Janneman Malan starred with his maiden One-Day International century to lead South Africa to a series win over Australia, turning their fortunes around after what has been a tough season for them. Australia started strong in their 272-run defence, but South Africa slowly and steadily turned things around, led by Malan - who got a golden duck in the first ODI of the series on debut - who held his bat through the innings to give South Africa a six-wicket win on Wednesday (March 4) at the Mangaung Oval in Bloemfontein, controlling the record chase to perfection.
That South Africa managed to restrict Australia to 271 was on the back of a career-best six-wicket haul from Lungi Ngidi. But Australia would've fancied their chances, especially after they struck first-up when Mitchell Starc knocked over skipper Quinton de Kock's middle stump in the opening over. Malan and JJ Smuts - who had come in after Temba Bavuma was ruled out ahead of the clash - took their time in the middle as Australia made scoring tough, giving away just 11 runs in the first five overs - the same period in which David Warner had gone after the bowlers earlier in the day. Australia would've had Smuts back in the hut in the first ten too had Pat Cummins not overstepped. The life gave the second-wicket pair the chance to rebuild and revive South Africa's innings, which they did patiently, in their 91-run stand. Boundaries were difficult to come by early on, but they bide their time to find opportunities. The asking rate crept over seven, but as long as wickets were in hand, South Africa knew they were always in the chase.
Mitchell Marsh pitched the ball up and bowled wicket to wicket, but it was Adam Zampa who broke the threatening stand to bring two wickets. It was the slower one through the air that Smuts chipped straight to long on for 41. Cummins then got Verreynne soon after bringing the in-form Heinrich Klaasen to the middle. The centurion from the previous game, together with Malan, kept Australia at bay en route an 81-run stand that had Australia feeling the pressure. Klaasen got to a half-century and fell soon after, but Malan was in no mood to relent. There was little celebration even as he got to his maiden ODI century, knowing the job wasn't finished. Together with Miller, in an unbeaten half-century stand, Malan led South Africa over the line without much fuss in the end. The lack of boundaries in the death came back to hurt Australia, who had only scored 29 runs in the last five. In stark contrast, having a well-settled batsman helped South Africa, even though they needed 56 off the last seven overs. The 23-year-old Malan eventually remained unbeaten on 129, while Miller kept him company at the other end on 37, with the pair scoring 90 from 61 balls to take South Africa over the line.
After a strong start, regular wickets hurt Australia's chances of getting to a total in excess of 300 on a two-paced wicket. They began in a hurry as Warner found the boundaries at will early on as Australia raced away to 50 runs in the seventh over. Anrich Nortje bowled at good pace, but was taken for runs, conceding 27 in his first three. Ngidi, though, struck in his second over to get the big wicket of Warner, who threw his good start of a 23-ball 35, falling to a short-of-a-length delivery that he chipped straight to cover. From 50 for 0, Australia suddenly slipped to 81/3 with Ngidi scalping the big wickets of Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne in successive deliveries. With that double strike, Ngidi became the fastest South African to reach the landmark of 50 ODI wickets. He returned in the death to complete his maiden five-wicket haul and return his career-best ODI figures of 6 for 58.
Aaron Finch watched his side crumbling from the other end, but the skipper remained unfazed. Australia desperately needed a partnership to get going and the onus was now on Finch to take them forward. He attempted to do that with D'Arcy Short, but the latter's uncertainty at the crease, prevented it early on. Short was handed as many as three lives early on in his innings before he settled down to stage a revival. Although the runs became hard to come by and the rate dropping because of the wickets and the inability of the pair to get going, the burst upfront still kept Australia over the five-run rate. There was little in the wicket for the bowlers, but they were patient and persistent enough to eke out the errors from the batsmen.
Finch reached another ODI half-century, adding 77 for the fourth wicket with Short, who got going himself after the inital jitters. The pair built a strong foundation to take Australia to a strong total. It was that passage of play where South Africa needed an inlet to stem Australia from getting ahead in the game. Skipper Quinton de Kock brought back Nortje after his first spell that almost went for eight-an-over. He struck second ball on return to get the big wicket of Finch after having bowled a snorter to Short in the first. Finch expected a shorter delivery, but Nortje delivered a fuller one to which Finch drove away from his body to get a thick edge to the keeper. Short and Mitchell Marsh joined hands to add 66 runs and take Australia over the 200-run mark in the 37th over, with the former scoring his maiden ODI fifty en route with a total of 290-300 looking quite plausible.
South Africa though, came back strongly, striking at the right time to squander Australia's efforts of getting to that total. A couple of quiet overs and three dots in the over from Tabraiz Shamsi frustrated Short enough for him to commit the error. He was kept in check on the leg-side with no runs coming there, forcing him to cut off the backfoot, but only ended up with a dolly to point. He fell for an 83-ball 69 with Marsh having much to do. Andile Phehlukwayo sent Marsh back soon after for 36 leaving two new batsmen in the middle, with Australia's chances of getting 280 dwindling. South Africa only conceded 29 runs in the last five overs, making a superb comeback to keep Australia to a gettable total, that they scaled rather comfortably in the end with 9 balls to spare.
Brief scores: Australia 271 in 50 overs (Aaron Finch 69, D'Arcy Short 69; Lungi Ngidi 6-58) lost to South Africa 274/4 in 48.3 overs (Janneman Malan 129*, JJ Smuts 41, Heinrich Klaasen 51; Adam Zampa 2-48) by six wickets.
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