Mutiny at the Bullring

An account of the ‘greatest one-day international match ever played’

By Nachiket Deuskar

In what is now referred to as the “438 match” or “The Greatest ODI Ever”, on March 12 2006, South Africa did the unthinkable. They defeated Australia by chasing a world record target of 435 runs and in the process set a new world record of 438. South Africa didn’t just win the match and the series; they also initiated a mutiny in world cricket.

Australia has always been a great cricketing side. By the turn of the millennium, they just got better.

The South Africa-Australia rivalry that started in the semi-final of 1999 World Cup had intensified over the years. This time, South Africa won the first two matches convincingly at Centurion and Cape Town by 6 wicket and 196 runs respectively. Australia won the next two matches at Port Elizabeth and Kingsmead, Durban to level the series. Both Australia and South Africa were missing out on their best ODI bowlers of the time- Glenn McGrath and Shaun Pollock respectively. The decider happened at the New Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg- a fitting venue for the final.

In the lead up to the match, the Aussies kept calling South Africa “chokers”- a tag that was first used after the 1999 semi-final.

Ricky Ponting scythes one through the leg side, South Africa v Australia, 5th ODI, Johannesburg, March 12, 2006
Ricky Ponting scythes one through the leg side, South Africa v Australia, 5th ODI, Johannesburg, March 12, 2006 (Photo credits: Getty Images via ESPN Cricinfo)

Ricky Ponting chose to bat first. Simon Katich and Adam Gilchrist got Australia to a flying start. But the best knock for the Aussies came from Ponting who reached 100 off just 73 balls and scored 164 off 105 balls. In the process, Australia became the first team to cross 400 runs in an ODI match. Mike Hussey scored a quick-fire 81 after being promoted up the order. The Aussies ended up with a new world record of 434 after having scored 53 runs off the last three overs.

Jacques Kallis told the South African dressing room that it was a 450 wicket and that Australia was 15 runs short, it was later reported in the media.

South Africa got an early jolt when they lost their opener Boeta Dippenaar. But, Captain Graeme Smith scored 90 of just 50 to put South Africa back on track with a 187 run partnership with Herschelle Gibbs. Gibbs scored 175 off just 111 balls in a display of slam-bang cricket. Even though Australia picked Gibbs and Smith later, AB de Villeries, Johannes van der Wath and Mark Boucher kept South Africa on track.

The Proteas needed 7 runs off the last over. After a single by Boucher, Andrew Hall hit a boundary near long on leaving just 2 needed off 4 balls. He lost his wicket the next ball attempting to repeat the previous shot. South Africa was 9 wickets down with Makhaya Ntini on strike. Ntini chipped the ball towards third man for a single to level the score.

Boucher who was playing on 46 had to score just one run off the next two balls to register the greatest run chase ever.

A banner in the crowd aptly read “Kangaroo curry for dinner.”

The spectators in the stadium were up on their feet, waiting for the moment. Brett Lee

Mark Boucher sealed the match with a four towards the cow corner.

This was followed by jubilant celebrations in the Proteas’ dressing room, in the stadium, and across South Africa. The television cameras focused on the crowd. Some of them were crying. The loss in the 1999 semi-final had been finally avenged.


South Africa v Australia - 5th ODI
Makhaya Ntini and Mark Boucher celebrate after chasing 434, South Africa v Australia, 5th ODI, Johannesburg, March 12, 2006 (Photo Credits: Getty Images via ESPN Cricinfo)

Tony Greig exclaimed, “The South Africans at the Bullring today have seen the best one day international ever played!”

Gibbs as well as Ponting were awarded the ‘Man of the Match’ award. However, Ponting declined it.

They won the match and the series. They buried the ghost of the 1999 semi-final. They managed to drop the “chokers” tag for a while. They set a new world record. The spectators saw one of the greatest ODI matches ever. But, more than all that, South Africa had initiated a mutiny in international cricket which questioned Australia’s invincibility.


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