Harare - South Africa and Australia have been involved in some epic one-day tussles over the years. The Wanderers “438” game in 2006 immediately jumps out, and then there is the fateful tied 1999 World Cup semi-final in Birmingham. Please now add Wednesday’s “328” match at the Harare Sports Club to that list.
But hang on for a minute - those other two games were closely-fought contests where the result basically hinged on the outcome of the last couple of balls.
On Wednesday, the Proteas simply obliterated an Australian attack that was embarrassingly one-dimensional to coast home with 20 balls to spare in a match that yielded a sum total of 655 runs.
At the halfway mark, there would have been concerns that South Africa’s preparation for their Tri-Series opener was perhaps too relaxed after numerous slip-ups in the field and an ill-disciplined bowling performance that allowed Australia to post a formidable total of 327/7, built around a solid 111-ball century from opener Aaron Finch.
But statistics at this charming ground, which was gloriously lit up with sunshine throughout a most entertaining day, indicate that teams chasing a target more often that not go home with the cream.
It was this information that De Villiers was armed with when he won the toss and inserted the Australians earlier, and it was also the comforting factor when his team started their innings.
The fact that the Proteas clinically executed the plan will also start to convince the team, and their more sceptical followers scarred by previous blowouts, that perhaps this group of players can close out games with the bat in pressure situations.
“It’s huge. It’s great confidence for us moving forward. We haven’t chased very well in the past, so for us to get across the line like that means a lot to all of us,” De Villiers said.
Wednesday’s victory was even more pleasing after the Proteas surrendered the ICC World No 1 Test mace to Australia for a couple of months after the home defeat to Michael Clarke’s team at the beginning of the year.
It was built on the backs of those two magnificent Affies boys AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, as the pair royally entertained during their match-winning and record-breaking 206-run partnership for the third wicket.
In a short space of time their mercurial feats together in the longest format have become the thing of legend in South African cricket, but in one-day internationals they are at polar opposite ends of their careers.
De Villiers has been perched at the top end of the ODI batsmen rankings for a good couple of years now.
Du Plessis, meanwhile, is in the process of trying to nail down that No 3 spot after Jacques Kallis’s retirement, and before Wednesday was still searching for his maiden ODI century in comparison to De Villiers, only now being behind Herschelle Gibbs (21 centuries) on the all-time list for South Africa.
Du Plessis scaled his Everest Wednesday and it would be fair to suggest that “first-drop” behind the opening pair of Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock has been secured possibly all the way to the World Cup next February due to an innings that was embroidered with shots of impeccable timing, especially straight down the ground aerially.
Left-arm slinger Mitchell Johnson can certainly attest to this after the home summer’s nemesis was despatched over long-on in a shot of such disdain that belied the reputation of the bearded bowler.
“He’s (Faf) been under a lot of pressure from a lot of people in the ODI format, but we’ve always had a lot of belief in him as a player. He’s definitely our rock - he has been for the last while, and he’s playing unbelievable cricket at the moment. He’s just proved a lot of people wrong, although I know that’s not why he plays the game,” De Villiers said.
But for a pure blend of beautifully measured and spectacularly inventive strokes, there is none better than the maestro De Villiers.
And he dug deep into his magic box Wednesday for the first time this month in Zimbabwe, ensuring the $7 entry fee for this clash was mere petty change.
De Villiers hobbled around with cramp for the majority of his innings, but just like in Grenada during a World Cup tie with West Indies back in 2007, it seems that he is so richly talented that he only needs one leg to bat on, as was evident when he took his pyrotechnics to a new level with a scoop for six late in the day.
South Africa had some good fortune - De Villiers was dropped on 78 and 85 when the game was still in the balance - but they won with so much to spare, thanks also to JP Duminy, who ensured there would be no late scares after Du Plessis’s dismissal, that they deserved the bragging rights in round one of this triangular series.
Australia 327/7 (50 overs): Finch 101, Bailey 66
South Africa 328/3 (46.4 overs): De Villiers 136 not out, Du Plessis 106
South Africa won by 7 wickets