British author Ken Follett famously said, “When you've lost everything, you've got nothing to lose.” South Africa cricket team had a similar situation on March 12, 2006, when they returned to the dressing room after witnessing Australia put up the then-highest ODI score of 434 runs.
Though it was a decider for an ODI series balanced at 2-2, the Proteas did have nothing to lose. Three of their fast bowlers - Makhaya Ntini, Andrew Hall and Roger Telemachus - had conceded 80 or more runs in their 10-over quota, while veteran Jacques Kallis had returned being the most expensive bowler of that innings.
The Johannesburg pitch was a batting paradise that day. Australia's batting order read like this: Adam Gilchrist (55 runs off 44 balls), Simon Katich (79 off 90 balls), captain Ricky Ponting (164 off 105 balls), Michael Hussey (81 off 51), and Andrew Symonds (27 off 13).
Everything that could go wrong for South Africa did go, and they were ready to leave it behind as a one-off forgettable day. To lighten the mood, Kallis had jokingly said after the first innings, “Guys, I think we've done a good job. I think they're 15 runs short."
While it was said in jest, and the dressing room did break into laughter, the Proteas players had learned a great lesson - sometimes, it's more important to enjoy the ride than think of how to reach the destination. South Africa defended this attitude right from the beginning, even when Nathan Bracken dismissed opener Boeta Dippenaar for just one in the second over.
Standing amidst all this mayhem was South Africa's Herschelle Gibbs, who had almost missed the team bus that morning after returning to the hotel late. The player, admittedly, had a hangover when he came to the crease to join captain Graeme Smith. Interestingly, all that lack of sleep had made Gibbs super-optimistic.
“I woke up on Sunday morning with the same feeling as when I scored a hundred in the 1999 World Cup — that was going to be a different sort of day. It’s only happened to me twice, and I still can’t believe it,” Gibbs had later said.
Gibbs would come to bat in the second over, with the Proteas standing at 3/1. And as history is evident, when Gibbs returned to the pavilion, South Africa were 299/4 in the 32nd over. He would forge a whopping 183-run stand with Smith in less than 21 overs before adding 109 more runs alongside AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis in the next nine overs. Gibbs' knock of 175 runs in 111 balls had an unbelievable 21 boundaries and seven maximums.
However, he wasn't the last of the heroes for South Africa that day.
After Symonds dismissed the experienced Kallis, in came wicket-keeper batsman Mark Boucher, who would take it home for the hosts. His unbeaten 50 with crucial aide from Johan van der Wath, Telemachus and Hall saw South Africa beat Australia in a thrilling last over in which seven runs were needed. Boucher's lofted shot over mid-on to seal the victory stands among one of cricket’s most iconic moments.
17 years to that day and the threshold of 430 runs has been broken only seven times since. However, this feat by South Africa remains the highest successful run-chase in ODIs.