We pinpoint the key factors from South Africa’s defeat to Australia in Melbourne on Friday.
Shot of the Day: Captain AB de Villiers’ shot selection was characteristically outstanding, but all-rounder Robin Peterson’s six slapped straight back over fast bowler James Faulkner’s head was remarkably audacious. The ball was duly sent crashing into the sightscreen – no small feat at a ground with straight boundaries substantially longer than other Australian venues.
Delivery of the Day: Seamer Kyle Abbott quickly justified an overdue return to the XI with the key dismissal of opener David Warner. The ball pitched on middle- and leg-stump, off a threatening length, soon straightening to strike the left-hander on the back pad. The umpire’s lbw decision was straightforward. Warner, correctly, didn’t bother with a referral.
Batsman of the Match: The talented Steven Smith almost stole the result away from De Villiers, but ultimately the South African took the proverbial cake – in this category, at least. Australian duo Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins were in awe of the inventive right-hander during a mid-innings interview, with his deft footwork and ability to successfully manipulate off-side lines through the leg-side held in particularly high regard. The 30-year-old narrowly missed a 19th ODI century. The stalwart Herschelle Gibbs sports the most by a South African – 21.
Bowler of the Match: Abbott has almost relinquished the shackles associated with the second-choice seamers and, among some pundits, is now a better pick than the oft-wayward Morne Morkel in ODI cricket. His opening spell at the MCG was remarkably economical and, of course, featured the important removal of Warner. All in vain, though.
Fielder of the Match: Yet again, the fast and fit Faf du Plessis commanded a respected presence – inside the inner circle and as a boundary rider. He held the simple catch that got rid of third-ODI centurion Aaron Finch – and was head and shoulders above the substandard rest, especially butterfingers Wayne Parnell.
Milestone of the Day: Australia had not beaten South Africa in an ODI at the Melbourne Cricket Ground before Friday. The victory was the hosts’ first in seven attempts in the intermediate format of the international game at this venue, ending the slew of defeats copped across 2009, 2002, 1998, 1997, 1994 and 1993.
Fail of the Day: Batsman Farhaan Behardien, consistently criticised for a lack of adequate contribution, really didn’t do himself any favours on Friday, when a dive or a full stretch of the arms – and by extension the bat – was required at the non-striker’s end. A run-out resulted in another failure for the plighted right-hander, whose time in the XI is now more borrowed than ever.
Key Juncture: The recalled Ryan McLaren will be the first to admit the delivery that removed the dangerous Shane Watson was not ideal. The wide half-volley, though, coaxed the batsman into an ugly, ineffective stroke. If not for the hard-hitting Finch’s dismissal, Watson’s departure was arguably the most detrimental to Australia’s initial pursuit, which was eventually rectified – and sealed – by Smith.
Selection Poser: South Africa made as many as four changes to Friday’s XI. While one was admittedly forced, due to leg-spinner Imran Tahir’s injury, altering more than a third of the team all but reeks of a worried, unsettled approach less than four months away from the World Cup.
Quote of the Day: ‘The official team sheet, with the batting order from one to 11, is blank at the start and is then filled in with a pen by team manager, doctor Mohammed Moosajee. De Villiers’ name should be printed at four, so it can’t be changed.’ – former Proteas captain-cum-television commentator Shaun Pollock is unequivocal about the backbone of the middle order.