AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis scored centuries to seal an emphatic win for the Proteas, after Australia set a target of 328 in Harare.
It was the first ODI between these fierce rivals since October 2011, and it provided an indication of how they compare heading into the World Cup. It was also a chance for the players to prove that could get the job done against quality opposition.
South Africa’s pursuit of 328 got off to a positive start. Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock scored at better than six to the over, before the 44-run partnership was broken with the second ball of the eighth over. Amla was caught at point for 24, after cutting a short ball straight to the fielder.
The wicket brought an in-form Du Plessis to the crease. He had faced just a few deliveries when De Kock was caught in the deep for 19. Two quick wickets had reduced the Proteas to 51-2 after nine overs when De Villiers joined his school friend in the middle.
The former Affies pupils played with freedom, taking the score to 120-2 after 20 overs. Du Plessis and then De Villiers proceeded to bring up their half-centuries off 54 and 49 balls, respectively. The two rotated strike beautifully in the middle overs, reaching the drinks break on 204-2 after 32 overs.
Mitchell Johnson had a chance to haul his team back into the game in the 35th over when De Villiers spooned back an easy return catch while on 78. Almost surprised by the fact that the batsman had made a mistake, Johnson dropped the chance. Australia were rattled and when George Bailey gave De Villiers another life in the next over, Australia’s opportunities had gone and with them the hope of pulling the match out of the fire.
The first three balls of the 37th over saw both batsmen reach their centuries with boundaries through the off side. Du Plessis fell off the final delivery of the eventful over for 106 off 98 balls. The partnership had added 206 and taken South Africa to 257-3.
JP Duminy came in and kept the foot on the accelerator to help De Villiers steer the team home by 7 wickets with 20 balls to spare. He scored 33 while De Villiers finished on 136. It was an impressive display by the batsmen, but the bowling unit will look to improve in their next outing.
Earlier, De Villiers won the toss and inserted Australia, who proceeded to post 327-7. The innings started ominously for South Africa as Aaron Finch and Phillip Hughes looked organised from the first delivery. Each clattered a boundary in Dale Steyn’s first over, taking 10 runs off the first six balls, to make a statement.
The South African quicks struggled to adjust their line to the left and right-handed opening combination. There were far too many deliveries angled into the pads and they were dealt with accordingly. As a result, Australia got off to a flier, bringing up their 50 in the eighth over.
After the seamers proved ineffective, Imran Tahir came on to bowl the 15th over with the score on 83-0. The leg-spinner started well with a flat, accurate over which conceded just three runs. He tossed it up a bit more as his spell continued and once he started to extract some turn, he looked the likeliest to strike.
Hughes’ incredible record against South Africa showed no signs of ending as he brought up his 50 of 56 deliveries. However, his achilles heel of playing spin came to the fore as he offered a catch to cover off the bowling of Tahir. AB de Villiers pouched the simple chance to see the back of the opener for 51, leaving Australia on 92-1.
Finch marched on after the loss of his opening partner, seeing Australia past the 100-mark before bringing up his half-century. Just as it looked like Mitchell Marsh and Finch were forming a partnership, Tahir trapped the former plumb in front for five. The wicket saw Bailey walk to the crease in the 24th over with the scoreboard reading 115-2.
Australia sprung a surprise by taking the powerplay after just 30 overs. It meant that Tahir, who was in the midst of a good spell, was replaced by the quicks. With the ball coming onto the bat, Bailey and Finch smashed 45 runs off the next five overs to take the score to 190-2 after 35 overs.
Aaron finch brought up his 100 off 111 balls, taking Australia to 216-2 after 38 overs. The innings had been set up for an assault at the death, but when Finch tried to explode he was caught in the deep for 102.
A flurry in the last 10 overs saw wickets tumble for the cause. The two big fish, Bailey and Glen Maxwell, fell for 66 and seven, respectively. Australia bat deep, though, and managed to post an imposing 327.
Tahir was the pick of the bowlers, returning figures of 2-45 in his 10 over ration. His spell and a few wickets from the quicks at the death restricted the target to one that the Proteas had a chance of chasing.
Report compiled by Gareth Stevens.