The Greatest Game Ever Played

Saturday marks the 10-year anniversary of a cricket game universally described as the greatest game ever played.  The fifth One Day International (ODI) took place on the 12th of March 2006 at the Wanderers and it was the series decider between South Africa and Australia.  The series was perfectly poised at 2-2, with the South Africans having squandered a 2-0 series lead to their rivals.

There was great anticipation for a fixture between two great rivals but no one could have anticipated what was to come.  It was a record-breaking day in every sense of the word as nine world records were sent tumbling by some truly magnificent batting displays from both sides.  The Australians won the toss and captain Ricky Ponting decided to bat first and his decision was vindicated as Adam Gilchrist and Simon Katich got their side off to a great start with both batsmen scoring fifties.

Gilchrist was the first to go for 55 (44 balls)with the score on 97.  That brought Pointing to the crease and he was in destructive form.  He started smashing the Proteas bowlers all over the park.  Ponting and Katich put on 119 runs for the second wicket before Katich was caught at third man off Makhaya Ntini for 79 (90 deliveries).

The fireworks did not stop as Michael Hussey came in to support the on-fire Ponting who passed his 100 off just 73 balls.  Hussey made his contribution of 81 runs off just 51 balls before going out while Ponting broke the first record of the day with the fastest ODI 150 off just 99 balls.  The Baggy Greens skipper was eventually out for 164 (105 balls, 13 fours, nine sixes).

Andrew Symonds and Brett Lee helped  steer Australia to the second record of the day which was the highest ever total in ODI cricket – 434/4.  The South African dressing room was dead silent at the interval until Jacques Kallis famously came in and told his team mates, according to Mark Boucher in his autobiography Bouch: Through My Eyes:  ‘OK, guys, I think the bowlers have done their job.  Now it’s up to the batsmen.  They’re 15 runs short; this is a 450 wicket.’  As South African opening batsmen Graeme Smith and Boeta Dippenaar walked out to attempt a run chase which would have to break the world record for the second time that day, not many people gave them a chance.

Dippenaar went out for just 1 run and this brought in Herschelle Gibbs.  Michael Hussey wrote in his autobiography Underneath the Southern Cross about how he saw Gibbs drinking until the early hours of the morning and thought:  ‘At least he was a free wicket’.  Hussey could not have been more wrong.

Gibbs was in inspired form and together with Smith they gave set a platform to the “impossible” with a 187-run partnership.  Gibbs brought up his 100 off just 79 balls and in the process he broke his own South African record for the fastest ODI century.  Smith was eventually out for a well-played 90 (13 fours, two sixes) off just 55 balls.

Gibbs continued his onslaught after being dropped on 130 by Nathan Bracken.  The enigmatic batsman hammered 175 from 111 balls (21 fours, seven sixes) when has was eventually out off
Symonds’ bowling with South Africa still needing 136 to win from 109 balls.  The tourists picked up some more wickets as they looked to stop the scoring but Johann Van Der Wath and
Boucher kept the Proteas in the game with some big hitting.

Mick Lewis was on the receiving end and broke an unwanted record during the game as he conceded the most runs in a single game as he finished with figures of 10 overs, no maidens, 0/113.  Van Der Wath smashed 35 from 18 deliveries to leave the game on a knife’s edge at 399/7 in the 47th over.  It was anyone’s game in this most bizarre of games with the hosts needing 36 runs and the Aussies requiring three wickets and just 21 balls to get the job done.

A few more Australian wickets brought the game to the final over with South Africa needing seven runs off six balls with Boucher on strike.  The wicketkeeper took a single off the first ball of the over giving the strike to Andrew Hall who then hit a four.  This meant the South Africans needed two off four and Australia needed two wickets.

Hall was then caught attempting to score the winning runs and out came Ntini, the number 11 batsmen.  The crowd were on the edge of the seat as Brett Lee ran up to bowl.  Ntini managed to play a single down to third man and the scores were level.

Boucher then hit the next ball for four through midwicket and the Bullring erupted as the Proteas pulled off the most unlikely of comeback victories and broke the world record with a
score of 438/9.  Smith’s side also set the world record for the highest successful run chase.  
The game was voted the greatest ever played in 2011 on the International Cricket Council’s website and for good reason.

The other records broken in this game include: most sixes in a match (26), most fours in a match (89) and highest aggregate runs in a match (872).  A total of nine world records were set in front of 34 000 fans at the Wanderers and the special scenes that unfolded that day will be remembered in the hearts and minds of cricket fans forever.