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January 30, 2009
South Africa's near-perfect tour began with a Test win in Perth and fittingly it finished with a one-day triumph at the same venue as Australia conceded the No. 1 ranking to Johan Botha's men. JP Duminy, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers, all of whom contributed to the Test successes, finished the trip strongly and the debutant Lonwabo Tsotsobe picked up four wickets to give the tourists one more happy story to recount on the flight home.
When South Africa arrived in Australia in December, they fancied their chances in the Tests but felt they still had a lot of improving to do in the shorter format. It's not unusual for holidaymakers to head back to their own country with a fresh perception of the world and that's exactly what South Africa will take home thanks to their 4-1 result and new No. 1 status.
South Africa had waited all series for the chance to bat first and when they did, they set the largest target of the five games thanks to Amla, de Villiers and Duminy. Australia knew that chasing 289 was going to be tough and when they stumbled to 4 for 53, Ricky Ponting might have been ready to update his assessment that Monday's loss in Adelaide was their worst performance of the summer.
But in a reverse of Australia's trend throughout the series, the middle and lower orders outshone their colleagues at the top. Michael Hussey's 78 gave them the subtlest of sniffs and David Hussey and Brad Haddin made handy contributions but, like an Australian Tour de France cyclist, the uphill effort was simply too arduous.
Their requirement of 164 from 20 overs became 100 from ten and, regardless of how clean Haddin could strike the ball, it was all too much. Not even when Tsotsobe went for 19 from an over in the batting Powerplay did Australia feel confident, because Tsotsobe deceived Michael Hussey from the fourth delivery with a slower ball that took leg stump.
It added to the perfection for Tsotsobe, who picked up two wickets in his first four overs of one-day international bowling and returned for a late caught-and-bowled to finish with 4 for 50. With his fifth delivery he had Shaun Marsh caught flicking to midwicket, and he followed up with the crucial removal of Ponting, who top-edged an attempted pull that was well taken by the wicketkeeper de Villiers running back with the flight of the ball.
As if to prove it was not Australia's day, the opener David Warner, who had managed a couple of sweetly-struck boundaries, was run out for 22 when Michael Hussey's straight drive clipped the fingers of the bowler Wayne Parnell and ricocheted back onto the stumps. If he couldn't match his fellow debutant Tsotsobe in the wickets column, the run-out was the next best thing.
Just as impressive for South Africa was yet another stifling bowling spell from their captain Botha, whose ten overs brought 1 for 38. Having replaced Graeme Smith as the leader for the limited-overs portion of the trip, Botha had enormous shoes to fill and he performed better than even his most one-eyed supporters could have expected. He had admirable help from three of the Test stars.
Amla had promised so much throughout the tour but until his unbeaten 80 in Adelaide had struggled to build on his promising starts. His 97 was the closest thing to a century in this series and he did it in a typically calm manner, striking 52 singles and not bothering with a boundary for 26 overs as he and de Villiers picked off easy ones and twos through the middle overs.
There had been a couple of early cheers for Amla, who had guided Ben Hilfenhaus over third man for six, but once they fell to 2 for 58 he adopted the more conservative approach. His 118-run partnership with de Villiers, who was equally composed in his 60, set the platform for Duminy to go nuts in the final overs.
In the first ODI at the MCG, Duminy had scored 71 without managing a boundary. At the WACA, he proved his adaptability by belting an unbeaten 60 from 42 deliveries. He helped South Africa add 53 in the batting Powerplay, which was taken at the start of the 43rd over, and raised his half-century from 33 balls with a super six over long-off from Nathan Bracken.
Another couple of sixes against Bracken and Mitchell Johnson helped lift the total and it was fitting that Duminy, who has stamped his authority on international cricket throughout the tour, continued to demolish Australia until the very end. He even chipped in later with the wicket of David Hussey.
Perhaps the only negative for the entire match for South Africa was a late injury to Albie Morkel, who collided with Vaughn van Jaarsveld as they converged on an attempted catch. Morkel hobbled off the field with what looked like a knee problem, but he now has more than a month to recover before the return ODI series in South Africa.
The final result meant that, should South Africa win the Test series that begins in Johannesburg on February 26, they will be the world's No. 1-ranked one-day and Test teams. The positives for Australia in the lead-up to that series are few, even though they could regain their No.1 ranking by beating New Zealand next week. All they can take comfort in is that they will enter the contest as the underdogs, with modest expectations. South Africa are officially now the team to beat.
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