Incredulity, shock after historic night in Durban

06 October 2016
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Proteas' incredulity matched by Australia's shock after a match South Africa admitted they were "supposed to lose"

About the Writer:

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for 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.

The tale of a game that South Africa admitted they were "supposed to lose" and that the Australians felt they should never have lost was told in the faces of the rival skippers post-match.

Faf du Plessis, filling in for the injured Proteas skipper AB de Villiers whose absence also means South Africa are minus their best batsman, welled with tears of pride at game's end and found himself lost for words when he fronted the waiting media a short time later.

By contrast, his opposing captain Steve Smith carried the same haunted look that came to accompany him throughout the 3-0 Test series loss to Sri Lanka earlier in the year as he again struggled to rationalise how such an unlikely turnaround could have taken place on his watch.

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For all the talk about the star power missing from this five-match ODI Series that the Proteas have now clinched, and about the largely untried bowling line-up that the world champions have taken into the campaign, the two teams carry more similarities than differences. 

South Africa minus de Villiers and strike bowler Morne Morkel due to injuries and missing star batter Hashim Amla for the first two games, while Australia chose not to bring their regular new-ball pairing of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.

Miller masterclass sinks Aussies

While a raft of other credentialed quicks including James Pattinson, Pat Cummins, Nathan Coulter-Nile and James Faulkner were not fit enough to have been considered.

Where the Australians have blooded previously uncapped seamers Dan Worrall, Chris Tremain and Joe Mennie, the home team fielded just as many debutants in the previous weekend’s one-off ODI against Ireland.

And two of those newbies – allrounders Andile Phehlukwayo and Dwaine Pretorious – played vital roles in last night’s historic win when Australia posted the highest ODI score ever seen at Kingsmead only to have South Africa chase it down with four deliveries to spare.

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Having embraced his match-winning batsman David Miller as his team celebrated a series win and a slice of history, du Plessis tried with admirable success to put the achievement of a team that has suffered a downward spiral in red and white ball cricket over recent months into words.

"To win a game like that when you’re supposed to lose, when you’re down and out then you have someone put their hand up and take you across the line, it’s as good as it gets,” the stand-in skipper said. 

"I don’t have any words to be honest … shocked. 

"I think there’s a lot of people if you asked them three-nil to South Africa against the number one team in the world, they would have possibly laughed. 

"It just shows which direction we’re going as a team at the moment, we’ve played some really good cricket in all formats and I’m really excited about what lies ahead. 

"I’m just out of words, I’m so happy at the moment because I never would have though three-nil would have been possible against this Australian side." 

Skipper Smith notches super century

The flip side of du Plessis’s incredulity was the shock that Smith struggled to hide during his after-match speaking duties. 

For a player who expects perfection from himself and drives himself harder than most to achieve, the notion of coming off second-best when you’ve personally seen to posting a total that has been run down just once previously in the history of 50-over cricket, Smith also found himself lost for words.

Not through anger, not lost to frustration but just a blank inability to get his head around how a game that was in his keeping at the change of innings was snatched away in a crazy final hour. 

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It’s simply not the way Australia teams perform when they’re holding the whip hand against an opponent that for so long has found themselves regularly under heel. 

"It’s a pretty hard pill to swallow," Smith said, his words almost drowned out by the celebratory din that was wafting through from the main arena as he spoke to the media. 

"It’s a very tough loss.

"Today was our quarter final to keep us in the series, and when you get to half way and you’ve got 370 on the board you don’t lose too many games.

"Our inexperienced bowling attack, it’s a good learning curve for them and hopefully they can learn something out of it." 

Warner crunches Kingsmead century

Having put the onus on the batters – himself included – after they had misfired in Australia’s losses in the first two games, Smith diplomatically resisted the opportunity to land last night’s defeat squarely in the lap of his bowlers.

But there was no doubting that’s where the game turned. 

Du Plessis said as much when he spoke about the confidence his team had gained from putting Australia to the sword at Centurion and then Wanderers over the past week, and the knowledge that their greenhorn bowlers were vulnerable in the final 10 overs. 

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And, as a result, if his boys had somehow got to within 90 runs of victory when those ‘death overs’ kicked in they would back themselves to get over the line.

Even if one of the batters who would have to drag them there (Miller) had been dumped as captain of his IPL franchise and then dropped from the Proteas ODI team (in much the same manner as his former IPL teammate Glenn Maxwell), and the others were international rookies – Pretorius and Phehlukwayo.

Aussies leave a Steyn on Dale's glittering record

But du Plessis also dismissed the notion that his team’s record-breaking triumph and unforeseen clean-sweep of the three games played to date could be explained away by the lack of firepower, variety and experience in Australia’s revamped bowling unit.

"I think as an international team you cannot use that as an excuse, never," du Plessis said when asked if the calibre of the opposition took some gloss from South Africa’s achievement.

"I’ve been part of a South African team (earlier this year) when we had no Dale Steyn and no Vernon Philander in our Test team, and you can’t use that as an excuse.

"You have to find a way as team to try and compete against the best teams in the world and we didn’t in that series against England and it would have been a lot different with the two of them playing. 

"But you can’t use that as an excuse, you have to find a way as a squad to try and compete.

"Obviously there’s a little bit of inexperience there (in the Australia attack) but they would be the first guys not to blame their weakened attack. 

"They’re the number one team in the world and they know they still have to put up a good fight against us."

For his part Miller – who battled a groin injury for much of his match-winning century and won’t know until today whether he’s a chance to play in the remaining two matches – conceded there is a slightly different 'feel' to the current incarnation of Australia’s ODI attack.

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But as a youngster who would watch marquee Test series featuring Australia on the television, and whose father told his son it would be special should he ever get a chance to play against an Australia outfit “because they would always be the strongest team” this was no conciliation prize.

Today was our quarter-final: Smith

Playing the innings of his cricket life to date to seal a victory that history and common sense suggested should have been beyond South Africa was beyond special, regardless of the identity and pedigree of the bowlers trying to stop it from happening. 

 "An Australian team will always be in your face, they always have a presence about them,” Miller said last night. 

"It is probably their second-string bowling attack but they are still decent enough to do a job. 

"They’re a huge cricketing nation and to do well against them is always a judge of where you are. 

"So this means the world to me."

Meg Lanning Steve Smith