TELFORD VICE, Cape Town
AFTER two strange day/nights on that part of the back of the moon called Providence, Guyana, SA came back to earth in their triseries match against Australia in St Kitts on Saturday.
They did so with a bump, losing their last five wickets for 16 runs – the slipperiest slope in a slide that claimed seven wickets for 42.
That put paid to SA’s hopes of hauling in Australia’s 288/6. Instead, AB de Villiers’ team spiralled to 252 all out in 47.4 overs to lose by 36 runs.
Faf du Plessis, back from almost seven weeks in limbo because of a broken finger, kept SA in the hunt with a sturdy 63.
But his dismissal in the 32nd over – when his team were scoring at 5.70 runs to the over, or in easy reach of the required runrate of 5.89 – was the first of those unmagnificent seven wickets to fall.
Du Plessis drove too ambitiously at a wide delivery from Mitchell Starc and spooned a catch to backward point.
Six overs earlier, Hashim Amla’s industrious innings had been ended at 60 when he drove Josh Hazlewood to cover: another avoidable dismissal.
Amla and Du Plessis shared 105 for the second wicket, and Du Plessis and AB de Villiers had reasserted SA’s dominance when Du Plessis got himself out.
“When AB and I were batting we were in complete control of the game,” Du Plessis said. “It felt very close to impossible that we would lose.
“My wicket gave them a sniff but even with AB and JP there we were very much in control. Then it was a case of a few us giving away soft wickets.
“Against a team like Australia, you can’t afford to have a period in the game where you lose concentration. We almost handed it over to them.
“It was just a case of being mentally off it for five overs. From the position of strength we were in, we lost that game.”
SA’s batting has failed them in all three matches they have played in the triseries. Du Plessis didn’t think that qualified as a trend.
“By no means do I think there’s a red flag in terms of our batting unit, which has been extremely strong for the last two years,” he said. “Our batting ability has been the strength of our team.
“We’ve also not relied on AB that much. We’ve gone through series where Hashim hasn’t score runs and other guys do the thing.
“Myself, Quinton (de Kock), JP (Duminy), ‘Hash’ and AB have been the backbone of the team in terms of scoring runs. This was a case of batsmen getting in and batsmen getting out.”
Providence’s super slow surface was a mitigating factor against criticism of all who batted on it. But that won’t wash in St Kitts, where a decent pitch and a small outfield tilt the balance in the batsman’s favour.
So SA’s bowlers did a good enough job to keep Australia’s bristling line-up under 300 despite opener David Warner roaring to a century off 101 balls and half-centuries by Usman Khawaja and Steve Smith.
Left-arm wrist spinner Tabraiz Shamsi, who made his debut against the Aussies in Providence on Tuesday, made way for Kyle Abbott.
But SA again deployed three spinners: Imran Tahir, Aaron Phangiso and Duminy bowled 25 overs between them.
Kagiso Rabada, who took 1/66 off eight overs, was the only member of the attack who went for more than a run a ball.