Warner magic can't stop 5-0 whitewash

13 October 2016

Opener blazes 173 but Australia succumb to 31-run defeat to leave South Africa empty-handed

South Africa v Australia ODIs, Fifth ODI


The 5-0 series bottom line that glowed hectic orange off the Newlands scoreboard against the glowering silhouette of Table Mountain told a tale of unprecedented Australian failure in 50-over cricket.

But the manner in which it was delivered as South Africa danced their way to a 31-run win – and in spite of a remarkable lone hand 173 by Australia opener David Warner – was familiar in a similarly haunting fashion.

A bowling attack unable to silence the multiple big guns in the Proteas’ lengthy batting line-up, a fielding performance that fell below world champion standard and those same top-order batting ills first diagnosed in the Test arena on Sri Lankan pitches three months ago.

And it was that same frailty against spin that was so ruthlessly exposed in the Test whitewash last July and August that formally announced the completion of an historically similar win-free result in the 50-over format.

The first time an Australia team has failed to secure a victory in a five-match bilateral ODI series, even allowing for those dark days of the 1980s when they were regular prey for the peerless West Indies.

Just as it was veteran spinner Rangana Herath tormenting the top-order in Sri Lanka, so 37-year-old leggie Imran Tahir struck a pair of sledgehammer blows in the space of his first over to effectively end all pretence of a belated yelp from the world’s top-ranked team.

Tahir torments Aussie top-order

Tahir, who has played more ODIs against Australia than any other international foe, speared past the flailing bats of opener Aaron Finch and skipper Steve Smith in near identical fashion inside three deliveries to arrest any momentum the tourists had gained from a breezy start.

And built his own head of steam as he charged off for a pair of frenzied wicket celebrations leaving his euphoric teammates almost as obsolete in his wake as he had made Australia’s run chase in the course of an over.

But the exuberant spinner boiled over later in the innings after a verbal clash with Warner, which the Australia batting mainstay appeared to brush off despite Tahir’s many and overt attempts to get in his opponent’s face so incensed did he seem.

To the extent that several of his teammates were called in to provide counsel, and umpire Shaun George from South Africa felt compelled to park himself between the two combatants at every available opportunity.

Warner, Tahir clash and make-up

If not for Warner’s sole act of defiance carved off 136 balls then the South African celebrations uncorked on a cold evening in Cape Town would have got going at a far friendlier hour than after 9.30pm on a school night.

Warner’s ninth ODI century – and his fifth this calendar year, a record for an Australia player – came gift-wrapped with a second chance when South Africa ‘keeper Quinton de Kock turfed a diving catch in front of slip when the vice-captain was 11.

An innings that was the most productive by an Australian in the 50-over format since Warner’s career-high 178 against Afghanistan in his team’s 2015 World Cup triumph.

And was ultimately curtailed by Tahir, albeit through an unerring flat throw from the point boundary rather than another fizzing top spinner.

But not even the left-hander’s shining example could distract from the harsh reality that too often his fellow batters got started and got themselves out, as a glance at tonight’s batting card so graphically detailed.

In most matches of this glaringly one-sided series, the world champions have made good one ambition only to immediately fall spectacularly short in several others.

The first match at Centurion was where the tourists aimed to make an early statement, and duly blasted a run per ball from the first 10 overs only to see the rest of the batting implode even faster and fail to reach 300.

Game two at Wanderers began with Steve Smith opting to chase in the belief that when batting second any target was fair game on such a benign surface, unless their top four batters fell for less than 100 which was precisely what happened.

Those same batters were then challenged to up their game in Durban, and accordingly posted a record score of 371 which the under-strength bowling attack proved powerless to defend.

And heading into the tour finale at Newlands, the need to make early inroads into the Proteas batting was identified and amplified and ultimately came to pass.

Rossouw ton takes Proteas to 8-327

But no sooner had the home team entered recently uncharted waters at 3-52 with their three most dangerous batters back in the shed – openers Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla along with skipper Faf du Plessis – than the middle-order that was supposed to be soft through lack of exposure took their belated chance.

And wrested the initiative from the Australians in the process.

Rilee Rossouw, yet to win a Test cap but named in the 16-man squad that South Africa is sending for the three-Test tour to Australia starting later this month, joined with fellow left-hander JP Duminy to prove the Proteas’ middle-order was not just potent.

It was every bit as dominant as the top-order had been in the previous weeks.

The pair posted 178 from less than 28 overs to lift South Africa from a wobbly 3-52 to an imposing 4-230, the second-biggest fourth-wicket partnerships for their team in ODIs after Daryll Cullinan and Jonty Rhodes’ 232 against Pakistan in Nairobi two decades ago.

And which carried the home team within a few hefty hits of a total that no team had successfully chased down across the previous 37 one-day internationals in almost quarter of a century at Newlands.

Both batsmen struck the ball with such timing that it seemed they exercised almost no effort to send it scuttling over an outfield bearing the scars of a recent drainage system upgrade so that it resembled a series of paddy fields in places.

Duminy squandered a century there for the taking when he sliced a catch to catch to backward point, but Rossouw made no such stumble until he had reached 122 from 118 balls – his third ODI hundred – and the scramble of the final five overs loomed.

Mennie gets his happy return

The fact that Australia forced South Africa’s bowlers to the batting crease for the first time in the series was but one of a fleeting couple of encouraging moments that book-ended South Africa’s innings.

The first being the return of seamer Joe Mennie who made his second international outing after pocketing the most expensive opening spell of any Australia bowler on limited-overs debut at Wanderers less than a fortnight earlier.

And finished it with the best figures (3-49 from 10 overs including a pair of rarely sighted maidens) of any bowler on this tour of crumpled hopes and broken records.

Meg Lanning Steve Smith