Australia clinch a thriller

In the most famous test of the 2005 Ashes series, Brett Lee and Michael Kasprowicz came together with 62 runs to win, and fell agonisingly short. Today they turned that result around in a fantastic final hour at The Wanderers, crossing off the final 17 runs in Australia’s chase and sealing a victory by two wickets.

The day began with a win for either side a genuine possibility. Australia retained four wickets in hand, but with Justin Langer declared unlikely to bat, Michael Kasprowicz suffering from a back complaint and only the tail remaning to support Damien Martyn, Australia’s target of 44 more runs was a distant one. Martyn needed 7 for a much-deserved comeback century, while Brett Lee was new at the crease but in solid form with the bat. Nine balls into the day the new ball was taken, and from there it was nailbiting, tense cricket as both batsmen abandoned aggressive strokeplay on the unpredictable surface, preferring to nudge the ball around for scampered singles as the runs ticked away.

With Andre Nel unable to bowl due to his time off the field on day four, it was left to Pollock and Ntini to share the bowling burden, and each of them took the responsibility and relished it. Pollock bowled the over of the morning as he dismissed Damien Martyn, but not before the Western Australian sealed his return to the Australian team with one of the best centuries of his career. The first ball of the over, Pollock’s third for the morning, was sent elegantly to the point boundary to bring up the milestone. Martyn celebrated as if the match was won, having laid the foundations of his innings in four gruelling hours on the fourth day. However, Martyn’s celebrations were short-lived, as Pollock struck back hard in a wonderful spell of bowling. In the space of five deliveries, the veteran seamer induced two clear edges from Martyn that fell short of the surprisingly deep slip cordon, and two huge LBW shouts, the second of which was clear-cut and upheld by Steve Bucknor.

With Martyn gone, Australia required a further 34 runs with just one healthy batsman remaining. While Stuart Clark strode out to the wicket, Justin Langer disappeared from his seat outside the dressing room and retreated within, fuelling speculation that he would be available to bat if necessary. Brett Lee continued to channel the fighting spirit that guided him so well at Edgbaston a year ago and looked in little danger of being dismissed, but his new partner was not so assured.

Nevertheless, Clark and Lee slowly pushed down the required total, as each over yielded at least a pair of singles, and the batsmen scampered through at every opportunity. The 89th over proved a key point in the match, as Clark chanced his arm with some success. Makhaya Ntini was bowling to a stacked off-side field and holding a line well clear of off-stump, allowing Clark the freedom of knowing where the ball would be pitched, and he took advantage of it in style. The first ball of the over was crashed through the off-side for a boundary, cutting the target to 21, and the giant seamer repeated the dose with even more aggression a few balls later, seeking to end the match quickly. The looming gaps in the leg-side field proved too great a temptation though, and Clark swung one time too many off the 5th delivery, skying his attempted pull for an easy catch to Mark Boucher.

The shot was far from clever under the circumstances, and left Australia needing 17 runs with potentially just a single wicket remaning. Despite Langer wearing pads and gloves, it was Kasprowicz who walked out to bat with Lee, joining together the same partnership that fell just three runs short of victory at Edgbaston. This time it would be a different result, and after the pair squeezed nine runs in just three balls in Pollock’s next over the fight seemed to leave the home team. Lee struck a wide delivery with precision through the covers to reduce the target to eight, and with Kallis leaving the off-side boundary stragely vacant of a defensive fielder the door was open for Kasprowicz to do the same and cut it to 4 in the following over.

In the end, the opportunity to hit the winning runs was presented fittingly to Brett Lee. Lee, who has led Australia’s bowling attack throughout both series against South Africa, who was left undefeated when Australia lost at Edgbaston, and who had been at the crease all morning without anything so much as a slight error. Once again he made no mistake, leaning back and cutting Ntini over the ring field for a boundary to seal a two wicket victory. Outside the Australian dressing room the entire team mobbed Justin Langer, who stood in pads and gloves in his 100th test, but was mercifully not required to bat.

It was a wonderful test match to end a series that, were it not for a one-sided final scoreline, might well have been remembered as a classic. Australia were always favourites, but some legitimate questions remained to be answered before the away leg against South Africa, in the absence of Glenn McGrath. Brett Lee and Stuart Clark answered those questions in fantastic style, supported by supreme performances from Ponting, Hayden and Hussey with the bat, and the world’s best will once again be brimming with confidence as they look ahead to the crucial Ashes campaign in less than a year. South Africa on the other hand will be left to rue another series against Australia where they were so near, yet so far.

South Africa 303
Ashwell Prince 93, Nicky Boje 43
Brett Lee 3/57, Stuart Clark 3/81

Australia 270
Michael Hussey 73, Brett Lee 64
Makhaya Ntini 6/100, Nicky Boje 1/10

South Africa 258
Mark Boucher 63, Herschelle Gibbs 53
Stuart Clark 4/64, Brett Lee 3/57

Australia 8/294
Damien Martyn 101, Michael Hussey 89
Makhaya Ntini 4/78, Jacques Kallis 2/44

Australia win by 2 wickets.
Australia win the three test series 3-0.

CricketWeb Man of the Match
Brett Lee
64 & 24*, 3/57 & 3/57

CricketWeb Man of the Series
Stuart Clark
31 runs @ 15.50
20 wickets @ 15.84

Leave a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they have been approved

More articles by Sean Fuller