Cape Town - Much was justifiably made in
the lead-up to Friday’s first ODI between Australia and South Africa in Perth
of the Proteas’ hitherto excellent record at the legendary WACA Ground.
As it happened: Australia v South Africa, 1st ODI
It was rightly pointed out that they had
only ever lost one international contest of any kind at the pace-friendly venue.
I remember the lone blemish game so well
not just because I was there, but also as it was only a defeat to the Aussies
(by 33 runs eventually) in game-specific terms.
The 2001/02 team under Shaun Pollock’s
charge, by safely going past an unashamedly selfish secondary requirement (226)
in their chase of 283 to secure presence in the VB Series triangular finals
against New Zealand, eliminated the host nation on superior run rate regardless
of the overall loss.
So it felt more like “job done” to the SA
side anyway, as Australia suffered the rare indignity of being shoved out of
their own tournament before the showpiece stage – and Pollock’s troops went on
to claim the silverware after a wretched prior Test series Down Under.
It was a tumultuous WACA day for other
reasons: it marked Steve Waugh’s rather acrimonious exit as Aussie
limited-overs captain, and as I made a slightly belated, innocent appearance
for the South African section of the post-match presser, Waugh quite literally
brushed my shoulder on his angry stomp out of the home one as he let rip with
an X-rated tirade: “This room is full of f***ing c***heads.”
I was not about to stick up my hand on a
point of order against him, however I may have felt about his contention.
On Friday, Australia finally banked their
first “genuine”, if you like, victory over their southern hemisphere
arch-rivals at the ground, taking them 1-0 up in the five-match series and
meaning the Proteas must win three of the next four if they are to take tidy
bilateral bragging rights into the 2015 World Cup.
If there was again one grumpy camper in the
Aussie dressing room this time, it would only have been luckless, increasingly
injury-prone current captain Michael Clarke, who aggravated a hamstring problem
and could face another significant layoff.
The tourists produced a schizophrenic
performance – most notably in the field, after putting the Aussies in and
leaking exactly 300 runs – and most teams are unlikely to beat these particular
opponents in one of their intimidating backyards under such circumstances.
In truth, the Proteas’ goose was cooked
quite well before the defiant last-wicket pair of Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir
cut the final deficit significantly to 32 runs, as they’d imploded from a
promising 202 for four -- just before David Miller’s disappointing hole-out when
beautifully set with 14 overs left - to 222 for nine when some happy Perth
spectators would have headed for the gates or parking lot to make a fast
AB de Villiers’s side slipped up badly in
one area you wouldn’t ordinarily expect them to wilt in: catching.
A veritable bagful of chances, both easy
and difficult, were spilled and culprits were almost too many to mention
individually – expect a fierce, urgent focus on this department ahead of Sunday’s
follow-up fixture at the same venue.
Had South Africa managed to avoid more of
these clangers, the Aussies would quite feasibly have been restricted to 250
runs or perhaps even fewer ... and a different result may well have been
But the aggressive, hungry hosts, who
richly deserved this win in the final analysis, would certainly have taken additional
heart for the remaining contests from certain enduring other weaknesses in the
One was the “death” phase of the Australian
innings, when they clouted 104 runs in the final 10 overs and did some fairly
grievous harm to the figures of the likes of Dale Steyn (impressive initially)
and the glaringly out-of-form Ryan McLaren – the latter may be lucky to get a
gig in game two of the WACA double-header.
The situation now cries out for Kyle
Abbott, suitably strangling in his closing stints in a couple of the Twenty20
internationals, to find a return berth in the ODI side.
Another unwanted but increasingly worrisome
phenomenon was South Africa encountering batting angst in the lower-middle
order, which all too quickly nipped in the bud the menacing advances that had
been made by De Villiers and Miller in an authoritative fifth-wicket stand of
You almost expect a big score out of De Villiers
every time, and in smashing 80 he became the fastest batsman in history to
7 000 ODI runs.
It was his 166th innings,
eclipsing the 174 needed by India’s Sourav Ganguly, the previous record-holder
who had set the mark in the slightly unlikely setting - at least for him - of
Paarl against Kenya.
Miller getting 65 at No 6 was an overdue
mercy, but quite what the Proteas do to stiffen the batting from around seven
down, without harming bowling efficiencies too mortally, is a mystery wrapped
in a riddle and boxed in a conundrum.
How about you try?
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing