An unbeaten David Warner innings wasn’t enough to engineer a T20 victory over South Africa, as Australia collapsed at Port Elizabeth.
Australia’s last man standing, Warner was left stranded as the Proteas turned the series on its head.
The South Africa attack kept its head at the death, producing a superb bowling performance to secure a 12-run win to level the three-match series.
The left-hander finished unbeaten on 67, having batted through an innings in which Steve Smith (29) provided the only other notable contribution in a chase of 159.
Last time Australia had played at St George’s Park, an already heated Test series went into overdrive when a number of fans – and two Cricket South Africa officials – were photographed wearing Sonny Bill Williams face masks.
The nasty reference to Warner’s wife Candice plunged relations between the two countries to new depths.
Warner fittingly looked set to pilot Australia to a fourth straight T20 series victory when he and Mitch Marsh narrowed the equation to 25 off 18 balls.
But Faf du Plessis and David Miller combined for an outrageous relay catch on the boundary to see off Marsh and Warner found himself stranded at the non-striker’s end as Matthew Wade and Ashton Agar came and went.
“He’s a competitor and I think every game of cricket means something to him,” assistant coach Andrew McDonald said.
“He was out there in the contest and he’s disappointed as he sits there in the change rooms. He feels like he potentially could have got us over the line, that’s the sort of player he is … he’s motivated no matter what the scenario or the opposition is.”
It wasn’t the only moment of fielding heroics, as Smith produced a jaw-dropping piece of athleticism to leap behind the boundary rope and deny Quinton De Kock a six off Adam Zampa’s bowling during South Africa’s innings.
The series decider will be played in Cape Town on Wednesday night (Thursday morning AEDT).
McDonald said captain Aaron Finch and coach Justin Langer would continue to keep their options open in the middle order after Alex Carey’s failed promotion to No.4.
“Justin wants the players to be flexible, we’re training them to be flexible and most of the time these guys have batted in all different situations and positions in the order,” he said.
“We’ll be flexible between four, five and six and I don’t think that’d be any different in Cape Town depending on the situation.”