As it happened: Australia v South Africa, 4th ODI, Melbourne
The Aussies on Friday produced a fightback of note – simultaneously ticking more boxes than their opponents did for mental strength and composure – in Melbourne to win the fourth one-day international by three wickets for an unassailable 3-1 lead with one to play at the SCG on Sunday.
Right now they look in better broad shape than the Proteas do to claim the Australasian-staged tournament in February and March; this has been a timely statement of intent from them, whether the series ends 3-2 or 4-1.
The latest match did at least confirm that there is not an awful lot to separate these adversaries, so South Africa still have some time to revisit the drawing board and find methods - or certain fresh personnel - to iron out deficiencies and find that critical “extra 10 percent” of polish and professionalism that might just restore bilateral parity.
This tour has been a fender-bender more than an outright train smash, so extreme, panic-laden steps are unlikely and, arguably, ill-advised.
It has confirmed that the Proteas still sport plenty of match-winning individuals – captain AB de Villiers, for instance, extended at the MCG his unfailing personal batting form – and a few holes will also be filled when the cricketing package that is JP Duminy returns to the side for the World Cup.
The majority of the parts are still very decent when you examine what the South Africans have: it is the “whole” that provides ongoing, really complex angst.
What is happening too often of late is the Proteas getting into good positions with either bat or ball, or both, within specific matches but then not being able to ram home that advantage due to structural deficiencies in their XI.
The Australian television commentators may get absurdly too excited and reverent about their own, beloved national team but when they refer constantly to a “last 10 overs” problem both at the crease and with the ball in hand by South Africa, most us would have to admit they aren’t getting that observation wrong.
The Proteas had looked well set to register a total of between 280 and 300 on Friday, which might have made all the difference to the result, but once again their lower order showed a glaring inability to get the ball to -- or over – the ropes during the supposed high-octane run-in period.
Ending with only 267 gave the Aussies the sniff they wanted, and there was a whole over to spare when they gleefully broke their hitherto 100 percent, six-game losing duck against these opponents at the huge venue.
That said, we also got further, all too painful evidence that even a heap of early strikes by the Proteas’ attack doesn’t automatically translate into success if the match drags into the “death” phase of the 50 overs – they just seem to lose their lines the closer you get to the climax.
Many SA supporters will be scratching their heads ruefully over the fact that the visitors really had Australia by the short and curlies at 98 for five, around halfway through the chase in overs terms.
But then a flying Steve Smith, a real scourge in the last two contests, and diminutive wicketkeeper Matthew Wade combined for a partnership of 121 in 20 overs to turn the game on its head.
It also helped tremendously that the Aussies could field a No 8, in James Faulkner, capable of lashing 34 not out off only 19 deliveries – what South Africa would give right now for someone of such make-up in that berth of their own.
Recriminations came, understandably, reasonably thick and fast in the SuperSport studio back home after the series-deciding outcome.
Mark Boucher said: “When we were bad (at different times in the match) we were really bad ... we just gave them 20 to 30 runs through bad bowling.”
Kepler Wessels was also disapproving: “(Most of) the bowlers just unravelled ... lengths left a lot to be desired.
“Under pressure we still tend to panic a bit, which is worrying. You can’t keep talking about ‘learning experience, learning experience’ for some of our players who have many (matches under the belt) – there comes a time when the learning must stop.”
Another former national captain, Shaun Pollock, pointed to the brighter side of David Miller producing his third innings of some consequence in four appearances in the series – he had also got a stinker of a leg-before decision in Canberra – plus Kyle Abbott again serving notice that he deserves a longer run in the side for his bowling discipline, something that is manna from heaven at this point.
As if their current, relative distress isn’t enough, main X-factor batsman De Villiers injured a rib in the field, looked in discomfort for some time afterwards and may well be a serious doubt as the Proteas try to pull back some pride in Sydney ...
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