Australia had sealed the one-day series against South Africa with one match to go at Melbourne. As such, the Sydney ODI on Sunday was a dead rubber. Still, the hosts would have liked to have finished the series on a winning note, since 4-1 looks a lot more comprehensive than a 3-2 score line. This is exactly what Australia achieved at Sydney, with yet another comprehensive win to finish the series on a high. The victory also meant that Australia regained the number one spot in ODIs, something which will give them further confidence as the World Cup nears.
Although Australia had ticked most of the boxes going into the final ODI, the form of all-rounder Shane Watson was a worry. The burly Aussie has been struggling for form and fitness this season, and in the series against South Africa as well he hadn’t scored many runs or picked up too many wickets going into the Sydney game. That changed at the SCG. Although Watson only sent down one over during which he proved expensive, he played the starring role in Australia’s chase. His brisk knock ensured the Aussies won the match with ease.
There were further positives for the hosts in the final game. Opener Aaron Finch, who had struck a hundred earlier in the series, continued his good form, stroking a belligerent half-century to help Watson in the chase. Like Finch, Steven Smith also went into the final ODI in great form, and continued his good work, coming up with another half-century. Although Smith was lucky that he was reprieved more than once against a weakened South African bowling attack, he ensured that he used his luck to his advantage. This is a series that he would remember rather fondly.
Having won the series, Australia’s bowlers did look at tad relaxed, and that reflected in their bowling efforts. Pat Cummins was the only one who actually troubled the South African batsmen, and was deservedly rewarded with three wickets. Among the others Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc proved expensive, and weren’t among the wickets as well. James Faulkner also did not prove to be very threatening although he claimed one wicket. Glenn Maxwell and Steven Smith were the only ones who conceded under four runs an over, and also claimed a wicket each to hold back South Africa briefly.
Things looked very positive for South Africa at the start of the innings as Quinton de Kock roared back to form with a strokeful century at the top of the order. Rilee Rossouw, who was brought in for the rested South African skipper AB de Villiers, also played his part with a patient half-century. Down the order, Farhaan Behardein finally proved why he is rated so highly in the country, thumping the ball diligently to help the Proteas finish strongly. Unfortunately, the good work of the batsmen was undone by the bowlers, as Australia eased home to another impressive win.
--By A Cricket Analyst