Cape Town – It is on the other side of the Swan River to the legendary WACA Ground, but South Africa’s pace bowlers found the new Perth Stadium surface every bit as much to their liking in maiden exposure to it on Sunday.
Almost as if transported across by barge, it possessed many of the same bounce-and-carry hallmarks – with a noticeable bit of initial seam movement, into the bargain – as the hallowed strip at the venue that has now been largely decommissioned for premier international cricket.
Certainly the Proteas had the better of conditions after Faf du Plessis conveniently won the toss in the first of three ODIs and made the appropriate call to insert currently fragile Australia … just as certainly, though, the tourists illuminatingly bossed all facets of the contest, eventually romping to a six-wicket triumph with more than 20 overs to spare.
Of the four seamers used by South Africa, only veteran Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada had previously played international cricket at the WACA … but would very quickly have been able to observe to gleeful allies Lungi Ngidi and Andile Phehlukwayo that the strip across the water, in a 60,000-seater multisport arena, seemed no less inviting for their trade.
All of the quartet duly got stuck in with significant relish, the first-named three shock-factors cranking up the pace to consistently menacing levels and Phehlukwayo, wisely abandoning his penchant for liberal changes of pace and back-of-the-hand trickery on grippier pitches, joining the party by relying more on the disciplined “basics” of his medium-pace fare to bag a haul of 3/33.
The most telling blows, however, were struck right at the outset by the 35-year-old (some might wish to alter that to “young”, based on this display) Steyn, who ripped out left-handers Travis Short and D’Arcy Short in the space of three deliveries in his second over to place the host nation rapidly on the back foot at four for two.
Australia never really recovered, being bundled out for 152 and leaving almost 12 overs criminally unused: captain Aaron Finch ruefully admitted afterwards that “it felt like they were all over us at times”.
A thumping SA win was always going to be order of the day, in addition, when Quinton de Kock and Reeza Hendricks -- both sometimes with a hint of a swagger against the Aussies’ own revered speedsters – posted 94 runs for the first wicket in only 16.4 overs.
Indeed, Du Plessis noted afterwards, while confirming a “very good day at the office” that with a slightly more clinical approach at the wicket, the result might have been attained by a wider, more humiliating margin of eight or nine wickets.
Still, the current Australians are probably feeling humiliated enough, and although they can hardly be written off as the combat shifts to slightly slower, possibly spin-aiding Adelaide Oval on Friday, it is clearly going to require a weighty turnaround for them to snatch the honours in the short series.
As it is, they are now on a sequence of six successive ODI reverses to the Proteas, when you throw in the 5-0 sweep SA achieved on home soil in the 2016/17 season.
It seems hard to believe, watching the callow, too often victory-shy current crop of Aussie players, that they are the defending World Cup champions -- clearly with an almighty task on their hands if they are to retain the crown in England in the middle of next year.
Australia are on a presumably unprecedented, barren trot in which they have clinched only two of their last 19 one-day international matches – a win percentage rate for the gruesome period of 10.52.
Just as gallingly, when it comes to strictly bilateral, general hostilities against their greatest southern-hemisphere rivals, they are at a novel, post-isolation low point considering that the Proteas also sport bragging rights from each of the last two Test series, one home and one away.
You’d expect a spirited rebalancing initiative of some kind before too long from a nation who don’t like, or often experience, dealing in habitual defeat.
But it also doesn’t seem, based on Sunday’s evidence, that Du Plessis and company (oh yes, they were terrifically intense in the fielding department as well) fancy that time being quite yet …
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