March 12, 2006. Johannesburg. Australia post a considerably hefty 4-434 from 50 overs against South Africa – a then-record total that finally surpassed the magical 400 mark – and a nation concedes we might just have enough here.
Much like the rest of a confident Australia that Sunday night, I succumbed to the time difference at the innings break safe in the knowledge we’d scored just enough on a 400-par pitch, and hit the sack after my usual bedtime routine.
Little did I know, that mouthful of Listerine and gin would be the last thing I ever trusted.
With Australia freezing in the Port Elizabeth headlights last week, what better way to mark the occasion than by disregarding selective amnesia and resurfacing one of our most painful and repressed memories.
For those lucky enough to have forgotten, the 438 game was the decider in a five-match series after Australia surged back from 2-0 down to square the ledger. The venue: where else but the Wanderers, a place even bunnies describe as like batting in a lounge room.
Everything prior to the match seemed like a normal obligatory one-day match in the mid-noughties. South Africa were formidable, Australia were present, and the result was largely inconsequential.
But the two combatants barely realised this: they were on the cusp of another chapter in their preposterous history of one-upmanship on chokes.
Batting first, Australia prospered largely thanks to Ricky Ponting’s 164 from 105 balls, a stay at the crease described by Cricinfo’s Andrew Miller as “an innings of cultured slogging”. It made Simon Katich’s 90-ball 79 appear criminal, right until Roger Telemachus conceded 19 runs from four consecutive no-balls.
Come the end of 50 frightful overs, Australia had committed a run-scoring avalanche that, despite pre-dating Twitter, exhibited all the signs of a brutal pile-on that would make cancel culture blush.
At this point back in Australia, everyone except the hardcores, the insomniacs and the unemployed decided to leave it with the ever-capable Brett Lee and Nathan Bracken for a second innings purely staged for academic purposes, i.e. gambling.
But what we woke to the following day not only changed the course of cricket, it ignited an unstable world of paranoid distrust that would echo for generations to come, plus regrettably bury some of South Africa’s hilarious psychological demons.
After receiving the perfect start with the immediate loss of Boeta Dippenaar, Herschelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith had anchored the chase with strike rates only bettered by Mick Lewis’ withering clip of 113 runs from 60 balls.
Once Mark Boucher eclipsed the winning total with a four over mid-on, the victorious total would indelibly alter the number 438 forevermore. Never again could an entire nation catch a bus to Balmain, meet friends at 20 to five, or face an Excel runtime error without wincing.
Without overstating, South Africa’s epic win changed everything. It tore out the rug of trust from under the universe, and decimated the concept of runs on the board from a paragon of reliability to something as trustworthy as the third umpire.
Chasing down 434 shattered the relative stability of cricket prior to its violation by T20 – the game’s most renowned era of mistrust before the advent of ball tracking – and provided a harbinger for a bastardised future of hyper run rates, weaponised bats and names like Jon Jon Smuts.
Make no mistake, it was no coincidence the Global Financial Crisis occurred in the months following, with public confidence trashed by the unknown of whether nine per over was enough anymore, and whether Lewis would ever be allowed near the death overs again.
But worst of all, it caused me – an entitled fan of Australian cricket – to suffer an indigestible affliction similar to those imposed on many prior opponents, plus stuff up my Monday a bit.
So fellow sufferers of trust issues, please commemorate this horrific memory by joining me in a hug. But not too close.