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SOUTH AFRICA V AUSTRALIA ODIS

Durban disaster proves no ODI total is safe

07 October 2016
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Lehmann reflects on changing nature of the game as another mammoth chase is added to Australia's unwanted record

About the Writer:
 @ARamseyCricket

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.

If South Africa's pursuit of a target never before seen at Kingsmead proved anything, it's that 'required run rate' now takes its place alongside 'fast-medium or medium-fast' and 'career half-centuries' as cricket's most meaningless yardsticks.

There was a time, before the days of super sprung bats and ever-shrinking outfields, when the sight of a batting team's assignment ballooning beyond 10 runs per over in the final stretch of an ODI gave bowlers and their captains visible cause to relax.

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Especially with half the opposition back in the hut and just a couple of pesky allrounders and a brace of tailenders to vainly flail at the notional victory mark.

But as David Miller proved, in concert with a couple of lower-order mates who boasted a combined total of 13 international runs between them prior to Wednesday night, no chase is too "incredible" or "ridiculous".

The adjectives very precisely chosen to describe Miller's innings by his almost overwhelmed captain Faf du Plessis in the shadows of South Africa's scarcely imaginable four wicket win to seal a series win over the world champions.

 

'This shows the direction we're going in': Du Plessis
 

 


But du Plessis also gave an insight into the thinking of the modern batters' psyche when he revealed that the South Africa dressing room never felt that the second-highest run chase in the 45-year history of ODI cricket was beyond them.

Even with the top five batsmen back in the hutch, more than 150 runs needed from less than 20 overs at a rate above eight from each one, and a pair of allrounders playing their first international tournament plus three card-carrying tailenders to accompany Miller to the finish.

"We just wanted to get it to 90 (runs needed) off the last 10 (overs), and we knew that with a little bit of inexperience in the Australian death bowling there was perhaps a bit of an opportunity for us to try and get the runs," du Plessis said at game's end.

"It is very hard to bowl at someone like Dave (Miller) when he's striking the ball that well.

"He's done that many a time in the IPL (Indian Premier League) when the best bowlers in the world, he's taken them down."

But Miller also admitted post-match that he struggled to get his innings going, and was desperately trying not to let on that he was anxious and agitated as the 'runs needed' fell ever further behind the 'balls remaining'.

'This means the world to me': Miller
 


From where everyone else was watching, he looked utterly assured from the moment he arrived in the middle to join his senior partner JP Duminy, with victory still around 200 runs away in the fading distance.

When Miller went to the wicket in the 24th over, he also did so in the knowledge there was not a specialist batsmen left in the sheds to follow him.

And that the run rate required throughout the second half of South Africa's innings was a daunting 7.5 from each and every over of the 26 overs that remained.

Yet the 27-year-old left-hander began as if he was settling in for a lengthy Test innings, despite never having tried his hand at the elite red-ball form of the game.

He bunted the first two deliveries he received from Adam Zampa politely back to the bowler, then repeatedly found Australia's in-fielders with marginally more forceful strokes in the overs that followed as Zampa and Mitchell Marsh leaked just nine runs from three-and-a-half nagging overs.

By the time the 28th over began Miller looked up at the huge electronic scoreboard that revealed he had managed just five from 15 balls faced, and the asking rate had lifted to bang on eight.

So 'bang' went Miller.

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A six swatted at head height into the spectators beyond the midwicket fence that sounded both a pressure relief and a battle cry, followed by consecutive crushing boundaries later in that same Zampa over.

Miller was away, and Australia had good reason to fear even when Duminy's departure saw allrounders Dwaine Pretorius (in his second ODI) and Andile Phehlukwayo (in his fourth) enter the cauldron.

At the striking of every subsequent boundary, and at the conclusion of each over Miller would meet mid-pitch with his young teammates and spell out the very concise, very clear strategy they needed to follow.

"I always know once we get below 100 (runs needed), it's a big milestone obviously chasing 350, 370 or whatever it is," Miller said when asked when it was he felt the largest ODI total ever posted at Kingsmead was there for the taking.

"To get within a hundred, I knew that if we just carried on and batted 50 overs we would have won the game.

"That's what I told Dwaine, that's what I told Andile – we just need to bat 50 overs."

What Miller didn't mention was that by the time the margin had shrunk to less than 100, the Proteas were six down and there was less than 12 overs left on the clock.

A position from which only one team has ever dared fashion a win – New Zealand's 2005 escape from 6-194 in the 33rd over to eventually reel in a victory target of 331 at Christchurch's now derelict Lancaster Park.

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Against a hapless Australia, of course, who have now been victims to the four highest – or eight of the top 10 – winning run chases in ODI history.

Curiously enough, against an inexperienced and unknown pace bowling attack that featured (as was the case at Kingsmead on Wednesday) a couple of newbies – Stuart Clark (in his fourth international outing) and Mitchell Johnson (making his first).

But even that was dismissed as a freak event, a game played on a shoebox sized rugby field with square-of-the-wicket boundaries that a fielder at square leg or cover point could almost turn around and touch.

Kingsmead is a purpose-built cricket ground with proper boundaries, which Miller cleared six times during his 79-ball innings of 118, and never more sweetly than the flick he launched with barely a backswing yet landed Dan Worrall beyond the low-rise grandstand that runs along Kingsmead's western flank.

An effortlessly brutal act of timing and confidence that spelled out in a single graphic image what Australia coach Darren Lehmann put into words as he reflected on another piece of unwanted ODI history earned by his team.

Young quicks must get better: Lehmann
 


"I do agree with that," Lehmann said when asked if limited-overs cricket had fundamentally changed to the point any target within 36 per over was now utterly feasible.

"I think you can chase anything.

"If you think about the first two games (of the current South Africa tour) we should have posted more than 300 and they got them with 13 overs to spare (at Centurion).

"And then in the second game (at Wanderers), we gave ourselves a pretty good chance of getting 360 but South Africa bowled really well.

"There's nothing unchaseable in these days, the way that blokes play and the way they can go at 10, twelve runs an over.

"In my day you were happy to go at five an over.

"These blokes whack it out of the ground, so I don't think there's any total that's unattainable."

Meg Lanning Steve Smith

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