South Africa won a first-ever tournament final against Australia after a Dale Steyn bowling masterclass handed them the advantage and an anchoring innings from Faf du Plessis – which ended just four short of what would have been a fourth century in the series – guided a composed chase. Steyn’s four wickets, which included two in two balls, led a surge through the Australian middle-order in which South Africa plucked five wickets for 29 runs. South Africa paced the reply perfectly using du Plessis’ purple patch as the pivot and winning with 9.1 overs remaining.
On a pitch that had not been used in the tournament so far, Steyn found movement early on and reverse-swing by the half-way stage. Australia could not muster anything similar, nor could they find a way to dislodge du Plessis who eventually fell searching for his milestone.
Swing was on offer from the outset but it did not account for the initial breakthrough; Phillip Hughes’ overeagerness to show aggression did. He hit the first ball of Steyn’s third over hard but AB de Villiers had moved himself out of slip and to short cover, where he collected a stinger. Similarly, after Wayne Parnell’s opening over cost nine runs, Steve Smith tried to take the left-armer on and top-edged a pull that ballooned straight up for David Miller at mid-on.
South Africa spinners then enforced a stranglehold as Aaron Phangiso found bounce and Imran Tahir used the googly to good effect. Ultimately, it was Tahir’s variation that accounted for George Bailey who chopped one on as he failed to pick the wrong ‘un. Australia needed a batsman to partner Aaron Finch and Mitchell Marsh looked the candidate to do the job but the strike was seldom rotated. Finch reached his third fifty of the tournament and but Australia were stung when Steyn’s second spell launched in full swing, literally.
Finch’s growing unease was exposed when Steyn ripped through the bat-pad gap and wrenched the stumps from the ground. With his next ball, Steyn trapped Glenn Maxwell on the back foot to open Australia up. After a six off Tahir, Marsh’s threat was also blunted when he inside-edged a Parnell delivery onto his stumps in the over before the Powerplay, leaving the lower-middle-order with a big job.
They could not complete it after Steyn trapped Haddin and Morkel dismissed Mitchell Johnson. Australia were 144 for 8 with 12 overs remaining and in danger of totalling less than their lowest score of the series – 209 for 9 when they lost Zimbabwe – but James Faulkner had other ideas.
His first task was to bat out overs and he employed an industrious approach with Mitchell Starc for seven overs in which they added only 23 runs. Once the last five overs dawned, the pair pushed. Starc cleared long-on off Phangiso, Steyn’s final over cost 13 runs with Faulkner hitting him to cow corner and extra cover and Australia inched over 200. Fifty runs came off the last five overs to give Australia’s bowlers something to work with but they needed to dig holes in South Africa’s line-up early and often.
Australia had an early success as Glenn Maxwell, sharing the new ball, had Quinton de Kock caught at cover off a leading edge. That brought du Plessis in early again and gave him the time he needed to craft his innings.
Du Plessis’ touch was Midas-like as he drove through covers, swatted short balls to midwicket and skipped down the track to Faulkner to hit him for six and bring up a fifty with Amla, who was almost invisible. Du Plessis gave Australia an opportunity when he was on 34 as he skied one over long-off but Finch could not judge his position well enough to take the catch. After the let-off, du Plessis punished Lyon to reach his fifty off 45 balls, before Amla got to his, off 72 deliveries in the next over. Amla only added another run and then hit a Smith long hop straight to cover.
Wayne Parnell was promoted to No.4 in an experiment that did not work because it slowed South Africa down. His partnership with du Plessis lasted for 30 balls and yielded 14 runs to allow Australia to regain some control. Parnell chopped Faulkner onto his stumps but even at 126 for 3, South Africa’s position was far from precarious.
Normal service resumed when de Villiers joined du Plessis and they ate into the remainder of the target, patiently at first and then with more intent as Australia’s bowlers grew frustrated. De Villiers became impatient as the 40th over began and decided to end things quickly. South Africa needed 23 runs and du Plessis nine to become the first batsman to record four centuries in an ODI series. De Villiers took two sixes and a four off Faulkner to reduce the target. South Africa team required six to win at the end over. Du Plessis needed eight.
He smashed four off the first ball of Johnson’s final over, refused a single off the next ball and then saw the third called a no-ball. In his attempt to reach the boundary to get his century, du Plessis holed out to mid-on to leave de Villiers to hit the winning runs and secure a trophy for South Africa in the lead-up to the World Cup.
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