A Steve Smith hundred took Australia to a three-wicket victory over the Proteas in Melbourne on Friday.
South Africa took the field with the knowledge that they had never tasted defeat in an ODI at the ground against Australia in six matches. In fact, they’d only lost once at the venue – to England in the World Cup. The confidence was immediately evident as the opening pair of Dale Steyn and Kyle Abbott beat the bat regularly.
They were defending a total of 267, after winning the toss and batting first, and having the sublime AB de Villiers (91 off 88 balls) and David Miller to thank, the pair putting on 122 for the fourth wicket. However, at one stage they were thinking of 300, but only 51 runs were added in the final 10 overs.
Abbott was particularly impressive and trapped the dangerous David Warner plumb in front for just four. The rest of the top and middle-order followed him back to the pavilion to leave Australia in real trouble at 98-5 in the 25th over.
Steve Smith and Matthew Wade then went about rebuilding the innings, knowing that one mistake would expose the tail. They dealt with the pressure brilliantly, racking up 121 together. The partnership put the hosts in control going into the final 10 overs.
Wade eventually fell for a 59-ball 52 in the 45th over with the scoreboard reading 219-6. At the other end, Smith brought up his second ODI century. He led the side to the brink of victory, getting out for 104 off 112 balls while attempting to hit the winning runs.
James Faulkner showed how important a long batting line-up is in ODI cricket. He walked in at No 8 and smashed an unbeaten 34 off just 19 deliveries to seal a three-wicket win with an over to spare.
Earlier, that 122-run partnership between De Villiers and Miller set up a defendable total. The top order all got starts with Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis contributing 17, 18 and 28, respectively.
A few soft dismissals saw Miller join De Villiers with the scoreboard reading 77-3 and the threat of the fragile lower order being exposed once again. They first took South Africa to safely and then into a position of strength.
Miller fell for 45 in the 37th over, after taking the score to 199. At that stage it looked as if a minimum of 300 was on the cards, which has never been chased in Melbourne. At the other end, De Villiers was in cruise control until he found the man on the leg-side boundary. It was a golden opportunity to score a big hundred, but his 88-ball 91 once again showed why he is regarded as the best ODI player on the planet.
Once the two big fish were back in the hut the same old gremlins crept in. Nobody in the lower order managed to score at more than a run a ball and wickets fell at regular intervals. As a result, the innings crawled to its conclusion, ending on 267-8.
Report compiled by Gareth Stevens.