.
Katich too picked up and starting scoring boundaries, using the shorter outfield to its utmost effect to reach his half-century. Ponting, on the other hand, had his priorities straight, muscling the ball in all parts of the ground and not refraining from any opportunity to hit a six. Ponting got to his fifty in 43 balls and it was anticipated that he will score big and so will Australia in the final ODI.
Ponting launched an onslaught and was the showstopper of the game when Australia’s innings concluded. A first inning score of 350 seemed within reach at that moment. Katich got out, trying to clear the field in the 31st over with scoreline reading 2 for 216 after scoring 79. Surprisingly enough, Michael Hussey walked in instead of Damien Martyn at No 4.
Hussey too picked up shortly, matching Ponting’s shots one after another. Australia reached 300 in quick 40 overs and with it, Ponting reached his century. The then highest ODI total was very much going to be broken. And then started the rampage from Australian batsmen as Hussey reached his 50 in 33 balls and Ponting raced towards his 150 in 99 balls. Hussey scored 81 runs before getting out on the first ball of 47th over.
Ponting did not just stop at 150 as he scored 164 before getting out in the 48th over, with his team’s score well above 400. Andrew Symonds and Brett Lee — who were sent ahead of Martyn and Michael Clarke — justified their promotion in the batting lineup as they took Australia to a world record total of 434.
Little did they know that the record was going to stand for only a few hours.
It was a disappointing show from South African bowlers as they got hammered for fours and sixes all around the park. They needed a miracle to pull off a win.
The Great South African chase begins with a faulty start
The Proteas did not have the best of the starts chasing down the mammoth total of 435. Skipper Graeme Smith and Boeta Dippenar came to bat. The first over was not as fiery as one would have expected, nor was the second as Dippenar dragged the ball into his stumps with Nathan Bracken drawing first blood. Looking back now, Dippenar’s wicket worked out well for the Proteas as he was not an attacking batsman anyway, clearly not cut out for a task like that.
When South Africa needed stabilising
Then came Herschelle Gibbs who was tailor-made for tasks like these but even he had not chased something remotely close to this in his career. After a few initial hiccups, Gibbs started to hit the ball with the middle of the bat. Unlike him, Smith made up his mind, striving to hit the ball through the gap or get one over the fence. They took the score to 50 runs from 45 balls and made sure they had their wickets intact.
When Smith-Gibbs started creating problems
Smith had the will and the intent to beat the mammoth score. Gibbs was going well over run-a-ball rate, chipping the ball over the fielders and piercing the field on occasions but it was Smith who brought the crowd back to life. The jam-packed Johannesburg stadium roared when Smith reached his half-century from 33 balls. Gibbs too followed up and completed his half-century from 46 balls.
Ponting was feeling the pressure; he had not even thought that South Africa will reply in such manner. Fours and sixes became a regularity now as Smith-Gibbs gave it back to Australia. Soon after, they had put on 150 runs for the second-wicket partnership from 18 overs.
Graeme Smith’s wicket and partnership with AB de Villiers
The hosts dominated in no time as the score read 200 in 22 overs. But before that, the man with the golden arm—Michael Clarke—answered to his skipper’s call and got Smith’s wicket as he came dancing down the pitch, trying to hit him over the deep mid-wicket. Smith’s wicket meant that AB de Villiers, who was not known for his 360-degree approach, would join Gibbs in the middle.
De Villiers could not do much with the bat as he played a dormant character in the partnership. It was Gibbs who set the ground on fire with his power-hitting. He was on the strike most of the time during their 94-run partnership. Gibbs played a career-defining innings at that time. He shifted gears after scoring an almost run-a-ball half-century, reaching his 100 in 36 more balls. De Villiers got out after scoring 14 from 20 balls, not quite what was expected from him at this stage.
The almost invincible Gibbs
After De Villiers, Jacques Kallis came in to join Gibbs in the middle. But, honestly, all he had to do was to keep himself off the strike and give Gibbs a chance to have a crack at the Australian bowlers. Gibbs had already reached his 150 while batting with De Villiers. Nathan Bracken had just dropped his catch at mid-off as Tony Greig in the commentary box said that it was the reverse ‘You just dropped the Cup’ moment but it did not go that way. Ponting was baffled as none of his fielding changes or strategies seemed to be able to tie him down.
Gibbs, after a splendid inning of 175 from 111 balls — including 21 fours and 7 sixes — had got out to Andrew Symonds. His wicket at one short of the 300-mark meant that wicketkeeper-batsman Mark Boucher would come to bat. Boucher seemed to everyone the perfect man for the job as he was known to hit half-centuries in 19, 20 and 22 balls.
Australia trying to capitalise on Gibbs’ wicket
Kallis could not carry out the chase as he got out to a soft dismissal to Symonds after scoring 20 runs from 21 balls. After Kallis’ wicket, Justin Kemp came in to bat but he too could not deliver and got out after scoring 13 from 17 balls.
Johan van der Wath’s wrath!
When Wath came out to bat, it seemed like Ponting had just got to take the wicket of Boucher which was supposed to be the final nail in the coffin. But Wath immediately took the pressure off Boucher; he took on Bracken and Lee and hit them for humongous sixes. In no time, he had taken the Proteas closer to the target as the crowd went bananas at every boundary scored.
But Wath’s wrath had to come to an end as Ponting took a blinder at covers to bring his team back in the game. Wath received a standing ovation as he went back to the pavilion, scoring 35 off 18 balls.
The shortest of cameos and Boucher!
Though Boucher had not hit a single six, he ran hard between the wickets, not wasting any deliveries. After Wath’s wicket, Roger Telemachus came to bat. His premeditated sweep off Bracken won hearts which the commentators could not believe him as they said that it was too perfect a shot that he could not do it again if they asked him to, but that shot had released the pressure.
But Telemachus played an irresponsible shot to get out as Michael Hussey—renowned as Mr Cricket—took a catch running in from long off, diving forward. By then the Proteas started feared getting bundled out. Andrew Hall came out to bat and Boucher got the game to the very end as they needed just 7 runs to win in the last over.
The last over with a twist on the top!
Brett Lee was given the responsibility to defend 7 runs off the last over in a match where Australia had scored 434 in the first innings. He ran in with Boucher on strike. The first ball, Boucher hits it hard and straight but Lee stuck his foot out and saved a sure shot boundary. He took a minute’s break to recover from the pain and ran in again. This time, Hall was on strike. Second delivery, FOUR! Hall had chipped the back of the length delivery over mid-wicket for a boundary. The whole crowd was delighted and so was the South African dressing room.
But, as they say, fairytales don’t end smoothly. Hall played an ambitious shot with 2 runs needed from 4 balls; he tried to clear the mid-on fielder but ended up hitting the ball straight to Lee. Now, Australia needed just one wicket off Ntini to win the game. Boucher had a chat with Ntini as he came in. Lee bowled a good length delivery on the stumps but Ntini managed to guide it towards third man fielder and took a single.
The crowd went berserk as from this point the South Africans could not lose the game having levelled up the score and a win looked certain. Boucher made no mistake as he chipped the ball over mid-on for a boundary and made history. He ran in and hugged Ntini in joy. All the South African players jumped from the pavilion and straight into the ground. Smiles and tears of happiness all around — a scene which is witnessed only once in a lifetime. With a last-ball boundary, Boucher had also reached his half-century.
That’s what wrapped up the historic chase in ODIs which still stands tall as a record.