Another Epic For The SA-AUS Scrapbook

Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - Another epic for the SA-AUS scrapbook. Saturday's result means Australia continue to dominate this rivalry: they have won eight tournament tussles with South Africa

Another Epic For The SA-AUS ScrapbookSaturday's result means Australia continue to dominate this rivalry: they have won eight tournament tussles with South Africa

It had to be Australia. Of all the opponents who could have burst South Africa's bubble, count on the Aussies to do so in the way that hurts the most. Disciplined bowling, spectacular fielding and sheer belief helped take the sting out of the shambolic batting that had gone before, but not enough to stop the yellow pain of a fresh wound from sinking into green hearts.

How deeply? We shall see. The South Africans had lost just one of their previous 10 T20Is going into this World Cup. Australia had won only two of their most recent 10. In their previous 21 T20Is, only one of them contested on the world stage, these teams didn't spin the kind of gnarly narrative that has coloured their clashes in the other formats. This match was a step in that direction. Doubtless there will be more – perhaps as soon as the knockout rounds of this tournament.

Not for the first time, the essence of a tense game between South Africa and Australia was captured in a runout. At Edgbaston in the 1999 World Cup semi-final it was Lance Klusener, Allan Donald and all that. This time it was Aiden Markram sending back Keshav Maharaj in the wake of an overthrow. Maharaj, already an odd sight because of a voluminous chest guard that looked like a spinnaker billowing under his shirt, joined the circus by slipping and crashing to earth on his back – leg up in goose-step fashion – as if he had happened on a banana peel mid-pitch.

Two balls after that, Pat Cummins dared spear a delivery at Kagiso Rabada's throat. The missile was intercepted by a shoulder, which dulled its threat. The resultant ricochet found the grille of the helmet. Cummins had the good grace to enquire after Rabada's health – especially touching considering, given the circumstances, he was unlikely to have to face him – and thumbs went up all round even as the medic hustled onto the field to conduct the obligatory concussion test. But the shock of the moment was felt in the other hemisphere: if even Rabada wasn't going to be respected, what price anyone else?

Yet the South Africans refused to be disrespected. Their powerplay score of 29/3 was their lowest in 34 T20Is stretching back to February 2019, and they paid the price with a total of 118/9, their second-lowest in ICC T20I events. That should have been that – come on Aussie, come on, come on. Instead the winners needed all but two balls of their reply to nail down their victory. As late as the 16th over, with 38 required off 27, both batters at the crease – Marcus Stoinis and Matthew Wade – had yet to face a ball. Four deliveries earlier, Markram had sprinted like a cheetah and flown low like a fish eagle to take a magical catch in the deep and remove Steve Smith.

But it's a bad idea to play properly for only half the game. South Africa were 23/3 inside the first five overs and they lost 5/35 in the last seven. Markram batted through six partnerships for his 40, but that was more than double any of his teammates' efforts. What difference might 30 more runs have made? Or 15? Any takers for 10 more? “One-hundred-and-eighteen was definitely not a par score,” Temba Bavuma told a press conference. “It's hard for me to say [how many more runs South Africa needed] because we really didn't bat well; barring Aiden, who was the only one to have any score of substance. It definitely didn't go according to plan from a batting point of view. I think anywhere around 150, 160 would have been competitive.”

Was the tactical approach the problem? Or maybe the occasion? “If you're selecting six batters with an allrounder at No. 7 and you're scoring 118, I don't think you can blame the plan. I can't remember a time in the last while when our batting has collapsed like that. It's not every day that all of your top seven, excluding Aiden, fail. I wouldn't put it down to anxiety, it was more about execution.”

Bavuma, who laboured under a strike rate of 95.06 in the warm-up games, started to confound his critics by lashing Mitchell Starc through mid-off and point for consecutive boundaries in the first over. Four balls later Glenn Maxwell found a touch of turn to bowl him all ends up. Another four balls later, Josh Hazlewood conjured the perfect first delivery – it snuck away from Rassie van der Dussen just enough to take the outside edge. Quinton de Kock looked mired in another time zone. The 12th ball he faced, from Hazlewood, clipped the bottom edge, spat off the thigh pad, smacked into the pitch, bounced high over De Kock's head – and came down onto his stumps. The sound made as leather plunked into wood apologetically was surely that of a bubble bursting.

South Africa have played Australia 11 times in major white-ball tournaments. The South Africans won the first of those matches, at the SCG in the 1992 World Cup, as well as the most recent before Saturday's game, at Old Trafford in the 2019 World Cup. Sydney was the scene of the returning prodigals' first ever World Cup match, and therefore shimmered with importance. Manchester marked the end of their worst ever World Cup, and mattered nought. Famously – or infamously – the Edgbaston showdown was tied. Saturday's result means Australia continue to dominate this rivalry: they have won eight tournament tussles with South Africa.

The teams' only other meeting in the format at this level was in Colombo during the 2012 T20 WC. Of that Australia XI, David Warner, Maxwell, Wade, Cummins and Starc were in the thick of it on Saturday. None of the South Africans who featured in that game are still playing. One, JP Duminy, is now among the coaches in the dugout. Another, Dale Steyn, is in the commentary box.

While many of the names and places have been changed, thus protecting the innocent winners and the guilty losers alike, the truth of a visceral fixture has been restored in this format, where it wasn't what it has been in Test and ODI cricket: when South Africa play Australia, get the hell out of the way. Or sit down and watch.

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