South Africa have pulled off the second-biggest run-chase in their one-day international history to sink Australia in their tri-series clash in Harare.
Seeking some revenge for Australia’s thrilling Test series win earlier this year, star Proteas batsmen AB de Villiers (136 not out) and Faf du Plessis (106) both scored brilliant hundreds to reel in the victory target of 328 and secure a comfortable seven-wicket win with 20 balls to spare.
Although it wasn’t quite in the same league as when South Africa chased down a world-record 437 to beat the Australians in Johannesburg in 2006, there was an extra sweetness to this victory in a year of bitter rivalry.
Australia set the Proteas a Harare Sports Club ground record chase of 328 to win, with opener Aaron Finch (102) smashing the fourth hundred of his ODI career.
South Africa were on the ropes early at 2-52, but the classy partnership of du Plessis and de Villiers turned the match on its head with an outstanding stand of 206 off 174 balls for the third wicket.
Skipper de Villiers and du Plessis have both been outspoken about Australia’s aggressive behaviour during the Test series in South Africa, and were no doubt eager to prove a point.
The hostilities aren’t likely to die down any time soon, the teams will likely meet two more times in Harare, and then for a lengthy limited-overs tour of Australia later this year.
Australia were left to rue two regulation drop catches from Mitchell Johnson and captain George Bailey which could have changed the course of the game.
In the 35th over with South Africa 2-221, Johnson (0-63) dropped a relatively simple return catch off his own bowling to give de Villiers a life on 78.
Two balls later de Villiers nicked one narrowly past wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, and off the next over bowled by Kane Richardson (1-68), the Proteas’ best player punched one straight to Bailey at point.
Bailey juggled and grassed a sitter.
Earlier Bailey was involved in another turning point that was completely out of his control – given out for 66 despite going nowhere near nicking a Morne Morkel delivery.
Despite picking up a leg problem, de Villiers cleared the fence with a ramp shot over backward square leg off James Faulkner (0-59) and brought up three figures with a boundary down the ground.
Du Plessis was the first to notch his hundred, his maiden ODI ton – however he gave Australia some hope when he skied one off Mitchell Starc to depart with the Proteas needing 71 off the final 12 overs.
But JP Duminy (33no) didn’t miss a beat.
Australia were left to rue a decision to leave spinner Nathan Lyon out of the line-up.
Although his replacement Phil Hughes scored an impressive 51 in his return at the top of the order, Australia missed Lyon after losing the toss and finding themselves bowling in the hot afternoon Harare sun on a slowing wicket.
South Africa’s spinner Imran Tahir took 2-45 – the crucial ones of Hughes and Mitch Marsh – but Australia’s part-timers Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell were unable to make a breakthrough.