The 32 000 spectators who packed the Wanderers had a day to remember, and much to cheer about, as both teams reached their highest totals at nearly nine runs an over.
It was the highest aggregate of runs in any one-day international, and the first time any team had scored more than 400 runs. The crowd were thrilled by fours and sixes a-plenty.
Australia contributed 44 fours and 14 sixes, and South Africa hit 44 fours and 12 sixes.
Chasing a seemingly insurmountable target of 435 to win, South Africa made 438 for nine. They set about their task with a will -- playing the 'brave' cricket skipper Graeme Smith and coach Mickey Arthur have so often talked about.
Boeta Dippenaar was out for one in the second over, bowled by Bracken, but Smith and Gibbs had the crowd screaming with excitement as they raced to a second wicket partnership of 187 -- the highest South African second wicket partnership against Australia, beating the 140 made by Kepler Wessels and Hansie Cronje in Melbourne in 1993/94.
It ended when Smith was caught at mid-wicket by Michael Hussey for 90. He had faced 55 balls, and hit 13 boundaries and two sixes.
AB de Villiers joined Gibbs, and they put on 94 runs off 53 balls before De Villiers was caught by Michael Clarke off Bracken for 14. He had played sensibly, making sure that Gibbs got the strike whenever possible.
Gibbs was out six balls later, caught by Brett Lee off Andrew Symonds for 175 -- his highest score in one-day cricket. It had taken him two hours and 22 minutes, and he had faced 111 balls, hitting 21 boundaries and seven sixes.
Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher put on 28 runs for the fifth wicket before Kallis was caught and bowled by Symonds for 20 at a run a ball. With 10 overs to go, South Africa needed to score 93 runs to win. Forced to go for the shots, began to lose wickets regularly. Kemp (13) was caught by Damien Martyn off Bracken, and Ricky Ponting caught Johan van der Wath also off Bracken, for 35.
He had faced 18 balls and scored a four and three sixes. Telemachus went out in the 49th over, for 12 off six balls.
When the final over started, South Africa needed seven runs off six balls, with Lee the bowler. Boucher scrambled a run off the first, and Hall hit the next to the boundary. South Africa now needed two runs off four balls.
But Lee grabbed Hall's wicket off his next delivery, when Hall was caught by Clarke for seven. Makhaya Ntini snatched a single off the next ball, and the crowd erupted -- the teams were tied on 434.
Boucher hit the fifth ball for four -- and South Africa had snatched victory from what seemed inevitable defeat. Boucher's boundary gave him his 19th limited overs half century off 43 balls.
All the bowlers were savaged - Mick Lewis had the dubious distinction of conceding the most runs in history -- 110 off his 10 overs. Nathan Bracken, with figures of five for 67, was the most successful bowler in either side.
Australia had been 2-0 down in the series, suffering a record 196-run loss in the second match, before drawing level at 2-2.
Winning captain Smith admitted it had looked bleak when Australia posted their massive total.
"I think we were a little down in the dressing room at that stage," he said at the post-match presentation.
"But it was an unbelievable wicket, credit to the groundsmen. And what an atmosphere. It's huge. We have got to come back down to earth. We're all over the moon and want to savour the moment."
"Test cricket is a different ball game but I really enjoyed it tonight and hopefully we can take some of that momentum into the Test series."
Surprisingly, both Gibbs and Ponting were awarded man of the match but Ponting declined it, saying it belonged solely to Gibbs .
Said Gibbs: "Cricket is getting bizarre these days with some of the scores made. We needed something like that from somebody and it happened to be my day today."
The match saw both teams breaking the world record for the highest scores in international cricket. A total of 872 runs were scored, at a rate of nearly nine an over throughout the match.
"Incredible," said South African skipper Graeme Smith. "We'd struggle to repeat a match like that. I think it compares with the tied Test between Australia and the West Indies at Adelaide as one of the greatest matches in cricket history."
Ponting agreed that it was one of the best one-day matches of all time.
"We had no defence against Smith and (Herschelle) Gibbs. We've talked about Australia scoring more than 400 one day. We did that today, and lost. It is incredible."
Ponting said that while there was always a chance that South Africa could pass Australia's record total of 434, the odds against it were very high.
"We scored that many, so it was possible that they would too - but there was no way on earth that they should have done it."
Ponting, who was jointly named Man of the Match with Gibbs, but declined the honour, saying Gibbs was the deserved winner, added that despite having made his highest score in one-day internationals (ODIs), it was still disappointing to make such a massive score and lose.
"But teams have often had success at running down big scores against us," he said.
He suggested that the advent of 20/20 cricket, as well as a relatively small ground, meant that huge scores were possible.
"We have to get over this very quickly and prepare for the Test series," said Ponting. "South Africa will be buoyed by the result going into the Test series, and there's a very short turnaround period."
Smith said South Africa would probably take Monday as a recovery day and start preparing for the Tests on Tuesday. "We need to get our feet back on the ground," he said. "It's been an emotional rollercoaster the past few days. We came so close in Durban on Friday, and so were pretty down, and then we won today, and won the series."
Gibbs, whose 175 was his highest ODI score, said he had woken up on Sunday morning with a good feeling. "The last time I had that feeling was when I made a hundred against Australia at Edgbaston in the World Cup in 1999. I wish I had that feeling more often."
Asked where he rated Sunday's match, he said he thought it was one step ahead of Edgbaston. Smith said that the team had not had any game plan to score 435.
"You don't lie in bed and imagine making a total like that," he said. "We just knew we had to go out and score quickly. It never really crossed our minds that we could do it. We had to get some momentum going. We were smashing balls all over the place, and then we'd look up at the scoreboard, and we were still 350 behind.
Chasing massive totals like that, you either get quite close, or you get nowhere near."
The captains praised both teams for creating such an exciting match. "The batters did well, but the bowlers didn't." said Ponting.
"I think it's a wicket the batsmen would like to roll up and keep, but the bowlers would like to bury," said Smith.
Mail & Guardian Online | CricInfo Report