Cameron White‘s composure guided Australia to a fighting, if occasionally flawed, series victory over South Africa in the third and final Twenty20 at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium.
Another underwhelming crowd – this time 24,187 against a capacity of about 80,000 – confirmed that cricket is more readily appreciated on television than at the ground in early November, irrespective of the format, but Australia’s steady improvement after a heavy loss in the first match in Adelaide was a vindication of a somewhat experimental squad and their interim coach Trevor Bayliss.
White is not yet a part of Australia’s ODI squad with the World Cup now a matter of months away, but Mark Waugh, the selector on duty, could file a glowing report of his cool head to seal this result when others, including Glenn Maxwell and Shane Watson, may have chosen wiser strokes in pursuit of a modest total.
Handy stands with Maxwell and James Faulkner, who also bowled neatly in helping restrict South Africa to a mere 6 for 145, allowed White and Australia to creep within sight, though the late wickets of Pat Cummins and Sean Abbott left South Africa in with a chance of stealing a tie or even a win.
In the end a pair of white-knuckle singles off the accurate bowling of Kyle Abbott took Australia home, with White now waiting eagerly to see if he will be considered for further limited-overs duty this summer.
Australia had made one change to the team that won by a wide margin at the MCG on Friday, bringing in Nic Maddinson for Nathan Reardon. South Africa dropped Kagiso Rabada, Ryan McLaren and Imran Tahir following that defeat, calling up Marchant de Lange, Robin Peterson and David Wiese.
Melbourne’s drop-in pitch had offered decent pace and bounce, but the more pudding-like countenance of the Stadium Australia equivalent was demonstrated within the space of Doug Bollinger’s first over. Hendricks and de Kock were neither hurried nor troubled, and used the pace of the ball handily in raising a stand of 75 by the ninth over.
It was Cummins who broke the stand, with a short ball de Kock touched behind to Ben Dunk when trying to hook, and this delivery would prove Australia’s preferred method by which to slow the visitors’ momentum. Cummins, Bollinger and Faulkner all banged the ball in to good effect, often utilising the slower bouncer. Cameron Boyce also bowled usefully, coaxing Rilee Rossouw to slap to mid-on.
Having been 0 for 75 in 8.3 overs, the final 11.3 overs reaped a mere 70 runs for the cost of six wickets. It was a decline that did not merit victory, and meant that Australia were permitted a few wobbles before White took them home.