A battling Australia, brilliantly led by Aaron Finch, somehow found a way to beat the Proteas by seven runs in a thrilling ODI at the Adelaide Oval on Friday to keep the series alive.
Chasing 232 for victory, the Proteas finished on 224/9. With South Africa winning the first ODI in Perth last Sunday, the teams will now go to Hobart for the decider on Sunday.
It was a much-needed win for the Australians who had lost their last seven ODIs and were under huge pressure for cricketing and other reasons.
It was a match in which the bowlers generally held the whip hand over the batsmen with only David Miller reaching 50 in a relatively low-scoring contest. It was Miller’s hairline dismissal on referral in the 44th over, leg before to Marcus Stoinis after he had advanced 2.7 metres down the pitch and initially been given not out, that proved to be the killer blow for the home team.
With the game virtually won, there was late drama when Lungi Ngidi slammed leg-spinner Adam Zampa for six off the last ball of the 49th over before hitting Glenn Maxwell for four off the first ball of the final over with South Africa needing 20 to win in the final stanza. But Maxwell held his nerve and although Imran Tahir smacked the final ball for four, it wasn’t enough.
From a South African perspective – and after a good bowling performance – they will be disappointed by the number of soft wickets they gave away, with Quinton de Kock getting out to a lazy pickup shot off Mitchell Starc that went down long-leg’s throat, Aiden Markram running himself out when well set and Heinrich Klaasen tamely pulling Stoinis to midwicket.
South Africa’s key partnership was between skipper Faf du Plessis and Miller after the visitors had crumbled to 68/4. With the run-rate under control, the two men batted sensibly to add 74 for the fifth wicket before Du Plessis chopped on to Pat Cummins for 47 in the 30th over.
Dwaine Pretorius, in the team for Andile Phehlukwayo, helped Miller add another 30 but Finch’s aggressive use of his impressive frontline bowlers meant that the batsmen were always under pressure and played too many dot balls.
Earlier, the Proteas bowled Australia out for 231 in 48.3 overs after Faf du Plessis had won the toss and put his opponents in to bat, largely because he wanted to apply more psychological pressure after Perth.
The visitors generally bowled with good discipline and fielded with intensity with Reeza Hendricks taking top prize for a brilliant catch at short midwicket to dismiss Stoinis. The Australian batsmen, like the South Africans later on, got a number of starts but failed to go on.
There were three 40s and two 20s in the Australian innings, but poor shot selection at key moments meant that their final total was below the average score (since the advent of drop-in pitches at Adelaide) of 258.
Kagiso Rabada was South Africa’s most successful bowler, taking 4/54 in 9.3 overs. Although he was expensive at times, he showed good aggression throughout, always looking for wickets.
He was at the centre of the most dramatic over of the match, the 27th, when big-hitting Chris Lynn smashed him for 6444 before the big fast bowler bowled a fiery bouncer that the batsman gloved to wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock who took one of four catches in the innings.
Lynn, who looked as though he could inflict real damage, thus departed for a run-a-ball 44 (3×4, 2×6).
A surprising success for the Proteas, given his modest pace on such a good batting surface, was Pretorius who captured 3/32 in his 10 overs.
Pretorius mixed up his pace cleverly and bowled with good discipline, but the Australians would have been disappointed by the extent of his success with the medium-pacer taking the key scalps of Finch (41), Maxwell (15) and Stoinis (2) – all relatively soft dismissals.
A resurgent Dale Steyn was arguably the Proteas’ best bowler, bowling with good pace and discipline. He was the only South African bowler to swing the ball and he was good value for his excellent figures of 2/31 in 10 overs.
Leg-spinner Tahir also played his part, going for an economic 38 runs in his spell although he failed to take a wicket.
The final member of South Africa’s pace trio, Lungi Ngidi, made the initial breakthrough when he trapped opener Travis Head leg before for eight, but thereafter was a little loose, going for 67 runs in his nine overs.
AUSTRALIA: Travis Head, Aaron Finch (capt), Shaun Marsh, Chris Lynn, Alex Carey (wk), Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa, Josh Hazlewood
SOUTH AFRICA: Quinton de Kock (wk), Reeza Hendricks, Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis (capt), Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Dwaine Pretorius, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Imran Tahir