Australia 254 for 7 (Labuschagne 108, Nortje 2-35) v South Africa
Marnus Labuschagne celebrated his return to his home town (or at least the closest cricket ground to it) with his maiden 50-over century for his adopted country, in just his sixth ODI. With a significant extended family presence in the stands, Labuschagne came off a first-ball duck in Bloemfontein, to score a run-a-ball hundred in an otherwise laboured Australian innings against a miserly South African attack.
On a hot late summer’s day and a slow pitch, which is only set to get slower, run-scoring proved difficult until the last five overs, in which Australia scored 42 runs. In Lungi Ngidi’s absence, South Africa’s quicks adjusted well and delivered plenty of slower balls to hold their ends well, while their spinners strangled Australia in the mid-section of the innings.
Quinton de Kock used seven bowlers, though perhaps he did not need that many. Only Keshav Maharaj bowled his full quota of 10 overs but a case could be made that all of Anrich Nortje, Lutho Sipamla, debutant Daryn Dupavillon and Jon-Jon Smuts, who all went at less than 5.5 runs an over, should have.
Nortje started speedily, clocking 151kph at one stage, and drew first blood when he found David Warner’s outside-edge in the fifth over. His new-ball partner Sipamla did not have the same gas but kept Aaron Finch quiet with tight lines that saw Australia finish the Powerplay on 38 for 1. The only criticism that could have been levelled against South Africa at that time was that Sipamla may have bowled an over too many, with his fifth costing 10 runs, after the first four went for 11.
He was replaced by Andile Phehlukwayo, who made the big breakthrough with his third delivery when he dismissed Steve Smith. Australia’s No.3 walked across his stumps looking for the flick fine but was hit on the back pad. He reviewed, hoping it was going down leg, but ball-tracking showed it just clipping, which brought the home hero to the crease.
Labuschagne, who grew up in Klerksdorp 50 kilometres away, had a repair job on his hands which started badly when debutant Dupavillon had Aaron Finch caught at short extra cover. David Miller scooped the ball inches off the turf and the catch had to be checked but it was clean. D’Arcy Short joined Labuschagne and was proactive in threading Phehlukwayo through the covers and over backward square and sweeping part-timer offspinner Heinrich Klaasen for four but also found it difficult to get South Africa away.
Between overs 20 and 30, Keshav Maharaj, Klaasen and Smuts gave away only three boundaries. In the 31st over, Labuschagne reached fifty off 59 balls and at the start of the 32nd over, Short tried to launch Smuts over mid-on but was lazy on the stroke and caught at mid-on, ending an 81-run fourth-wicket stand. That left it to Mitchell Marsh to try and get a move on but he had to wait for the spinners to finish before he could. He hit the first and only six of the innings, in the 38th over, when he scooped Dupavillon over backward square but it was back to the grind immediately thereafter.
Australia entered the last 10 overs on 180 for 4 and scored only nine runs in the next two overs, and Marsh knew runs had to come from somewhere. When Labuschagne drove Smuts into the covers, he ran, even as Miller cut off the shot. Marsh was well short of his ground when the underarm throw came into de Kock’s end and was run-out. Three balls later, Alex Carey played all around a Smuts’ ball and was bowled.
Australia’s 200 came up in the 45th over, which finished with them on 201 for 6 and in need of a late assault. Labuschagne decided it was time. He took successive fours off Sipamla to enter the 80s and then scored three in a row off Phehlulwayo to go deep into the 90s. In eight deliveries, Labuschagne went from 75 to 97 and two balls later, brought up his hundred with great gusto. Labuschagne pulled out the double-fisted air punch as almost an entire section of the stand stood to applaud. They were on their feet again in the final over, when Labuschagne was bowled by Nortje with the penultimate ball of the innings.