Australian cricket’s rotten week continued as South Africa claimed a 1-0 lead in the three-match one-day series with a six-wicket win in Perth on Sunday night.
Australia’s lack of technique was cruelly exposed as it was skittled for 153 in 38 overs in a display that does not bode well for the upcoming summer.
The Proteas made short work of the run chase, losing just four wickets and reaching the victory target with a massive 124 balls to spare.
South Africa won the toss and sent in Australia on a dynamic wicket.
Veteran paceman Dale Steyn opened the bowling and he was quickly into the groove. Steyn, who had suffered a serious shoulder injury in Perth two years prior, immediately had Australia under pressure.
Travis Head failed to move his feet flashing at a cover drive in the third over and offered a thick edge to keeper Quinton de Kock, who completed a simple catch to send Head on his way for one.
Darcy Short in his fifth ODI didn’t heed the lesson. Facing just his second delivery, he carved at another full-pitched delivery from Steyn. His edge flew to skipper Faf du Plessis, who took the catch above his head.
The top order simply crumbled under a sustained spell of sharp, accurate bowling and Aaron Finch was the next to fall.
The Australian skipper was given out leg before wicket for four when he was struck on the pad by a Lungi Ngidi delivery that nipped back.
Finch failed to review the decision, which replays showed would have sailed over the stumps.
Suddenly Australia was on the ropes early at 3-8. The opening 10-over power play had rapidly become a blackout, delivering the worst start to a one-day international on home turf since the Aussies lost 3-10 to Sri Lanka in 2005-06.
Chris Lynn was starting to master the pace of the wicket when the lack of footwork in the Australia top order was again exposed. Lynn flashed at a ball outside the off stump from Andile Phehlukwayo and was on his way for 15 as Australia slumped to 4-36 in the 17th over.
The misery for Justin Langer’s team was amplified by another rash moment from Glenn Maxwell, who departed on 11 to leave his team stricken at 5-48.
Maxwell mistimed a straight delivery from Phehlukwayo, which was taken at mid-on by Heinrich Klaasen.
Marcus Stoinis produced a carbon copy of Maxwell’s shot to be caught by Klaasen for 14 and at 6-66 the Australians were in a hell of their own making.
Alex Carey was left to try to salvage the innings.
The South Australian dug in amid the carnage with paceman Pat Cummins, but their 33-run partnership ended with a run out as Cummins attempted a quick single and was undone by David Miller’s brilliant direct hit.
Carey couldn’t sustain his resistance and in ill-timed paddle shot off Imran Tahir ended his innings on 33 from 71 balls, when he was caught behind by de Kock.
Nathan Coulter-Nile and Mitchell Starc added a flurry of boundaries before Starc was trapped lbw by Tahir for 11.
Coulter-Nile breathed life into the Australian innings with 34 from 31 deliveries before he was the last man dismissed at the start of the 39th over.
South Africa’s run chase started at a brisk pace. The Australians took 16 overs to register a boundary and de Kock had peeled off a quartet of them within the first three overs.
Openers de Kock and Reeza Hendricks snuffed out any slim hopes of an Australian revival as they lifted the run rate above five per over and raced past 50 in just eight overs.
De Kock was the first to go when he holed out to Josh Hazelwood off Coulter-Nile’s bowling for 47. Hendricks grew into his innings but fell short of his 50 when he popped up a catch to Lynn off Stoinis’s bowling to depart for 44.
Stoinis played a lone hand with the ball, claiming three late wickets for Australia.
“We’ve spoken about the start of the summer and have been really excited as a group and that was disappointing. Everybody has to take responsibility for that,” Stoinis said.
Aiden Markram chopped a Stoinis delivery onto his stumps but his 36 from 32 deliveries continued the momentum of the innings, while Klaasen was the last to be dismissed just two runs short of the victory target.
Australia will be defending the World Cup in England next winter but has been in poor form in recent times. Since the Champions Trophy in mid-2017, it has won just two of its 18 one-day internationals, a startling run of wretched results.
It was another jolt on the chin for Australian cricket, which had been taking plenty of hits off the field during the week.
With so much cricket to come, fears that this could be a long, difficult summer on the field just got bigger.