Pat Cummins says “in a perfect world” leading Australia in Test cricket would not be the first taste of captaincy for the likes of he and Marnus Labuschagne.
Australia has demolished South Africa in Cape Town in the third and final T20 to win the series two-one.
This match bore a remarkable similarity to the first game of the series – Australia began explosively, were becalmed somewhat in the middle overs and then surged late before utterly dismantling the South African reply. And, as has been a feature of the series, the South African crowd were generous in the reception they gave Steve Smith and David Warner with booing kept to an absolute minimum.
Indeed, a festive, happy atmosphere pervaded – at least until South African wickets began falling, at which point the ground descended into near silence.
Aaron Finch and Warner’s opening stand of 120 off only 69 balls contained a consummate mixture of power hitting, exquisite timing and aggressive running. Rarely have two batsmen been so clinical and dominant at the same time and the very decent South African seam bowling attack of Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Anrich Nortje and Dwaine Pretorius was made to look distinctly inferior.
There was a brief respite for the Proteas when both openers fell in quick succession – Warner for 57 off 37 and Finch for 55 off 37. Matt Wade and Mitchell Marsh were promoted above Smith and, again, failed to make the most of their opportunities. However, any criticism of their efforts should be tempered by an acknowledgement that scoring became much more difficult once the ball got a bit older, and that wrist-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi again bowled well.
Incidentally, it is time South Africa changed the balance of their attack – spinners are consistently more economical than pace bowlers in T20 cricket and it is a mistake to bowl 16 overs of pace and only four of spin.
Wade ended up with ten off nine balls and Marsh 19 off 16, but even the great Steve Smith, batting at five, struggled for fluency early. When Rabada bowled him between his legs he had only made six from six balls, but he got an instant reprieve as replays confirmed Rabada had overstepped.
Smith then clicked into gear, playing some trademark inimitable shots and finishing with 30 from 15, helping hoist Australia to an imposing total of 5/193.
Based on recent results at Cape Town, 193 seemed significantly above par and when Starc again knocked Quinton de Kock’s middle stump out of the ground in the first over, South Africa’s chances were already starting to seem remote. Soon after, Faf du Plessis was caught well by Adam Zampa at third man – a dismissal that highlighted the supreme standard of the Australian fielding – unlike other sides, they have no weak links, with their fielders ranging from solid to brilliant.
Heinrich Klassen and Rassie van der Dussen put on brief partnership but when it was broken South Africa capitulated, going from 3/56 to 96 all out in the space of just 48 balls, giving Australia a victory by 97 runs. Starc and Ashton Agar each took three wickets; Zampa took two and conceded only ten runs from his three overs.
The magnitude of South Africa’s two losses in this series must be of concern for world cricket. The administrative problems facing South African cricket have been well documented and it is a testament to the quality of their players and the nation’s proud sporting heritage that their on-field performances have, on the whole, remained relatively good.
But the two-one series margin masks the gulf between the teams. Over the three matches Australia scored 535 runs to South Africa’s 343, the equivalent of winning a single match by 178 runs to 114 – a margin of victory of 64.
Australia, on the other hand, are looking increasingly organised and powerful ahead of the T20 World Cup on home soil in October. The bowling is looking settled, as is the top order – the only serious questions remain over the middle order.
Wade and Marsh have yet to cement their positions and Glenn Maxwell’s return from surgery is eagerly awaited.