For some years, there had been an intense rivalry between Australia and South Africa in One-Day Internationals, dating from the semi-final of the 1999 Cricket World Cup, where South Africa could only tie against Australia in a match they needed to win to progress to the final. Some followers of cricket considered that to be the greatest game of all time. Earlier in the 2005–06 season, South Africa toured Australia, where they failed to reach the final of the three-team one-day series, including losing three of their four matches against Australia. They also lost the three Test series 2–0. It was also of constant irritation to the South Africans that the Australians were referring to them as "chokers".
This match was the final match of a five-match series in South Africa. South Africa won the first two matches comfortably, but Australia fought back to win the next two, making this the deciding match. Australia had to play the series without their best one-day bowler, Glenn McGrath, whose wife was suffering from cancer. The South African team also missed their best one-day bowler, Shaun Pollock, in the final match due to a back strain.
Australian captain Ricky Ponting chose to bat after winning the toss. Adam Gilchrist and Simon Katich got the side off to a good start, both scoring fifties. A difficult catch by Andrew Hall diving to his left removed Gilchrist in the 16th over while the partnership was on 97. Ponting then scored his fastest century with 100 off 73 balls, and went on to his highest score at the Wanderers ground with 164 from 105 balls, including 9 sixes and 13 fours. Ponting and Katich put on 139 runs for the second wicket, before Katich was caught at third man by Roger Telemachus off Makhaya Ntini. Michael Hussey was promoted up the order and made 81. Ponting was dismissed after his drive shot was caught by Boeta Dippenaar in the 47th over. By the end of the innings, South Africa were under pressure with Telemachus beginning the 48th over with four consecutive no-balls. Australia made 53 runs off its last three overs; Andrew Symonds and Brett Lee helping the side past the world record with 27 and 9 runs respectively and Australia became the first side to ever score 400 runs in a One Day International.
With the series at two all, South Africa went out batting, giving it their all, requiring 8.7 runs per over from the start. In the interval, Jacques Kallis had broken the ice in a sombre dressing-room with the words "Come on, guys: it's a 450-wicket. They're 15 short!" Such a chase had never been attempted before – at that point, the previous highest first innings score was Sri Lanka's 398 against Kenya. The previous highest second innings score was 344/8, scored by Pakistan against India at Karachi on 13 March 2004 (a game which India eventually won, by only five runs). The early loss of Boeta Dippenaar for 1 made the South African run chase seem more difficult. Herschelle Gibbs batted at number 3 and reached his 16th ODI hundred in 79 balls, beating his own South African record for the fastest score of a hundred that had previously been off 84 balls against Zimbabwe. Gibbs scored the second highest total by a South African with 175 off 111 balls. He and Graeme Smith had a 187 run partnership, bringing the South Africans back into the game. When Smith was out for 90, Gibbs shared another strong partnership, this time with AB de Villiers. Australia kept the pressure on after Gibbs' dismissal with consistent wickets, but big hitting by Johannes van der Wath and Mark Boucher kept the Proteas in the hunt. Nathan Bracken, in contrasting fashion to the rest of the match, bowled particularly well collecting 5 wickets and keeping his economy a respectable 6.7. By the final over of the match, South Africa needed 7 runs off 6 balls, with Boucher on strike. He pushed a single, giving the strike to Andrew Hall who hit a four, leaving 2 required off four balls. However, he was out caught attempting to repeat the shot, leaving the side at 433–9. Ntini, the number 11 batsman, managed to get the bowler, Brett Lee, away for a single to third man and tie the scores. Boucher then hit a four the next ball (getting his 19th fifty in ODI cricket), with commentator Tony Greig exclaiming "Straight down the ground! What a victory! That is a sensational game of cricket!".