It was a historic day in International Cricket History. It was a Fifty-50 match, a new format just introduced as a joint venture by Cricket Australia and the South African Cricket Board! The whole world was witness to something aforeseen. The game was much on the lines of the recently successful Twenty-20 format of the game, however it stuck to the old length of 50 overs a side. The first such match was played at the Wanderers, Johanassberg, South Africa.
The rules of the game are simple: Just have a flat pitch, surround it by a small patch of grass, pick up about two dozen die-hard warriors who can wield a cricket bat as hard as a blacksmith would hit a piece of hot iron piece on his anvil and call out, PLAY! Then, just be ready to watch the cricket ball get a hitting of its lifetime. Be it Brett Lee, Jacques Kallis or Roger Telemachus no bowler would ever have seen his efforts proving more futile. If there ever can be any 'highlights' of the match, there have to be 99.5 overs in it, what say? Yet I try here to re-capture a few moments, with some help from Andrew Miller.
After a momentous 434 by Australia, at the halfway mark of the day, South Africa had been reduced to a near laughing stock. Ponting had been the kingpin as he reprised his World Cup-winning innings on this very ground in 2003, but every one of Australia's batsmen had taken their pound of flesh as well. Adam Gilchrist lit the blue touchpaper with an open-shouldered onslaught that realised 55 runs from 44 balls; Simon Katich provided a sheet-anchor with a difference as he creamed nine fours and a six in a 90-ball 79, and Mike Hussey - in theory Ponting's second fiddle in their 158-run stand for the third wicket - hurtled to a 51-ball 81. Australia's dominance seemed so complete that Andrew Symonds, the most notorious one-day wrecker in their ranks, was not even called upon until the scoreboard read a somewhat surreal 374 for 3.
Unsurprisingly, South Africa's bowlers took a universal pounding. The team had squandered a 2-0 series lead and were staring at a 3-2 defeat, and not for the first time this year, Graeme Smith's penchant for speaking his mind was looking like backfiring. With the Test series getting underway in four days' time, the need for a performance of pride had never been more urgent. And so Smith took it upon himself to deliver, responding to his team's indignity with a brutal innings laced with fury. He made light of the early loss of Boeta Dippenaar, whose anchorman approach would not have been suited to the chase at any rate, and instead found the perfect ally in his former opening partner, Herschelle Gibbs. On a pitch that might have been sent from the Gods, the pair launched South Africa's response with a scathing stand of 187 from 121 balls, to send the first frissons of anxiety through the Australian dressing-room. Now it was Gibbs who took centre stage. The man who, memorably, dropped the World Cup at Headingley in that 1999 campaign has redeemed himself a hundred times over in the intervening years. But this was to be his crowning glory.
The dreamrun however did not get over there and it took a blistering intervention from Johan van der Wath to reignite the chase. He drilled Lewis over long-off for two sixes in an over then added a six and a four in Bracken's eighth, as the requirement dropped from a tricky 77 from 42 balls to a gettable 36 from 22. He perished as he had lived, holing out to extra cover, and Telemachus followed soon afterwards, but not before he had clubbed an invaluable 12 from six balls.
And so it all came down to the final over, just as it had done at Edgbaston all those years ago. Brett Lee had seven runs to defend, and South Africa had two wickets in hand. A blazed four from Andrew Hall seemed to have settled the issue, but in a moment reminiscent of Lance Klusener's famous aberration, he smeared the very next delivery into the hands of Clarke at mid-on. Two runs needed then, and the No. 11, Makhaya Ntini, on strike. Lee's best effort was deflected to third man to tie the scores, and it was left to Boucher to seal the deal with a lofted four over mid-on. The most breathtaking game in cricket history had come to a grandstand finish, and all that remained was for the participants to pinch themselves to believe something as unrealistic as this!!