Needing eight runs in the final over, Marcus Stoinis (24 not out) hit Dwaine Pretorius for two vital fours and completed the job with two balls to spare. This was after Australia were reeling at 81 for five in the 16th over.
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Defending a modest target of 119, South Africa got the start they were looking for when Anrich Nortje (2/21) dismissed opposition skipper Aaron Finch for a duck in the innings’ second over.
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Finch went for a drive but he could not middle it as the ball took a top edge and flew towards the third man region.
Dropped from his IPL franchise Sunrisers Hyderabad in the second leg of the league recently, David Warner (14) seemed to have found his form with three boundaries but Kagiso Rabada cut short his promising start when the batter sliced one in the air for Heinrich Klaasen to complete a catch at backward point.
Mitchell Marsh fell for 11 as South Africa left Australia struggling at 38 for three in the eighth over.
A partnership ensued between Steve Smith (35) and Glenn Maxwell (18) but their 42-run association for the fourth wicket ended when the former was sensationally caught in the deep by a sprinting Aiden Markram.
Smith pulled a short of a length delivery but Markram ran a long way before diving full stretch to his right to stun everyone.
Left-arm chinaman bowler Tabraiz Shamsi then castled Maxwell to put Australia under the pump on a pitch not really conducive for playing expansive strokes.
Matthew Wade (15 not out) released the pressure with two fours off Rabada, bringing the equation down to 25 from 18 balls.
Earlier, Australia’s bowlers scythed through South Africa’s top and middle-order batting lineup to restrict them to 118 for nine.
On a pitch where the ball came on to the bat late, Josh Hazlewood 2/19), Adam Zampa (2/21) and Michell Starc (2/33) did most of the damage, even as Aiden Markram battled his way to a 36-ball 40.
Had it not been for Kagiso Rabada’s 19, which included a one-handed six off Starc in the final over, South Africa would have got less.
South Africa started well after skipper Temba Bavuma oversaw a productive first over with two lovely boundaries through the off-side.
However, Glenn Maxwell had other ideas as the star all-rounder offset Mitchell Starc’s expensive opening over with the dismissal of the in-form Bavuma (12), who was bowled by a delivery that turned very little after the batter had refused to play on the front foot, something that could have saved him.
Pacer Josh Hazlewood left Rassie van der Dussen (2) stunned first up with a peach of a delivery that landed in the channel just outside off before taking an edge for wicketkeeper Matthew Wade to complete a simple catch.
One of South Africa’s seasoned stars, opener Quinton de Kock pulled Maxwell over mid-on for a boundary but in the first ball of the next over, the wicketkeeper-batter played a Hazlewood delivery on to his stumps after looking to play a paddle scoop. The dismissal looked quirky as de Kock saw the ball lob on to hit the stumps.
His tails up after two early wickets, Hazlewood did not concede a single run in the next five balls, leaving South Africa in a spot of bother at 23 for three.
Thanks to an exquisite boundary through mid-off by Aiden Markram, the Proteas added seven runs in the sixth over to finish the power play at 29 for three.
Australia couldn’t have asked for more and after Heinrich Klaasen got himself two boundaries on either side of the wicket, they tasted one more success when Pat Cummins had the batter caught at backward point after a leading edge.
Meanwhile, Maxwell came back to complete his quota of four overs, giving just 24 runs for the big wicket of Bavuma.
Leg-spinner Adam Zampa struck twice in the 14th over, including taking the wicket of David Miller, to leave the South Africans tottering at 82 for six, which became worse after Keshav Maharaj was run out following a horrible mix-up.