THE Castle Lager Proteas performed well below the standards they have set for themselves in going down by 32 runs to Australia in the first of five ODI matches at the WACA in Perth on Friday.
The Australians won virtually all the big moments of the match, starting with the 96-run opening partnership between David Warner and Aaron Finch after the Proteas had won the toss. The Proteas then made a commendable fight-back to have the home side 144/5 at the end of the 30th over as Vernon Philander gave an object lesson on where to pitch the ball on his way to figures of 4/28 from 8 overs.
His final two overs at the death cost him 17 runs but his overall figures of 4/45 were still outstanding.
Australia then regained control by doubling their total in the final 20 overs to set South Africa the highest ever runs chase at this venue of 301. The runs charge was set up by George Bailey who gave two easy chances before he had reached double figures and then took full advantage to finish with top score of 70 (75 balls, 3 fours and 3 sixes).
Australia strengthened their position further by having the Proteas four down for 76 runs in 16 overs before AB de Villiers and David Miller restored some substance to the runs chase with a partnership of 126 that fell narrowly short of South Africa’s fifth wicket record against Australia as well as the ground record.
De Villiers (80 off 76 balls, 4 fours and a six) and Miller (65 off 65 balls, 5 fours and a six) actually kept the Proteas ahead on the comparative run rate with the required rate at just over 7 to the over and the Proteas having six wickets in hand.
In the process De Villiers became the third South African after Jacques Kallis and Herschelle Gibbs to reach 7 000 ODI runs and the fastest player ever to reach this landmark.
The Proteas unfortunately had a disastrous batting power play that saw them lose 4 wickets for 17 runs including both the major batsmen. Nathan Coulter-Nile started the rot by dismissing both Miller and Ryan McLaren in the space of three deliveries and went on to be named Man of the Match for his return of 4/48.
The Proteas committed the cardinal sin of not being able to bat out their full 50 overs and it was a telling fact that the second highest partnership of the innings was the 46 between Morne Morkel and Imran Tahir for the final wicket – a 10th wicket record against Australia.
The Proteas found out, if they did not know it before, just how much the absence of JP Duminy affected the balance of the side but their main issue at the moment is to lift their game considerably in all three disciplines.
Australia are not without their own problems as captain Michael Clarke broke down with a recurrence of his hamstring injury with Bailey taking over the leadership when they fielded. Whether he plays again in this series remains to be seen as their home Test series against India is just around the corner.
The second match takes place at the WACA on Sunday (05h25 CAT) and will be broadcast live by SuperSport (SS2) with ball-by-ball radio coverage on SABC 2000FM.