A disbelieving crowd at the Wanderers in Johannesburg yesterday witnessed the greatest one-day international of all as South Africa hit a world record 438 for 9 with one wicket and one ball to spare to beat Australia. If the home fans were amazed at lunch, having seen the visitors smash 434 for 4, with Ricky Ponting making 164, they would have been pinching themselves when Mark Boucher hit the winning runs off Brett Lee after Herschelle Gibbs had led the way with 175.
To add to the drama it was the deciding one-dayer in a five-match series which had been spiced up by the pre-match verbal antics of both captains. At half-time South Africa's Graeme Smith must have been regretting calling the Australians "chokers" but by the close he might just have been proved right.
The 872 runs scored smashed the previous record of 693 when India beat Pakistan in 2004. Ponting, the Australian captain, reached his ton off 73 balls. In all he faced 105 deliveries, hit 13 fours and nine sixes. But Gibbs outshone him with seven sixes in a 111-ball innings.
Ponting was gracious in defeat. "I'm sure everybody here had one of the greatest days of their lives. You couldn't ask for a more exciting match. We played really well and got an unbelievably big total but Herschelle and the boys have just been too good."
Adam Gilchrist got the visitors off to a flyer hitting 55 while Simon Katich was relatively calm making 79 off 90 balls. Andrew Hall held a fine catch to dismiss Gilchrist but that brought Ponting to the crease. Katich and his captain put on 119 for the second wicket and Ponting and Michael Hussey then shared 158 for the third before Hussey was caught. Ponting was out in the 48th over when his lofted drive was caught.
South Africa fell to 3 for 1 at which point they were 149-1 to win with the bookmakers. But Graeme Smith - who was "a little down at [the halfway] stage" - and Gibbs kept them in it with a stand of 187 off 128 balls, their country's highest partnership against Australia. It ended when Smith was caught in the deep.
Gibbs dominated a stand of 94 in which AB de Villiers scored 14, but the centurion went in the 32nd over when he drove to long-on. That slowed the momentum, but the No 8 Johan van der Wath then hit 35 off 18 balls. Australia surged back dismissing Van der Wath, Telemachus and Hall to reduce South Africa to 433 for 9 with three balls left. Makhaya Ntini nudged Lee for a single, and Boucher hit the next ball to long-on for four to win the match.
Ponting and Gibbs were both awarded man of the match but the Australian - probably in a state of disbelief himself - declined it, saying Gibbs deserved the honour. "Cricket is getting bizarre these days," the recipient said.
Australia won toss
ÝA C Gilchrist c Hall b Telemachus 55
70 min, 44 balls, 9 fours
S M Katich c Telemachus b Ntini 79
135 min, 90 balls, 9 fours, 1 six
*R T Ponting c Dippenaar b Telemachus 164
151 min, 105 balls, 13 fours, 9 sixes
M E K Hussey c Ntini b Hall 81
75 min, 51 balls, 9 fours, 3 sixes
A Symonds not out 27
23 min, 13 balls, 3 fours, 1 six
B Lee not out 9
12 min, 7 balls
Extras (lb4 w5 nb10) 19
Total (for 4, 50 overs) 434
Fall: 1-97, 2-216, 3-374, 4-407.
Did not bat: D R Martyn, M J Clarke, N W Bracken, S R Clark, M L Lewis, G B Hogg.
Bowling: Ntini 9-0-80-1; Hall 10-0-81-1; Van der Wath 10-0-75-0; Telemachus 10-0-87-2; Smith 4-0-29-0; Kallis 6-0-70-0; Kemp 1-0-8-0.
South Africa Innings
G C Smith c Hussey b Clarke 90
100 min, 55 balls, 13 fours, 2 sixes
H H Dippenaar b Bracken 1
6 min, 7 balls
H H Gibbs c Lee b Symonds 175
143 min, 111 balls, 21 fours, 7 sixes
A B de Villiers c Clarke b Bracken 14
42 min, 20 balls, 1 four
J H Kallis c & b Symonds 20
22 min, 21 balls, 1 four
M V Boucher not out 50
79 min, 43 balls, 4 fours
J M Kemp c Martyn b Bracken 13
19 min 17 balls
J J Van der Wath c Ponting b Bracken 35
20 min, 18 balls, 1 four, 3 sixes
R Telemachus c Hussey b Bracken 12
8 min, 6 balls, 2 fours
A J Hall c Clarke b Lee 7
6 min, 4 four, 1 six
M Ntini not out 1
4 min, 1 ball
Extras (b4 lb8 w4 nb4) 20
Total (for 9, 49.5 overs) 438
Fall: 1-3, 2-190, 3-284, 4-299, 5-327, 6-355, 7-399, 8-423, 9-433.
Did not bat: R J Peterson.
Bowling: Lee 7.5-0-68-1; Bracken 10-0-67-5; Clark 6-0-54-0; M L Lewis 10-0-113-0; Symonds 9-0-75-2; Clarke 7-0-49-1.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and B G Jerling (SA).
Highest one-day totals
* 438 for 9 (49.5 overs) South Africa bt Australia (Johannesburg, 2006)
* 434-4 (50 overs) Australia lost to S Africa (Johannesburg, 2006)
* 398-5 (50 overs) Sri Lanka bt Kenya (Kandy, 1996)
* 397-5 (44 overs) New Zealand bt Zimbabwe (Bulawayo, 2005)
* 391-4 (50 overs) England bt Bangladesh (Nottingham, 2005)
* 376-2 (50 overs) India bt New Zealand (Hyderabad, 1999)
* 373-6 (50 overs) India bt Sri Lanka (Taunton, 1999)
* 371-9 (50 overs) Pakistan bt Sri Lanka (Nairobi, 1996)