Do you have any nails left?

2009-01-23 00:00

IT promised much, and it duly delivered. South Africa and Australia are making an entertaining habit of turning their clashes into nailbiters.

They were at it again yesterday, with only a brutal assault by South Africa’s latest ace in the pack, Albie Morkel, sealing a three-wicket win.

The Proteas again won a match that they had seemed destined to lose. At 114 without loss, the Aussies looked primed to breach 300.

But Johan Botha led the fightback with a high quality spell of tight spin bowling. What the stand-in skipper lacks in natural ability, he more than makes up for with guts.

Australian skipper lamented his side’s wobble after a superb start.

“We were a lot short with our batting, at one stage we were looking for 300,” Ponting said.

“We’ve been 30 or 40 short in all three games so we’ve got to look at that.”

David Warner was back to his blasting best, belting a Steyn over for 17 on his way to 69 off 60 balls.

David Hussey (36) and James Hopes (33) tried to rally, but 269 was well short of the total that their electric start had promised.

The South Africans started nervously, with both Hashim Amla and Herschelle Gibbs dropped in Shaun Tait’s opening over.

Amla didn’t last much longer, but to the relief of all South Africans, Gibbs was back at his brutal best. His driving off Tait and then Mitchell Johnson was imperious, as he put on a fluent 96 with Jacques Kallis.

Gibbs eventually holed out for 64 off just 52 balls, but he had given the innings the impetus it needed. Kallis (60) passed 10 000 ODI runs, but there was a bit of a wobble when he, AB de Villiers (5) and Duminy (9) all fell in quick succession.

But Neil McKenzie and Mark Boucher settled the nerves before the Morkel show got into full swing.

Morkel was crucially dropped on 6 by Tait — whose fielding in the series has been woeful — and he never looked back.

Such is the confidence in Morkel that Botha immediately called on his batting powerplay as soon as the left-hander arrived at the crease.

He and Boucher played sensibly as they only needed a run a ball, but Morkel struck the decisive blows in Nathan Hauritz’s return over. He carted him over mid-wicket for a towering six, before smearing another two boundaries.

Though he holed out in the same over, he had all but taken the Proteas home and it was fittingly left to the increasingly impressive captain Botha to drive Tait through the covers for the winning runs.

“We pulled it really back nicely in the field,” Botha commented.

“Hopefully we can finish it off in Adelaide and that would be great for the team,” he added, referring to the fourth match on Monday.

That will be Australia Day, a national holiday, and Ponting needs nothing more than a win to keep the thrilling five-match series alive.

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