South Africa inflicted a first-ever five-match ODI series whitewash on Australia with a tense victory that underlined the main difference between the two sides. Not only was Australia’s inexperienced attack unable to challenge South Africa’s batsmen, but their batting line-up, barDavid Warner, could not keep up either.
Warner scored his second century of the series and was Australia’s only real hope of pulling off the highest successful chase at Newlands to take home a consolation win after Rilee Rossouw’sthird ODI century – a 118-ball 122 – propelled South Africa to 327 for 8. Warner’s 173 was six short of a career-best, but could have ended on 11 when he edged Kagiso Rabada to slip. Quinton de Kock dived in front of Hashim Amla and spilled the chance. Warner made South Africa pay, but he lacked proper support.
Aaron Finch partnered Warner in a 72-run opening stand, but a double strike from Imran Tahir and a wicket to Andile Phehlukwayo saw Australia lose three wickets for just two runs. Travis Head then shared a 90-run fifth-wicket stand with Warner, but by then the required run rate had escalated to over eight an over with 23 overs left.
South Africa had not scored that quickly at any stage but were consistently attacking, thanks largely to Rossouw. Brought into the squad as AB de Villiers’ replacement and used in every match, he topped up on his twin half-centuries from the opening two matches by reaching three figures in this one. Rossouw shared in a 178-run fourth-wicket stand with JP Duminy to account for more than half of South Africa’s total – the second highest at Newlands.
The most impressive aspect of South Africa’s performance was how easily runs came. Upfront, de Kock and Hashim Amla began in imperious fashion against an inconsistent Australian new-ball attack without John Hastings. Despite being the most experienced member of the pack, Australia chose to rest him and give Joe Mennie another run, and it proved a decent decision.
Mennie recovered from his nightmare debut to pick up two quick wickets. After de Kock chipped a catch to short cover off Boland, Mennie bowled Amla with a ball that straightened to hit off stump. Two overs later, he tempted South Africa’s captain Faf du Plessis into a drive and beat the inside edge onto the stumps. It would be more than 27 overs before Mennie took his next wicket, but by then Rossouw, who played a chanceless knock, was on 99.
Australia failed to apply pressure on Rossouw, who had faced just nine balls when the top three were dismissed. The first ball after du Plessis’ dismissal was misfielded at mid-off and the result was four.
Mitchell Marsh bore the brunt of the assault, sometimes as a consequence of his own actions – two full-tosses in the his opening over, which went for 17 – and sometimes unavoidably. Rossouw took the first six of the innings off him, shimmying down the pitch to hit over long-on.
The spinners struggled as much as the seamers. On a flat track, legspinner Adam Zampa posed none of the same threat he had in earlier matches while Head’s part-time offspin had equally little effect. Rossouw and Duminy scored quickly – Rossouw’s fifty coming at a run a ball and Duminy’s off 47 – and with 20 overs to go, South Africa were headed for 350.
When Rossouw reached 99, Duminy was so anxious to get him on strike that he carved a ball to backward point while trying to drive into the covers. George Bailey took the catch and Duminy missed a century of his own. Instead, it was David Miller who enjoyed mid-pitch celebrations with Rossouw before being tasked with the responsibility of finishing strongly.
Rossouw opened up after the milestone but holed out with five overs to go. Miller ushered the tail to plunder 46 runs off the last five overs. Even though Australia took three wickets in that period, they were unable to bowl South Africa out for a fifth time in the series.
Australia, with luck on their side, wiped out fifty inside eight overs. Warner was not the only one to enjoy a reprieve. Aaron Finch benefitted too when Steyn put down a chance off a top-edge, off Abbott.
Enter Tahir. His opening over included a flat delivery, a legbreak, a googly, a flipper, a slower ball, a straight one and two wickets. Finch was bowled going back to cut the flipper, and Steve Smith went the same looking to drive a straight ball. Warner brought up his fifty the ball after Smith was dismissed but Australia’s cheer was shortlived as Phehlukwayo was rewarded for his accuracy when George Bailey inside-edged a length ball onto his stumps.
Boundaries dried up as Australia then went 55 balls without one. Warner and Mitchell Marsh were forced to progress slowly but there seemed intent after the halfway mark as Marsh tried to step up. He pulled Rabada to fine leg where Abbott palmed the ball over the boundary for six. Off the next ball, Marsh was ball-watching when Warner called him through for a single. A direct hit from Duminy from point would have seen Marsh run out. Two balls later, Marsh hit Rabada for six again. But the surge didn’t last long as he was cleaned up by Rabada in the next over.
For every blow South Africa struck, Warner had a response. He took two fours off Rabada soon after to get into the nineties and two more off Phehlukwayo to reach 99, before bringing up a hundred off 88 balls. His celebration was subdued; he knew he had more to do.
Head proved a handy partner and put on 90 for the fifth wicket with Warner, but the sting was out of the contest until du Plessis reviewed an lbw shout against Warner off Tahir. Replays showed the ball was pitching outside leg and the over ended with Warner and Tahir in a verbal squabble. The tussle continued into the next over.
Australia entered the last ten overs needing 99 runs, but began that quest with Head skying a pull off Abbott. Matthew Wade was caught behind for 7 to leave Warner wage a lone battle. And he looked like set to drag them over the line till the 47th over.
Australia needed 41 runs from the last three overs when Warner sent the ball to deep point where Tahir was stationed. Warner wanted a second run and took on Tahir’s arm but, in a microcosm of the battle that ran throughout the series, did not win. With that went Australia’s hopes too. (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)