Australia 193 for 5 (Warner 57, Finch 55) beat South Africa 96 (Agar 3-16, Starc 3-23) by 97 runs
South Africa failed to win a fourth successive home series and will go a full calendar year without a trophy since they beat Sri Lanka at home last March following defeat to Australia in the series finale in Cape Town. After choosing to field first, South Africa’s five-man attack leaked runs in the first half of Australia’s innings but it was their batting line-up that really let them down.
Their chase was up before it had even properly begun when they reduced to 23 for 2 in the third over and 65 for 5 at the halfway stage. Australia needed just 5.3 more overs to wrap up their victory and condemn South Africa to their second-worst defeat in this format, five days after subjecting them to their worst.
The visitors played a near-perfect game with half-centuries from David Warner and Aaron Finch, the top two run-scorers in the series, setting them up for a big score. After an opening stand of 120 in 11.3 overs, Australia would have been eyeing a total over 200 but a slowing surface and a more disciplined South African performance left them seven runs short. It was still more than enough for a South Africa side that has been light on batting throughout this series.
With only six specialist batsmen in the side and none of them even reaching 100 runs in the series, South Africa’s lack of experience is obvious. Scratch below that and look at who has been responsible for their problems and their struggles against spin become clear. Ashton Agar and Adam Zampa lead the wicket-takers’ list and have tied South Africa down all series.
Against spin, across the three matches, South Africa faced 129 balls, scored 125 runs and lost 13 wickets. That means spin has averaged 9.62 runs a wicket and has an economy rate of 5.81 runs per over.
Current captain gone, former captain gone, game gone
Much of this match seemed like something we had seen not too long ago (hint: in Johannesburg last Friday night when set South Africa a target of 197) but especially the third ball of South Africa’s reply.
Quinton de Kock was beaten by late outswing from Mitchell Starc and bowled, exactly as he was on the third ball of South Africa’s innings at the Wanderers. Given that de Kock was the only batsmen to have scored more than 70 runs in the series, South African fans would have understandably assumed that was the end of their hopes in the chase. But for the die-harders that realisation may only have come two overs later, when Faf du Plessis tried to launch Starc over third man and sent his outside edge swirling to Zampa just inside the rope. At 23 for 3, with 171 to get from 17 overs, South Africa’s night was all but over.
But if you still weren’t quite sure of how far off the mark South Africa (aka ZA) were, then Zampa provided three more pointers before the halfway stage. He bowled Heinrich Klaasen, who got everything in his pre-meditated switch-hit right besides the ‘hit’ part and brought out a Dale Steyn-style chainsaw celebration. Then, he took a stunning catch low down sprinting in from third man to dismiss Rassie van der Dussen, who played two ramp shots in two balls and misjudged his placement.
And finally, Zampa bowled Pite van Biljon, whose debut series has got worse as it progressed, with scores of 16, 7* and 1. South Africa were 65 for 5 after 10 overs, and needed 129 runs to win and 87 to avoid a record-defeat. Only the second of those was realistically achievable. Still, South Africa lost their last five wickets for nine runs and were comprehensively outplayed.
A near-perfect powerplay
Australia’s openers put on the best powerplay of the series, and their joint third-highest of all time as they stormed to 75 without loss in the first six overs. All of the four seamers South Africa tried in the opening exchange were equally profligate, going for 12 runs an over each with three leg byes making up the rest of that score.
Finch and Warner struck eight fours and two sixes between them but their running between the wickets told the real story of their aggression. Both of them took off almost as soon as they had hit the ball, even if there was a fielder swooping in and they caught South Africa off guard. Their 14 singles, one two and one three may not have contributed as much as their boundaries but it signaled their intent. As a result, South Africa only bowled seven dot balls in the powerplay, the lowest ever.
The comeback overs
On cue, once the half-way stage of the innings had been reached, South Africa began the squeeze with Tabraiz Shamsi recovering from 18 runs off his first two overs, to only five off his third. Shamsi set South Africa up to make a breakthrough which came in the 12th over, bowled by Anrich Nortje.
It started with Finch zipping through for a single and placing Warner on strike. Keen to keep things going, Warner cleared his front leg to try and launch the second ball over the off side but Nortje foxed him with a cutter and Warner was well beaten. That was enough to frustrate him and he was late on the pull off the next ball and well caught by David Miller, who was running backward from short midwicket.
Finch faced the fourth ball and wanted a run when he hit to backward point but there wasn’t one. He was also frustrated and threw his hands at the fifth delivery but missed and ended the over with the single he wanted. Two runs came off that Nortje over, plus the wicket. ESPNcricinfo’s forecaster adjusted the total from 210 at the start of the over to 198 at the end and it proved to the catalyst for their comeback. Shamsi’s fourth over cost only four runs as he ended with an analysis of 4-0-25-1.
Rabada vs Smith
The first ball Kagiso Rabada bowled to Steve Smith in the series opener in Johannesburg was top-edged over third man for six as Australia’s former captain drew first blood in the rivalry which began with a shoulder brush two years ago. The first ball Rabada bowled to Smith in the finale was a slower-ball yorker which went through his legs and dismantled his stumps and the honours between the two would have been even.
But replays showed Rabada had overstepped significantly and Smith, who was on six at the time, went to finish unbeaten on 30. It was clear who the real winner was.