Explosive allrounder Mitchell Marsh has spearheaded a crucial 62-run bonus point win over South Africa to book Australia’s place in the one-day tri-series final in Harare.
Looking to save face after their embarrassing defeat at the hands of lowly Zimbabwe two days ago, Australia came out with renewed purpose with both bat and ball, setting the Proteas a target of 288 to win.
Faf du Plessis scored his second consecutive hundred against Australia this series, but Marsh’s incredible 86 not out from 51 balls and two wickets proved the difference as the Proteas were all out for 220 after 44 overs.
Had Australia lost, they would have opened the door for Zimbabwe to beat South Africa in the last round-robin match on Thursday and bump them out of the final to be played on Saturday.
But now the decider will pit Australia against fierce rivals the Proteas.
After Australia were sent in, in-form opener Phil Hughes played beautifully for 85, before late in the innings Marsh came in at No.6 and found the middle of the bat with the most memorable knock of his career.
In the 47th over, the 22-year-old opened the shoulders to blast Dale Steyn for three consecutive sixes – the first time that’s happened to the Proteas star in his career.
Marsh crunched 64 off 24 balls as Australia clubbed 70 runs from the final five overs to lift out of trouble in the middle overs and post a competitive 7-287.
The seven giant sixes Marsh piloted over the fences – but mostly over the grandstands – is the most by an Australian in an innings since Shane Watson hammered 15 against Bangladesh in 2011.
Australia’s decision to open the bowling with Glenn Maxwell paid immediate dividends as the part-time spinner claimed the wicket of Quinton de Kock.
Marsh further proved why he’s considered to have a massive future in all three forms of the game for Australia when he knocked over danger man Hashim Amla.
However, the match really tipped into Australia’s favour when spinner Nathan Lyon took the crucial wicket of South African captain AB de Villiers, who posted an unbeaten century in the Proteas’ seven-wicket win over Australia last week.
De Villiers picked George Bailey out at square leg and South Africa were 3-64.
Du Plessis (126 off 109 balls), who has had most of his success against Australia over the years, played a magnificent innings featuring eight fours and six sixes.
But he was running out of partners when Mitchell Johnson (2-30) decimated the stumps of David Miller.
The No.6 had two stumps sent flying out of the ground as Johnson showed his fearsome pace can be effective on even the slowest of wickets.
Du Plessis was ultimately out hit wicket to Kane Richardson, who took two wickets.