Gillette ODIs v South Africa
Stoinis inspires Aussies to a win
A Marcus Stoinis piece of brilliance in the field and three key wickets see Australia snap their losing streak to tie the series 1-1
Andrew Ramsey at the Adelaide Oval
9 November 2018, 11:00 PM AEST
It was neither emphatic nor flashy, but the importance of Australia's hard-hewn seven-run win over South Africa after a challenging year had morphed into a horrid few weeks was best articulated by Friday night's post-game victory huddle.
At the completion of the 50th over – bowled incongruously by Glenn Maxwell after Australia captain Aaron Finch had bowled out his strike weapons in a calculated gamble to secure wickets – players beamed and embraced one another in a manner more often seen at World Cups, or in Ashes campaigns.
These have been uncharted times for Australia's often dominant men's cricketers, particularly in the white-ball format.
Not only an unprecedented losing streak of seven ODIs on the trot, but a block of two wins from 21 starts leading into today's match in Adelaide that has never been previously experienced by the national outfit.
Even at the height of the West Indies' dominance in the early 1980s, and during the late 90s when the decision was made to split the Test and one-day squads so poor were performances, the record showed returns of six or seven defeats from any 20-game stretch.
Given the nature of tonight's win, a game where only South Africa's David Miller proved capable of reaching 50, any talk of the dark days being past should be roundly dismissed as a false dawn.
However, the fillip to be gained from beating an opponent they have not mastered in seven previous ODI attempts will surely serve as a sorely needed shot of self-belief as well as a salve for fans whose faith and patience has been tested as surely as their team's character.
A game that was dominated by bowlers on a sluggish pitch was effectively sealed by allrounder Marcus Stoinis, who provided a memorable highlight with a stunning run-out and then removed South Africa's last batting hope David Miller via a judicious lbw review.
The three-match Gillette ODI Series is now tied 1-1, with the decider to be staged at Hobart's Blundstone Arena on Sunday.
The hope that Australia might end its wretched run of white-ball form, which pre-dated the reputational damage and ensuing suspensions of the ball-tampering scandal, at the venue where it recorded its more recent ODI win more than nine months ago rode high in the prelude to today's contest.
That win – against England on Australia Day last January – was set-up by the home team's pace bowlers who reduced the world's currently top-ranked one-day team to 5-8 before skittishly chasing down 197 with three tail-end wickets to spare.
Today's game bore some resemblance, in that it was a low-scoring encounter that was intriguing more often than enthralling.
Sent into bat by South Africa's Faf du Plessis who sensed an uncertain rival perhaps ripe for a rollicking, that sort of batting remained a distant memory.
Intelligent use of variations – often employing 'cross-seam' deliveries that held-up and occasionally sat-up from the usually true Adelaide pitch – by Proteas' quicks Kagiso Rabada (4-54) Dwaine Pretorius (3-32) and Dale Steyn (2-31) robbed Australia of any meaningful momentum.
For the seventh time in eight ODIs since their previous win last January, the reigning world champions failed to bat through their allocated overs and posted a modest 231.
And while they could point to South Africa's effective, intuitive bowling as mitigation, the Australia batters' wounds were, too often, self-inflicted.
The top-order lapses in judgement and the inabilities to forge productive partnerships that skipper Finch had identified pre-match as the recurrent shortcoming through this losing streak were, once again, glaringly apparent.
Opener Travis Head could claim the delivery from Lungi Ngidi that dipped late from around the wicket was simply too good, though the local hero's decision to review the palpable lbw call was less so.
From there, every time Australia's struggling line-up seemed set to poke their heads above the surging tide, a wicket invariably fell when least opportune.
And in frustratingly avoidable circumstances.
Shaun Marsh, reinstated to the XI after minor surgery during the week, looked to be finding his fluency before his favourite cover drive aimed at a ball that held its line yielded only an outside edge.
Like so many on the early season pitch, Finch had battled to find sweet timing but had hung tough to reach 41 and was understandably dirty on himself when his attempt to glide to third man against Pretorius's canny cutters landed, instead, on his off-stump.
