South Africa 274 for 4 (Malan 129*, Klaasen 51) beat Australia 271 (Finch 69, Short 69, Ngidi 6-58) by six wickets
South Africa secured their first series win in 12 months and the first since Mark Boucher’s appointment as coach by completing the highest successful chase in Bloemfontein against Australia. On a slow surface, run scoring was not free-flowing, and South Africa’s initial required rate of 5.44 an over had swelled to 7.60 by the 40th over. But with a well-set opener in Janneman Malan and a fiery finisher in David Miller, South Africa held the nerve to earn their new white-ball captain Quinton de Kock his first cup even though it was not his show.
True to their word from four days ago, the rookies in the South African line-up put their hands up and ensured that de Kock’s duck did not extend their trophy drought. Malan, who became the first batsmen to be dismissed off the very first ball of their debut match last Saturday, scored his first international hundred two days after being left out of the ODI squad to tour India next week. With Temba Bavuma ruled out of the remainder of this series as he manages his hamstring injury, Malan has made the strongest case possible for his position to be reconsidered.
But Malan did not battle alone. He shared in three crucial stands – 91 runs with Jon-Jon Smuts, 81 with Heinrich Klaasen and an unbeaten 90 with Miller – which saw South Africa home. Earlier, Lungi Ngidi’s career-best 6 for 58, which was shared between the top and tail of the Australia innings, in combination with stellar death bowling kept the visitors to 271. South Africa’s attack were collectively impressive, with no-one going for more than six runs an over, and particularly good in the last 10 overs, where they took 6 for 49.
Australia would have been disappointed they did not add more – especially after half-centuries from Aaron Finch at the top of the order and D’Arcy Short in the middle – but even more frustrated with their inability to defend a good total, especially after getting rid of de Kock early. He was bowled by the third ball of the innings, being dismissed by Mitchell Starc for the third time in five white-ball matches across this series when he played for swing but was beaten by the left-arm angle.
Malan and Smuts then knuckled down but only after Smuts was reprieved: he was on 17 when Cummins overstepped and the stand was worth 32. It grew to 91. The hallmark of their partnership was patience as they saw off eight boundary-less overs before Malan pulled Marnus Labuschagne for six. Smuts was the more eager of the pair to get going but it cost him, as he went after an Adam Zampa delivery and was caught at long-on. Kyle Verreynne failed to follow on from his promising debut and was dismissed three overs later when he swung at Cummins and sent him straight to midwicket. By then, Malan had reached fifty, off 68 balls.
Klaasen brought the same level of calm he displayed in his debut hundred and partnered Malan for a crucial 65-run stand. He was the more expressive hitter and went down on one knee to send Ashton Agar, picked ahead of Josh Hazlewood, over long-on for six and then swept him for two fours.
But he also had some luck. He hit the ball into no-man’s land several times, Cummins’ cutter could have had him caught and bowled but the chance crept through his fingertips, and he was given out caught behind off the helmet, on 44, but survived on review. In the next over, Malan top-edged Marsh but the ball fell between four converging fielders.
Just as it seemed fortune favoured South Africa, Klaasen top-edged an attempted slog-sweep and Finch took the catch at square leg. Malan battled on, edging Zampa on 83 and being dropped by Alex Carey and then flogging the legspinner over long-off, accepting Miller’s calls on whether to run or not, even though he could have been run out on successive deliveries. His hundred came with a calculated steer through third man, off the 124th ball he faced and the three fours and three sixes told the story of how tough it was.
Malan opened up after that. He could have seen him strangled down leg, but his flick off Cummins went fine, he thrashed Zampa through the covers and hit Starc through the covers and over backward square to bring the equation down to 16 off the last three overs. South Africa got there with nine balls to spare, with Miller hitting the winning runs to finish on 37 not out and leave Australia wondering where they could have scored more.
Earlier, after Finch had chosen to bat first, Australia started strongly, putting on fifty within seven overs before their momentum was halted when Warner tried to hit an Ngidi ball over the inner ring and gifted Malan a catch at cover. Four overs later, Steve Smith showed similar generosity when he sent Ngidi straight to Smuts at midwicket. The most magnanimous chance came a ball later, as Marnus Labuschagne flashed at the first ball he faced and Malan, at point, accepted it gleefully. That wicket was Ngidi’s 50th in ODIs, a milestone achieved in just 26 matches, and also put him on a hat-trick. He missed out but Australia were still in trouble at 83 for 3.
South Africa could have sunk them deeper but they let chances go. Finch was dropped on 35 when he edged Shamsi to leg slip but Smuts put him down. An easier opportunity came when Short, on 11, offered Andile Phehlulwayo the simplest of return catches but the ball burst through the allrounder’s hands. Short was let off again when he was on 19 and smacked the ball to David Miller at midwicket, who could only parry it away.
Finch and Short went on to post the highest partnership of Australia’s innings, 77, and grew in fluency, especially against Shamsi. Finch hit him for two sixes and a four and brought up his fifty off him, off 70 balls. But just as they had settled, Anrich Nortje returned from an expensive first spell (0-31 in four overs) to separate them. He followed up a 92mph/147kph back-of-a-length ball to Short with a fuller length delivery that Finch edged to de Kock.
Short was joined by Mitchell Marsh and the pair put on 66 for the fifth wicket, with Short’s fifty coming off 65 balls. By the time the last 10 overs began, Australia were in a good position to launch a final assault but South Africa’s attack had other plans. Shamsi had Short caught at point and Phehluwayo got a wicket when he nailed a leg-stump yorker to bowl Marsh.
But it was Ngidi who took the honours at the death. He finished as he began, with a triple strike in his final spell when Agar holed out to long-on, Carey tried to flick him over his shoulder and was caught by de Kock and Cummins was deceived by a slower ball and was caught at mid-on.