New Zealand will fancy breaking their 35-year drought in Australia this month after the Aussies last night slumped to another ODI loss against South Africa – their sixth defeat in their past seven matches.
SA have recorded easy wins in the first two ODIs against Australia, who next week face an in-form New Zealand desperate to win their first series in Australia in any format since 1985.
Australia built scorching form in ODIs last year, at one stage winning 15 out of 16 matches as they claimed series in India and the UAE before charging towards the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Then South Africa narrowly defeated them in their final World Cup group game, kickstarting their current slump.
Australia promptly turned in their worst performance of the Cup in the semi-final against England, lost their next ODI series 1-2 in India and are now down 0-2 in SA.
The undermanned Proteas – missing star quick Kagiso Rabada and in-form ODI batsmen Faf du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen – have made light work of the Aussies in this series. Their bowlers have been impressively disciplined while their inexperienced batting lineup has exceeded expectations.
In both matches Australia were in strong positions with the bat and then lost momentum. In the first ODI they were 2-133 and looked on course to chase a very gettable total of 292 before their middle order subsided. Last night Australia were on target for 300-plus when they moved to 4-224 with 8.3 overs remaining.
Then they collapsed, losing 6-47 to end up with a sub-par total of 271. D’Arcy Short (69), Aaron Finch (69), Mitch Marsh (36) and David Warner (35) each failed to kick on and make a match-shaping score.
In just his second ODI, Janneman Malan had no such trouble, steering the Proteas chase calmly with 129* from 139 balls.
Australia’s attack was solid but it wasn’t able to create significant scoreboard pressure due to the undersized total.
They gave the tourists a chance by reducing SA to 4-187 in the 39th over, leaving the hosts needing 87 from 69 balls to win. But Malan and David Miller (37* from 29 balls) finished the match in clinical fashion.
As they prepare to head across the Tasman, New Zealand must be thinking this is their best opportunity in a long time to finally win a series in Australia.
The Kiwis are fresh from a 2-0 Test thumping of India, preceded by a 3-0 victory in the ODI series against India, the number two ranked team in the world. NZ are ranked third in ODIs and would be the current World Cup champions if not for some extraordinarily bad luck in the dying moments of the final against England.
The Kiwis will tackle an Australian side which is flying in T20Is and Tests, but has hit the skids in ODIs.
Australia’s middle order continues to be their pressure point. At number four, Marnus Labuschagne is yet to find his feet in this format.
The same goes for D’Arcy Short, who so far has batted in four different positions across his six career ODIs – opener, three, five and seven.
Behind that pair Mitch Marsh and Alex Carey are searching for touch. This is heaping pressure on the top three of Finch, Warner and Steve Smith.
Australia will need that middle order to improve in Potchefstroom on Saturday if they are to avoid a cleansweep in this ODI series.