Proteas batsmen save best for last against Australia

Faf du Plessis (Getty)
Faf du Plessis (Getty)

Manchester - The Proteas delivered easily their most dominant batting performance of the Cricket World Cup on Saturday, setting Australia 326 for victory at Old Trafford in Manchester.

Their 325/6 is their highest score of the tournament, and Australia will have to record the highest run chase of this year's competition if they are to secure top spot on the table heading into the semi-finals. 

The question is: Why could the Proteas not do this earlier in the tournament? 

Two reasons. 

Firstly, the start they had on Saturday saw them lay the perfect foundation, with the scoreboard reading 73/0 after 10 overs following Faf du Plessis' decision to bat first. 

Secondly, the Proteas finally had top order batsmen capitalising on their starts, with Du Plessis (100 off 94) and Rassie van der Dussen (95 off 97) playing innings' of the highest order. 

It was the first time a South African had made a century at this World Cup and even if it came too late to make a difference to the Proteas' failed campaign, it was a special knock from South Africa's leader. 

When Du Plessis knocked Jason Behrendorff to long-off for a single to bring up a 12th ODI ton, the skipper was visibly emotional. 

He dropped his bat and helmet to the Old Trafford turf, bashed away at the Proteas emblem on his chest and then shared an embrace with Van der Dussen that told its own story of how difficult this tournament has been for South Africa. 

Du Plessis was out in the same over, bringing an end to a 151-run partnership off 153 balls for the third wicket. 

Van der Dussen, meanwhile, took a long time to get going after struggling initially. 

He was nearly out stumped on just 4, having already faced 22 balls at that stage, but Aussie wicketkeeper Alex Carey could not gather Glenn Maxwell's non-turning delivery. 

Once he got himself moving, however, Van der Dussen started showing exactly why he has been South Africa's best batsman of the tournament. 

When he hits it, it stays hit, and Van der Dussen launched 4 sixes over the ropes as he made up for his slow start.

There was another frustrating knock from Aiden Markram, who was promoted to the top of the order to open the batting alongside Quinton de Kock after Hashim Amla was ruled out with a knee injury. 

Markram, once again, looked in fine touch as he and De Kock cruised through the early overs and brought up a 50-run partnership in just the 7th over. 

Having played some delightful shots off the quicks, Markram was out for 34 (37) when spinner Nathan Lyon beat him in the flight to have him stumped. 

De Kock, having gone to his third half-century of the tournament, was the next man to go when he played horrible slog-sweep off Lyon that he could only skew to Mitch Starc at a deep gully. 

At 114/2 and with Markram and De Kock (52 off 51) both having thrown their wickets away after promising starts, it looked to be another case of the South African top order not kicking on. 

Du Plessis, though, was superb. 

He played with a freedom, confidence and a temperament that has been missing for most of the tournament from a South African perspective. 

Able to rotate the strike with ease, Du Plessis was also able to dispatch the poor balls to and over the fence with authority. 

It was the type of innings that the Proteas needed in their other matches in situations that mattered. 

JP Duminy, in his final ODI, was out for 14 (13).

@LloydBurnard is in England covering the 2019 Cricket World Cup for Sport24 ...  

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