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Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade added 40 to take Australia home, after Aiden Markram and David Miller briefly arrested South Africa’s slide with the bat

Australia 121 for 5 (Smith 35, Stoinis 24*, Nortje 2-21) beat South Africa 117 for 9 (Markram 40, Hazlewood 2-19, Zampa 2-21) by five wickets

A wicket off the third ball of spin. Their best player playing on in inexplicable fashion. A batter losing his footing and getting run-out. This really wasn’t South Africa’s day but they didn’t care. They had a job to do. Defending 118. Temba Bavuma’s men made the first match of the Super 12s in the 2021 T20 World Cup one for the ages. It is a shame they had to settle for second best.

Australia persevered and persevered. This was their game. With the benefit of a few players coming off a good IPL, they knew just what to do on a slow Abu Dhabi pitch. Josh Hazlewood (4-1-19-2) and Glenn Maxwell (4-0-24-1) were particularly devilish to deal with, their tight lines and into-the-wicket style completely tying the opposition down. It still came down to their batting, which has not been their strength lately. But Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade came good when it mattered most, their 40-run stand in only 26 balls sealing a profoundly valuable victory. Especially given they are in the group of death.

Power on. Power off
Bavuma smacked 11 runs off the first five balls of the game from Mitchell Starc. His two shots – through point and cover – were a symbol of South Africa’s form heading into this T20 World Cup. They are here having beaten the current world champions and former world champions in back-to-back T20I series. They wouldn’t have wanted to crumble like this. But crumble they did, starting with Bavuma, who played back to the innings’ third ball of spin and lost his stumps.

If there was a hint of bad luck about that dismissal – tiiiiiiiny bit of low bounce – there came one that was just a big black omen.

The ball was basic. Length. No swing. No seam. No nothing. Quinton de Kock wanted to boss it. He went for a scoop. He mis-hit it. And then everything stopped. The ball hung in the air. Right over the stumps. Eventually it began moving. In slow motion. de Kock’s eyes were horror-movie wide. He stood absolutely still. Watching the chaos. As that little white cherry plonked right on top of his stumps.

South Africa 29 for 3 in six overs.

The slide
Aiden Markram and David Miller tried to pick up the pieces through the middle overs, but a double-wicket over from Adam Zampa put paid to that. The legspinner has always been key to Australia’s limited-overs fortunes in recent years, and he was able to break the partnership with a googly that the batter failed to read. Miller saw a ball on his pads and went for the big sweep. It turned the wrong way and pinned him in front. That little bit of magic, combined with excellent discipline from the fast bowlers, forced South Africa from 80 for 4 to 83 for 7 in the space of six balls.

The last wicket of that collapse was rather gruesome. Keshav Maharaj hit the ball to point and wanted a non-existent single. Markram responded at first, but changed his mind and only just made his ground. The throw though beat the fielder backing up and that prompted Maharaj to look for the single again, only Markram saw none of it because his back was turned. By the time Maharaj cottoned on, he was halfway down the pitch and, in his hurry to get back, he slipped and fell and became a punch line.

Australia. South Africa. World Cup. Run-out.

The finish
No chase in the UAE is done until the last ball is bowled. All day, the batters found it hard to hit out on this slow pitch. South Africa used that to their benefit, toppling Aaron Finch, David Warner and Mitchell Marsh cheaply. Steven Smith was guiding the chase beautifully, but he too fell before the job was done. Maxwell followed him three balls later and suddenly Australia were 81 for 5, still needing 38 off the last five overs.

This was what South Africa were waiting for. Two new batters facing the heat in the death.

Wade and Stoinis open the innings in the Big Bash League back home. But with the national team filled with top-order players, the only way they fit in the XI is as finishers. And while this isn’t the first time they are performing that role for Australia, World Cup pressure changes everything.

They weathered it at first, the partnership inching along on 9 off 9, and then it blossomed when Wade pulled off an audacious scoop off Kagiso Rabada to end the 17th over. Stoinis joined in later, hitting three fours in the final six balls to seal the game and end the fight.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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