Former schoolmates AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis both hit centuries in a game-changing 206-run partnership as South Africa chased down 327 to beat Australia by seven wickets on Wednesday.
The South Africans struck the first blow against the top-ranked Australians in the triangular one-day series in Zimbabwe as they powered to 328-3 and victory – and with 20 balls to spare – at Harare Sports Club.
Captain De Villiers was 136 not out at the end and still striking boundaries despite struggling badly with cramp in his left leg from around halfway through his innings. His good friend Du Plessis was out for 106 but the pair came together with South Africa 51-2 and wobbling. By the time they were parted 29 overs later, the Proteas were well on course for victory at 257-3 and both had hundreds.
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Their stand was the highest for the third wicket in one-dayers at Harare Sports Club and the best third-wicket partnership ever for South Africa against its great cricket rival.
Du Plessis’ century was his first in ODIs and was laced with 11 fours and a six. De Villiers gritted through the pain in his left hamstring, which left him hobbling badly between the wickets and throwing himself into headlong dives on numerous occasions when he feared he might be run out because of his hampered running.
They reached their centuries in the same over and with almost identical shots.
“I haven’t scored a lot of runs of late so to score a few here is pleasing,” De Villiers said. “I had a lot of chances and luckily I made it count.”
De Villiers was dropped twice in the space of two overs, too, when Mitchell Johnson and skipper George Bailey both put down simple chances when the South African No. 4 was on 78 and 85 respectively.
He made them pay.
De Villiers went on to the second-highest score by a South African against Australia in a 50-over game, behind only Herschelle Gibbs’ 175 in another memorable chase, when South Africa made a world-record 438 to win in Johannesburg in 2006.
De Villiers struck 11 fours and two sixes, including a scoop for maximum over backward square leg that he played almost from a sitting position. JP Duminy joined De Villiers at the end and was 33 not out, and South Africa cruised home inside 47 overs.
And yet, South Africa appeared to have made a mistake by putting Australia in to bat at the start.
Aaron Finch made 102, fellow opener Phil Hughes got 51 and Bailey a powerful 66 as Australia posted an apparently formidable 327-7, its second straight score of 300-plus after outclassing host Zimbabwe in the tournament opener.
Finch shared partnerships of 92 with Hughes and 114 with Bailey to put Australia in good position for a second win before South Africa got its chance on the batting-friendly Harare surface.
“We certainly had enough runs on the board and created enough chances, but hats off to Faf and AB, two extraordinary innings,” Australia captain Bailey said.
The bowlers were almost a sideshow as the teams served up over 650 runs, but legspinner Imran Tahir had South Africa’s best return with 2-45 and seamer Mitchell Starc led Australia with 2-62 – including the wicket of Du Plessis to a mistimed pull shot.