You have to give credit to Australia. This afternoon’s victory, with a ragtag team of passable cricketers, a couple of debutants and only Ponting as an all-time great was testament to the sheer willpower that resides in the Australian cricket team. They really had no right to win that game, with only the sublime Bracken threatening as a bowler, but they scrambled and grafted and never let their quarry get away, and got a well-deserved victory out of it.
It was a fascinating game of cricket, with each side cruising to unassailable dominance at various stages, only for the other to mount an improbable fight back. When Australia were 1/150 inside of 30 overs, with Ponting batting near a run a ball, 350 was a fair target, so for South Africa to pull them back to 249, thanks to another fine spell from Steyn, and brilliant discipline during the power plays should have set the game. Likewise Kallis and De Villiers had the game in the bag at 2/140, but couldn’t take it home.
That South Africa lost was, in my opinion largely due to Duminy, until today the young hero of the South African side, inexplicably getting stuck in the middle of an otherwise perfectly weighted innings. How do you blame a guy who got 35 at better than a run a ball?
He was set, yet could only muster two boundaries between the 40th and 47th overs, when South Africa desperately needed them. The powerplay, which should have been the making of the partnership with Boucher was instead a succession of scrambled singles. Admittedly Bracken bowled brilliantly, but at this stage of the game there’s an element of put up or shut up, ie hit out or get out, particularly with the fiendish Morkel padded up. Instead the game dripped just out of reach of South Africa, and they could never quite reel it in.
The batting power play is an addition to ODI cricket which has elevated it again, and makes me fervently wish the ICC had come up with the likes of it 10 years ago. If they had shown the kind of forward thinking the ABA did with the introduction of the 3-point shot, for example, the scourge of Twenty20 might never have reared up. In any case, series on both sides of the Tasman have been significantly improved through its addition, and the way Gayle and Chanderpaul took to the skies, and first the Husseys, then Duminy and Boucher got bogged down shows just how mercurial this element can be.
It genuinely has the potential to be anything from 60-70 runs to the batting side, or 20-30 for 3 if they get a few things wrong, or the bowler a few things right. Today these two teams, only really separated by a few sessions and the occasional masterful innings in the test series, couldn’t figure out a way through, and watching Duminy in particular try and force shots against his natural game was a useful primer in how to approach the issue. The remaining three one dayers now loom as must-watch cricket; the first installments have been classics, and each side is desperate to present its case.
South Africa want nothing more than to walk away from Australia unimpeachably victorious, having finally broken the side which has inflicted so much misery on them since their re-emergence into the international game. Australia will be smarting mightily from the test series loss, and the stakes for them are all-too visible on the face of Ponting. When he missed a shy at the stumps for s sharp Duminy single their was raw disgust boiling in his features the likes of which I’ve never seen before. This means a hell of a lot to him, and the legacy he had imagined for himself rides on what he can eke out from the likes of Hilfenhaus and Marsh. Whichever way it falls, it will be ridiculously compelling viewing.