Opener Aaron Finch, who scored 72 out of Australia's total of 142, has said that South Africa's "excellent" execution of plans in the first 10 overs of the chase set up their 47-run win in Guyana. After scoring 189 for 9, South Africa bundled out Australia in 34.2 overs to go on top of the table.
"We knew that we had to try and take on the new ball a little bit and I probably didn't do that straight up," Finch said. "The pressure builds on other players and that was unfortunate. It took me a while to get going. Yes, there was some very good bowling and you have got to give credit on a wicket that suited bowling. I thought that they executed excellent in the first 10 overs; that pulled them well ahead of the game."
Finch was the only batsman among the top nine to score in double digits and the only Australian to go past 30. Even though he batted till the 31st over, taking Australia to within 77 runs of the target, the lack of substantial partnerships cost the team. No Australian pair could put on more than 30 runs or bat for longer than eight overs.
"I think that chasing 188 on a wicket like that was always going to be tough," Finch said. "We probably needed one or two big partnerships to really kick us off but three down early wasn't ideal and we knew that as soon as the spinners come on, the new batters come in and it's always going to be hard."
Finch's patient knock was his 11th half-century in ODIs. He brought up his fifty off 58 balls but slowed down later as wickets tumbled around him. The rest of the top-nine batsmen managed only 24 runs together as Kagiso Rabada, Wayne Parnell and the spinners kept getting the breakthroughs.
"It was nice to get a few runs," he said. "When you look up and you only get done at 50-odd runs, it's disappointing. I thought that when I was batting with Nathan [Lyon] we could still get home and it was my responsibility and I got out. So that was disappointing, it doesn't feel good getting runs when you lose. You move on and regroup and the players in our side are world-class so no doubt that we can turn it around quickly."
The pitches at the Providence Stadium in Guyana in the first three matches of the tri-series have been slow with slightly uneven bounce, especially on Tuesday. Finch said that while it would take Australian batsmen some time to get used to these conditions, they would have to come up with a strategy soon to tackle the spinners.
"When you have wickets that are so foreign to us, you're still going to take a little bit of time to adapt," he said. "We know that teams are going to come with spin - both South Africa and West Indies have got quality spin line-ups. They're going to come and be aggressive with their spinners and that's something that we are prepared for and unfortunately tonight it didn't pan out for us and we weren't able to attack their spinners a hell of a lot, so that's something to work on for next time."
Batting collapse aside, Finch was still upbeat about the show his bowling team-mates, particularly the fast bowlers, put on after South Africa opted to bat on what was expected to be a spin-friendly wicket. Josh Hazlewood got the early breakthrough with Quinton de Kock's wicket and, when Nathan Coulter-Nile bowled AB de Villiers and JP Duminy, South Africa were reduced to 104 for 5.
"Disappointing to lose but I think there's still to take a lot out of it…for the way that Josh Hazlewood bowled throughout the innings - with the new and the old ball - Nathan Coulter-Nile coming back [for the second spell]…I thought that there were still a lot of positives for us," he said.
"The way that Josh Hazlewood bowled with the new ball on a wicket where we knew that Quinton de Kock was going to come hard at us. He got 2 for 20 off 10 overs, which was extraordinary. Nathan Coulter-Nile after his initial three overs, he comes back and he went for 18 or 19 off his next seven overs and grabbed the big wicket of AB. I think there were still positives there with the ball. The way that Nathan Lyon is coming back into one-day cricket is excellent, the way that he is bowling so far.
"To have South Africa at 6 for 112 after 30-odd overs was a great position to be in. We unfortunately couldn't get that other breakthrough and break that [Farhaan] Behardien and [Aaron] Phangiso partnership that allowed them to get on. But still a great effort to get them six down."
Even though spinners were expected to dominate on the slow pitch, the fast bowlers who opened for both sides in the match were successful and played cruial roles in limiting the oppositions. While Hazlewood and Coulter-Nile picked up two wickets each, Rabada finished with 3 for 13 from seven overs, and Parnell got the big wickets of David Warner and Steven Smith.
"On wickets that are predominantly down, if you've got tall bowlers who hit the wicket hard, there can be just as much assistance as there is for spin," Finch said. "You can probably get a little bit too focused on the spin having a big impact and [see] the quicks as less of a threat. But when the wicket is going down like that, if someone's banging it hard on that length consistently and some are going underground and some are going normally, it can be hard to play and they've got some quality bowlers. Rabada is an outstanding bowler and he will be for a long time and Wayne Parnell is quite experienced."
Australia will now face South Africa again in their next match, at Basseterre in St Kitts on June 11.