Then Chris Lynn's blazing bat appeared likely to define the game's course, until he self-combusted in a fireball of untethered momentum.
Lynn had welcomed Rabada back to the bowling attack by thumping an effortless six over extra cover, then consecutive boundaries down the ground, through square leg and screaming through straight mid-wicket.
Amid that onslaught, the Proteas' paceman sent down a couple of deliveries deemed to be 'dead' – one because of the sudden movement of a fielder as he neared his delivery stride, and another when the ball dribbled from his grasp on approach.
But with the fifth legitimate delivery of his over, Rabada baited a trap for the on-song Queenslander by dropping fielders deep on the leg side and daring Lynn to continue his barrage by trying to clear them.
Which the Australian duly attempted to do, only to top-edge a catch to the keeper.
Glenn Maxwell then surrendered his wicket to a thrashing cut shot, and Marcus Stoinis departed two overs later to a stunning reflex grab that Reeza Hendricks plucked in front of his face at the short mid-wicket station that had become a catching option with the ball holding-up off the pitch.
From that point, it was only vice-captain Alex Carey who proved able to hang around.
His 47 from 72 balls stood as the high-water mark of an innings that occasionally flowed but more often ebbed, and rarely threatened force or fury.
Some handy late innovation by Adam Zampa (22 from 24 balls) lifted the total to 231 which – on the strength of Adelaide's recent ODI history, where teams batting first have averaged 247 over the past decade – loomed as competitive, while hardly prohibitive.
South Africa stumbled early in their pursuit, after Quinton de Kock scooped a leg-side gift from Mitchell Starc to Zampa in the deep.
The decision to deprive Starc of the new-ball during last weekend's Gillette ODI Series opener in Perth had provoked much debate, and the left-armer seemed intent on making a statement by regularly clocking bowling speeds around 150kph in his opening spell.
However, it was the rifle right-arm of Stoinis that gave Australia their biggest boost, his sliding pick-up and off-balance throw from near the boundary bringing the run-out of Aiden Markram who had cruised ominously to 19 from 17 balls.
An innings that featured a towering blow from Starc's bowling, which cleared the fence and 10 rows of seats before being cleanly caught in the crowd that peaked at 17,680.
The Proteas found fluent stroke-making as difficult as had their hosts, the vagaries of the Adelaide pitch perhaps best exemplified by renowned clean-hitter Heinrich Klaasen who seemed to have so long to choose where he swatted a Stoinis bouncer that he refused to believe he belted it straight to mid-wicket.
At that point, South Africa were 4-68 in the 15th over and experienced duo du Plessis and Miller standing as the hefty obstacle between Australia and the bottom half of a batting line-up they had rarely sighted over their recent winless journey.
A stubborn fifth-wicket union between that pair wrested back slight favouritism for the Proteas, but as the white balls gradually softened and the pitch slowed further, an absorbing battle of attrition unfolded.
The loss of du Plessis for 47 heaped further responsibility on Miller, who had put Australia to the sword with a memorable 118 from 79 balls at Durban when the teams last met in a bilateral ODI series in 2016.
As wickets regularly fell about him, Miller was compelled to play an altogether different knock but when that ended at the hand of Stoinis, the win that had for so long eluded Australia was there for the grasping.
And it was Stoinis who stepped up to grab it.
Australia XI: Aaron Finch (c), Travis Head, Shaun Marsh, Chris Lynn, Alex Carey (wk), Glenn Maxwell, Marcus Stoins, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Adam Zampa, Josh Hazlewood #AUSvSA— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) November 9, 2018
South Africa XI: Quinton de Kock (wk), Aiden Markram, Reeza Hendricks, Faf du Plessis (c), Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Dwaine Pretorius, Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Imran Tahir #AUSvSA— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) November 9, 2018
The third ODI will be broadcast live in Australia on Fox Cricket and you can also watch a stream on cricket.com.au and the CA Live app
Australia v Proteas, Gillette ODI series, November 2018
First ODI: South Africa won by six wickets
Second ODI: Australia won by seven runs
Third ODI: Blundstone Arena, Hobart, November 11