Australian hand-wringing about taking an under-strength bowling attack to South Africa was placed in sharp perspective on a breezy morning in Port Elizabeth. Facing a South African side resting three first-choice bowlers in a dead rubber, Steven Smith’s side were shot out for a mere 167 to set-up a six-wicket win.
Kyle Abbott and Tabraiz Shamsi were the chief tormentors of the tourists, the former finding exactly the right length to best use the early movement on offer, the latter re-opening the sorts of wounds inflicted by Sri Lanka’s spin bowlers on Australia’s previous tour with a clever spell of left arm wrist-spin. Neither had been needed in the live matches.
Save for a 50 by Mitchell Marsh and a punchy contribution from Matthew Wade, the most notable moment for Australia was Wade’s running battle with Shamsi. This culminated in something very near to a physical clash as Wade hung his elbow out while running past Shamsi, causing the umpires to intervene.
There were further exchanges as the Australians sought to defend their meagre total. Clearly the visitors had intended to fight this one out, but despite an improved bowling effort they never really had a chance to bowl South Africa out. A pair of missed chances did not help either, most notably a sitter dropped by Adam Zampa off Faf du Plessis, who went on to top-score with 69.
Overall this was another performance South Africa could be proud of, demonstrating that their ODI squad presently has plenty of depth to it. South Africa had withdrawn the injured David Miller plus Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Imran Tahir. In their places were Abbott, Farhaan Behardien, Aaron Phangiso and Shamsi.
The visitors made only one change to the team that lost from such a strong position in Durban, recalling Scott Boland for Daniel Worrall. Australia’s batsmen had regained some of their former strut at Kingsmead, and after Smith won the toss the expectation would have been to capitalise on a seemingly weakened home attack.
However, Abbott took full advantage of both his first start in the series and a modicum of early seam movement with the new ball. First he bowled Aaron Finch through the gate with a lovely delivery that shaped to swing away before cutting back, then followed up with an appreciably quicker ball that surprised Warner with pace and movement back between bat and pad.
At the other end, Dwaine Pretorius provided a neat contrast with his greater height and high action, angling one back to George Bailey for an lbw verdict from the umpire Nigel Llong. All of a sudden Australia were 12 for 3, the innings in grim shape and the allrounder Marsh already at the crease.
He and Smith tried to steady things for a time, but the introduction of Shamsi’s left-arm wristspin brought another period of South African jubilation. Smith propped forward to a ball straightening down the line of the stumps, and a review found he was struck in line for the lbw. In the same over, Travis Head played inside a delivery that straightened past his groping blade, and a scoreline of 50 for 5 was the deflating result.
Not for the first time in his career, Wade came out spoiling for a fight, and a series of verbal confrontations with Shamsi escalated to the point that he hung out an elbow while running more or less straight at the bowler. That moment caused Llong to speak to both players and call for calm.
Marsh played sensibly meanwhile, forging to 50 and offering Australia the faintest hope of a reasonable tally. However he had not made another run when Abbott returned to coax an outside edge, and re-commence the procession of wickets. Wade and Chris Tremain were able to add a pesky 46, but even that still left Australia with comfortably their lowest ODI total at St George’s Park.
Tremain delivered a decent opening spell at the start of South Africa’s pursuit, which began before the scheduled innings break because Australia’s innings had ended so quickly. Hashim Amla was lbw to a break-back before Quinton de Kock picked out deep square leg with a sweetly-struck pull shot.
However du Plessis and JP Duminy were able to carry the hosts past halfway to the target, notably getting on top of the experienced John Hastings once again: his high economy has been one of many problems for Smith’s team. Zampa’s drop of du Plessis did not help either, causing plenty of befuddled looks on the team balcony.
When du Plessis did finally fall, the tourists upped their intensity in the middle, “chirping” frequently at the new batsman Farhaan Behardien. But it was sound and fury signifying nothing, as the total was reeled in with 87 balls to spare. A whitewash looms in Cape Town.