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Opinion

Australia annihilate South Africa in the first T20

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Roar Rookie
21st February, 2020
9

Night T20s in South Africa are a tough ask for Australian fans: this one started at 3 am in Sydney and Melbourne and finished at 3 am in Perth.

But those who battled the time difference were rewarded with an absolute drubbing by the Aussies of a curiously insipid South African team – and they got the bonus of witnessing an Ashton Agar hat-trick.

The Wanderers was full (minus one stand left completely empty after being rendered unsafe by a morning storm) but the famously hostile Bullring crowd were in a gentle mood.

No discernible booing of David Warner or Steve Smith came through on the telecast; the only brief exception being when Smith clouted for four a ball that Dale Steyn dropped in his delivery stride – as the umpire signalled dead ball the crowd began to boo, but within seconds the noise had dissipated.

South Africa won the toss and bowled – badly. Steyn did pick up Warner for four off the second ball of the match with a brute of a ball that the Aussie opener skied to fine leg, but Australia soon moved into a commanding position.

Smith and Aaron Finch were gifted numerous short and wide balls, which they dispatched with alacrity.

Rarely has a pitch been so easy to read, yet to the increasing bewilderment of all, the South African bowlers got it wrong. Spin and off-speed deliveries were key and it was vital that full-speed balls be searingly accurate and kept to a minimum.

Yet throughout the innings the South African bowlers – Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi especially – banged it in short and wide, only to watch the white ball fly through the high altitude to the rope or over it.

After the six-over powerplay, Australia was 1/70. Finch and Smith had played numerous crisp shots to the fence and had some luck as well, including one skied cut shot by Smith that Steyn looked set to catch – before he lost sight of it in the lights and stood baffled as it cleared his head and bounced over the rope.

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Andile Phehlukwayo’s medium pace, allied with the left-arm wrist spin of Tabraiz Shamsi and JJ Smuts’ left-arm orthodox gave the Proteas a modicum of control and the scoring rate slowly began to dip. Finch, frustrated, was caught on the long-on boundary for an impressive 42 off 27 and Smith was eventually stumped advancing to a wide ball from Shamsi for 45 off 32.

Matt Wade’s 18 off 11, Mitch Marsh’s 19 off 14 and Alex Carey’s 27 off 22 struggled somewhat for fluency against a diet of spin and slower balls on the two-paced surface, but, nevertheless, their contributions – on top of the powerful start – helped Australia to 6/178 with an over to spare.

Agar (20 not out off 9) slammed 18 from the final over, bowled by Rabada, to elevate the total to an impressive 6/196. Rabada and Ngidi ended up conceding 1/82 from their combined six overs; Steyn was much more impressive, taking 2/31 from his four and having mixed up his pace throughout.

Although 196 was not quite as high as might have been expected when Australia were 2/99 at the halfway point, it still looked formidable.

South Africa’s reply was diabolical. To bleary-eyed partisan Aussie fans, the only disappointment was that this was not the World Cup final.

The Australian bowling was energetic, smart and accurate – a complete contrast to what South Africa had dished up. Starc knocked Quinton de Kock’s middle stump out of the ground in the first over with a lethal ball that straightened down the line and comprehensively beat the South African captain’s airy swish of the bat – this ball encapsulating the chasm between the two sides’ effort and execution tonight.

Mitchell Starc bowling

(Action Foto Sport/NurPhoto)

The wickets of Rassie van der Dussen, JJ Smuts and David Miller soon followed and the match was all but over. The crowd were almost completely silent now – and the sounds of We Built This City, Country Roads and the like that were being pumped out after each ball came into my living room with marvellous clarity.

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And then Agar took a hat-trick. Having seen his sumptuous debut Test innings of 98 (still the highest score ever made at 11) at Trent Bridge in 2013 I’ve always had a soft spot for him and it was a pleasure to see the joy on the faces of the Australians when Finch held a sharp chance at slip off Steyn to give the left-armer three wickets from three balls.

He no longer has the angelic locks of 2013 – he’s even balder than I am – but the 26-year-old from Perth may well play a starring role for Australia in the upcoming World Cup. He finished with 5/24 off his four overs, the equal best figures for a T20 International at the Wanderers and the best figures ever by an Australian in this format.

Adam Zampa and Pat Cummins each picked up a couple of wickets too and Starc and Kane Richardson also bowled well as South Africa were bowled out for just 89 – their lowest ever total in a T20 International. And, just to pile on the pain, the margin of defeat – 107 runs – makes this South Africa’s worst-ever loss in T20 cricket.

Where to from here for the Proteas? No doubt they will be much better next game, but even so it would take a brave person to bet against an Australian victory in this three-match series.

As for the Aussies, well it wasn’t quite a perfect performance but it was pretty close – and a world away from what occurred the last time they were at this ground.