STEVE SMITH completed back-to-back match winning innings to give Australia victory by three wickets in the fourth ODI against the Castle Lager Proteas at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Friday and an unassailable 3-1 lead in the five-match series.
In the process Smith scored his second ODI century (104 off 112 balls, 7 fours) with both his three-figure scores – the other one was against Pakistan in the UAE – having come in the last couple of months. It has been a remarkable comeback for a player who could not get into the side for the first match of this series and might not have got a chance but for Michael Clarke’s hamstring injury.
Smith came to the crease at 43/2 in the 11th over and first held a faltering top order together as Australia found themselves five down for 98 at the start of the 25th. He then rebuilt the innings during a sixth wicket partnership of 121 with Matthew Wade (52 off 59 balls with four fours and a six. This was a record for Australia against South Africa.
He then turned up the chase during a seventh wicket partnership of 48 with James Faulkner off only 27 balls. Smith was finally dismissed when the totals were level.
The Proteas total of 267/8 had always looked a good 20 to 30 runs short of par although they must have fancied their chances when they had half of Australia’s wickets down inside the first 25 overs. These wickets were shared around the four main seamers, including Kyle Abbott, who got his first chance of the series with both Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander being rested, and was hugely impressive.
When the Proteas batted, they lost three wickets fairly cheaply but AB de Villiers and David Miller then righted the ship with the best partnership of the match – 122 off 20.1 overs. Miller (45 off 61 balls, 3 fours) was the first to go but, when De Villiers was dismissed off the last ball of the 43rd over (91 off 88 balls, 6 fours), the momentum ground to a halt.
Only 37 runs were scored in the last seven overs for the loss of three wickets and this was a key moment in the match.
Australia lost Nathan Coulter-Nile with a hamstring injury and thus played most of the match without one of their frontline bowlers.
The final ODI will be played at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Sunday (05h25 CAT). SuperSport (SS2) will provide live coverage while there will also be ball by ball radio coverage on SABC’s 2000FM.