Amla and de Villiers race to series win
A rebuilding South Africa sealed a series victory over an Australian outfit struggling with the same phase during a dominating performance in Adelaide that earned a 3-1 lead. The tourists arrived last month hoping for some success against the world champions in the Test and one-day formats, but they will leave with commanding victories in each arena after wrapping up this five-match contest before Friday's final fixture in Perth.
While South Africa's order has gained confidence, from Herschelle Gibbs at the top to Albie Morkel and Johan Botha towards the bottom, the Australians are in worse shape than when they began. Throughout the series their batting has struggled to build on strong platforms and they wasted another chance on Monday as they dropped from the comfort of 2 for 110 in the 20th over to 222 in the 48th.
The visitors have conquered much bigger totals than that this month and there was little to worry about once Gibbs determined to hit as many boundaries as possible. Hashim Amla was stylish as usual in a controlled 80 off 103 balls while AB de Villiers, who had stood in behind the stumps for Mark Boucher, sped towards 82 from 85 after starting calmly. The result came with 71 balls remaining and South Africa hadn't even called for the batting Powerplay.
South Africa showed how good the pitch was and how bad Australia's total was as the home side's bowlers suffered as well. At times it looked like a tour game and the international batsmen were trying to out-do each other.
Gibbs eased eight boundaries in his 29-ball 38 and Amla maintained a lively pace while finding gaps on both sides of the wicket from the fast men. de Villiers, who swept to a half-century with a four and a six from David Hussey, joined in after Jacques Kallis (13) flicked James Hopes to midwicket and they were 100 in 15 overs.
The pace slowed a touch as Amla and de Villiers wanted to make sure of the victory, but it increased with de Villiers feeling comfortable and the win came shortly after sunset. It was not the sort of national holiday the Australians in the crowd had wanted after sitting through a day with temperatures in the mid to high 30s.
Each time the hosts have threatened to sprint away against South Africa they have been roped back and it happened again. Australia failed to copy their pre-match talk and flopped after losing four key wickets in the middle of the innings to throw away the gains made by Ricky Ponting's aggressive half-century.
They were 2 for 17 in the third over before Ponting and Michael Hussey steered them away from the initial danger in a 93-run partnership. It was the brightest period of the match for the home team before Botha, the captain, restricted them during another strong performance with ball and brain.
Botha picked up two wickets in a ten-over spell worth 28 as the batsmen were unable to work out ways of deflecting him. His first breakthrough came when Hussey (28) was unhappy to be lbw trying to sweep and the collection was completed with a careless shot from Brad Haddin.
Ponting, who edged Albie Morkel on 38 but was given not out, was set for a big score until he found Neil McKenzie at short cover. He walked off wanting more than 63 off 70 as the South Africans congratulated Makhaya Ntini. Ntini (3 for 52) and Dale Steyn (3 for 49) were the most successful bowlers after ignoring some harsh early treatment.
Instead of joining the second recovery, Haddin swiped at Botha and was caught at deep midwicket for 3 and David Hussey (24) followed with an airy square drive. The situation was suddenly a dire 6 for 151 and the contest had turned one-sided. Cameron White, who mixed caution and bouts of aggression in his 30, added 37 with James Hopes, who finished with 42 off 44. Australia's problems were compounded by them not having taken the batting Powerplay, which was eventually called in the 43rd over with the score 8 for 189.
When Ponting was involved such a situation was unthinkable. He started loosely but tightened up as he unleashed five boundaries in seven balls. The burst was responsible for Australia reaching 66 from the first ten overs, a feat made more impressive after the early losses of Shaun Marsh and David Warner. Ponting's fifty came up in the 15th over, but he soon joined the list of unnecessary dismissals.
In the past five home one-day series Australia have beaten only New Zealand and Bangladesh. Fortunately for Ponting, Daniel Vettori's men are their opponents in the Chappell-Hadlee Series next week. However, more appointments are scheduled with the formidable South Africans before the end of February.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo