De Villiers thwarts Australia

Proteas skipper guides his side home

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Such is his extraordinary array of skills, many of the more ardent South African cricket fans gloat that he can defeat even the most accomplished of rivals on one leg.

And that’s pretty much what the Proteas’ ODI captain did to Australia in Harare, combining with good mate Faf du Plessis to send more records tumbling and Australia to a humbling seven-wicket defeat with more than three overs up their sleeves.

Chasing a victory target of 328 – 50 runs more than the previous highest successful second-innings run-chase mounted at the Harare Sports Club – South Africa made a mockery of history in much the same way they did in Johannesburg in 2006.

Even though De Villiers spent the second half of his epic innings of 136no clearly hobbled by an injury to his left hamstring, he and Du Plessis (who posted his maiden ODI century) compiled the highest third-wicket partnership against Australia in a 50-over game (206) to secure the win in fading light.

Having removed openers Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock inside the first 10 overs, Australia’s pace-based attack then laboured on a true but slow pitch and created only two genuine chances for the next two hours.

Unfortunately for them, both were squandered – a straightforward caught-and-bowled offering that Mitchell Johnson shelled when De Villiers was 78, and a sharper but no less catchable opportunity that went straight to Bailey and then to the turf when he had made seven more.

By that stage, de Villiers was throwing his bat at everything in response to the fact that his leg injury, sustained when scampering back for a second run when on 65, meant that even the most simple movement caused him obvious discomfort.

Not that it stopped the 30-year-old, who as a teenager set records and/or won national selection in football, rugby, swimming, tennis, badminton and athletics, from showcasing his full extent of his outrageous talent.

The most expansive example was the extraordinary falling-down scoop shot he performed against a full ball that James Faulkner landed outside off stump, only to see it disappear beyond the boundary rope at deep fine leg.

It was fitting that the skipper was unbeaten at the crease in the end, even though it meant he once again overshadowed his long-time friend and contemporary Du Plessis who took unabashed delight in scoring his maiden ODI century against a team that has delighted in taunting him in the recent past.

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The new pitch that had been prepared for the second match of this two-week tri-series, which also features the host nation, boasted a veneer of grass but – after the opening hour – was always going to favour the spinners and those best able to take the pace off their seamers.

Which made Australia’s decision to omit their sole specialist spinner, Nathan Lyon, for opening batsman Phil Hughes mildly curious.

However, the mystery seemed solved when the coin fell in De Villiers’ favour, South Africa’s bowlers had first crack on the unblemished strip and the decision to stock an extra batsman appeared prudent.

That meant the bowling workload, on a pitch that was destined to flatten and slow as yet another sun-soaked Harare winter day drained it of life, would fall to a five-pronged seam attack and the part-time spin of Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell.

It proved a decisive move, with the quicks on both sides conceding runs at a rate of around six an over, but while South African leg-spinner Imran Tahir returned a tidy 2-45 from his 10-over spell Australia’s trundlers went wicketless in five overs that cost 40 runs.

Before then, the reunited opening combination of Hughes and Finch looked entirely comfortable and negotiated the problematic opening hour from Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Wayne Parnell with few moments of discomfort and the in-form Hughes as the dominant scorer.

The pair scored at a breezy run-a-ball until the introduction of Tahir changed the tempo which, in turn, yielded the first breakthroughs.

Australia: Aaron Finch, Phil Hughes, Mitch Marsh, George Bailey, Glenn Maxwell, Steve Smith, Brad Haddin (wk), James Faulkner, Mitch Johnson, Mitch Starc, Kane Richardson, Nathan Lyon (12th)

South Africa:Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock (wk), Faf du Plessis, AB de Viliers (c), JP Duminy, David Miller, Ryan McLaren, Wayne Parnell, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir (12th tbc)

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