A heroic century from Proteas skipper Temba Bavuma was not enough as his side slipped to a tight three wicket defeat against Australia in the opening ODI of the five match series at the Mangaung Oval in Bloemfontein on Thursday night.
The Proteas batted first with Bavuma essentially playing a lone hand, scoring an unbeaten 114 off 142 balls (14×4; 1×6) to get them to a well below par 222 all out, but Australia made hard work of the chase before a brilliant fightback saw them sneak the win.
The visitors were in deep trouble on 113/7 in the 17th over, before concussion replacement Marnus Labuschagne (80no) and Ashton Agar (48no) combined for a stunning unbeaten 112-run eighth wicket stand to take their side home.
Labuschagne replaced Cameron Green in the batting order after Green only faced two balls, the second of which was a short ball from Proteas speedster Kagiso Rabada that rattled into the side of his helmet, leading to him going off the field with concussion.
The Australian chase got off to a chaotic start as David Warner inside edged his first ball from Marco Jansen onto his own stumps to depart for a golden duck, before Travis Head (33) and Mitchell Marsh (17) counter-attacked taking them to 38/1 after five overs.
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At the start of the sixth over Rabada had Marsh caught behind by a superb delivery, swinging away and taking the edge, followed two balls later by Green retiring hurt.
Josh Inglis (1) was then bowled by Rabada, Head skied a Ngidi delivery to be caught by his fast bowling partner and Gerald Coetzee had Alex Carey’s middle stump uprooted with his first delivery to reduce the visitors to 72/5 in the 12th over.
This brought Labuschagne in to join Marcus Stoinis (17) and they attempted to revive the innings by counterattacking, but having struck four boundaries in his 10 ball knock, Stoinis was rushed by a short and quick Coetzee delivery, pulling it straight to Heinrich Klaasen at midwicket.
With the score on 93/6 Australia were in trouble and it soon became even worse when Sean Abbott (9) was bowled by Keshav Maharaj leaving them on 113/7, but that brought Agar in to join Labuschagne and they batted their side to an impressive comeback win.
In the first innings the Proteas got off to a very slow start as Quinton de Kock (11) and Bavuma struggled against some very accurate bowling from openers Stoinis and Josh Hazelwood who kept them in check.
Bavuma received his first lifeline in the sixth over as the first ball from first change Abbott found the outside edge and flew to point where Agar dived to his left trying to take a one handed grab but dropped the chance.
De Kock then fell to the short ball, caught on the boundary off Stoinis, while Rassie van der Dussen (8) was run out after a disastrous mix-up as the Proteas slipped to 33/2.
In the 16th over Bavuma, on 24, was given out LBW to Agar, but he reviewed and the decision was overturned with the ball clearly going down the leg side.
Aiden Markram (19) and Klaasen(14) both looked good, but Markram top edged a short ball from Green to be caught by keeper Carey and Klaasen was castled by a Stoinis delivery that kept low.
David Miller edged a Hazelwood ball behind to fall for a second ball duck leaving the Proteas in big trouble on 100/5 in the 26th over.
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Budding allrounder Jansen, 32 off 40 balls (3×4; 1×6) then came in and provided Bavuma with the partnership he was craving as the two set about a positive 57-run sixth wicket stand.
This allowed Bavuma to bring up his half century with a single in the 29th over, while they passed the 150-run mark in the 36th over.
Jansen’s dismissal in the next over bowled by Hazelwood then sparked a mini collapse as Coetzee (2), Maharaj (2) and Rabada (1) all followed in quick succession as they slipped to 185/9.
With just Ngidi left Bavuma knew he had to attack and after slamming back to back boundaries off Abbott in the 45th over, he skied a ball from Adam Zampa in the 46th, only for Carey to drop the easy chance.
This allowed the skipper to bat on and in the 48th over he took advantage, pulling Zampa over deep midwicket for six and then pulled a boundary to the same region to reach his hundred in style.
He managed to strike a few more lusty blows, cracking three boundaries in Hazlewood’s penultimate over, before Ngidi was finally last man out caught behind for a 10 ball duck.
South Africa: Temba Bavuma (capt), Quinton de Kock (wk), Rassie van der Dussen, Aiden Markram, Heinrich Klaasen, David Miller, Marco Jansen, Gerald Coetzee, Keshav Maharaj, Lungi Ngidi, Kagiso Rabada
Australia: Travis Head, David Warner, Mitchell Marsh (capt), Cameron Green, Josh Inglis, Alex Carey (wk), Marcus Stoinis, Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Josh Hazlewood, Adam Zampa