A decade after the most high-scoring ODI in history, the Wanderers witnessed something far less competitive. South Africa’s batsmen overwhelmed Australia for the second time in as many matches, despite the visiting captain winning the toss and choosing to chase on a Wanderers pitch brimful of runs. The final margin of 142 runs was South Africa’s second-biggest over Australia.
Where at Centurion it had been Quinton de Kock handing out the punishment, here it was the captain Faf du Plessis who prospered, helped either side of his innings by strong contributions by Rilee Rossouw and JP Duminy. Their innings ensured a difficult day for the Australian pace debutants Joe Mennie and Chris Tremain, who were taken for 160 runs between them in 20 overs.
In reply to a steep target of 362, the tourists were never able to mount a decent challenge from the moment Aaron Finch skied an attempt to pull Kagiso Rabada in the second over. From there, regular wickets stymied progress to make it a more or less stress-free afternoon for the Proteas, who always had plenty of runs in reserve even as Travis Head posted his highest ODI score.
On a pristine day for batting and a friendly pitch, Australia’s bowlers struggled again in the absence of Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. Du Plessis’ 111 was a fine example of high tempo and good placement, not requiring a single six despite striking at nearly 120 runs per 100 balls. Duminy’s was a bigger-hitting innings, after Rossouw had produced a flurry of boundaries against the new ball to set South Africa on the road to a big total.
After de Kock destroyed Australia’s bowling attack in making 178 in the opening match at Centurion, the visitors dropped Scott Boland and Daniel Worrall, replacing them with Mennie and Tremain. South Africa did not make any changes to the team that won the first match of the series. The captain du Plessis indicated that Hashim Amla was fit to return and had simply been left out, leaving Rossouw at the top of the order.
It was Rossouw who duly got the Proteas going in the early overs, repeatedly piercing the off-side field with well-timed strokes that flew across a fast – if somewhat uneven – Wanderers outfield.
Both Mennie and Tremain were able to beat the bat numerous times with a modicum of early seam movement, but in between whiles, a high number of boundaries meant there was little scoreboard pressure imposed. It wasn’t until John Hastings entered the attack that a wicket fell, de Kock failing to get hold of a lofted drive and offering a catch to Tremain.
Du Plessis’ early minutes at the crease were eventful and painful, as a shy at the stumps struck him on the glove as he ran through for a single. The blow required treatment, and he was to be struck there again soon after by another ball that popped up towards the splice of the bat.
Faf du Plessis notched his sixth ODI ton © AFP
However the pain subsided enough for du Plessis to get into his stride, as Rossouw maintained his form. Together they took South Africa to 146 after 24 overs, separated only when Rossouw skied Hastings just when a century beckoned.
Duminy’s arrival brought a further period of acceleration, with du Plessis also lifting his scoring rate with nifty placement and the occasional burst of power. Australia’s captain Steven Smith was hard pressed to find bowlers capable of keeping things quiet, and when Duminy began swinging – striking the first three sixes of the innings – a tally in the region of 400 looked momentarily possible.
The Australians regrouped somewhat in the later overs, dismissing Duminy and du Plessis in quick succession to pull the run-rate back slightly, and it was a fair measure of the conditions that the hosts were left feeling they could have made even more than they did. That being said, only a strong partnership or two from the potentially explosive Australian top order was going to be able to turn the contest their way,
However these sorts of stands have been missing from Smith’s team of late, with victories in Sri Lanka compiled in lower-scoring circumstances. Finch’s early wicket set the tone, with a critical moment to follow when Smith was well claimed down the leg side by de Kock from the bowling of Dale Steyn just as he looked capable of dominating.
The vice-captain David Warner seemed similarly poised after moving to 50, but then threw away his innings by clouting a Duminy long hop straight to midwicket. That dismissal left Head and the wicketkeeper Matthew Wade trying to resurrect the innings, but their stand of 69 in 61 balls served only to delay the inevitable.
Having entered this tour at less than full strength in bowling, the Australians needed to compensate in batting. A complete failure to do so in games one and two has left the series only one match away from being decided already.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig