Australia bossed South Africa in game one of the five-match contest, putting up an imposing score and then strangling wickets at regular intervals to win by 141 runs and reclaim, at least temporarily, the No. 1 one-day ranking. An assured half-century from Michael Hussey propelled Australia after a shaky start and then the bowlers performed as a tight unit to demolish South Africa's batting. Leading the rout in the field was Nathan Hauritz, with career-best figures in a testing spell of off spin.
South Africa's chase was dented early. Nathan Bracken, whom Ricky Ponting backed to bounce back after an uncharacteristically expensive Twenty20 outing on Sunday, had Hashim Amla pushing leaden-footedly at an awayswinger and walking after Brad Haddin collected the ball.
Graeme Smith wasn't bullish on his comeback, but he was solid. A Mitchell Johnson short ball was swatted for four early on and a leg-stump full toss duly clipped away, and shortly afterwards Smith leant forward and crashed Bracken through the covers. He was not always to the pitch of the ball, but that hardly mattered as he drove on the up and through the line with sure hands.
Smith lost Herschelle Gibbs with the score 91 in the 16th over, the victim of his own gung-ho approach. Gibbs had been intent on giving the ball a good thumping, and did pick up five meaty boundaries before he cut James Hopes to backward point.
That became 94 for 3 when the umpire Asoka de Silva failed to hear a thick inside edge on an lbw shout from Johnson against AB de Villiers. Ponting's decision to recall Johnson had worked, albeit with a big slice of luck. Then Hauritz turned it on, drawing a return catch from Smith after he passed fifty. Next to go was Mark Boucher top-edging an attempted paddle to Haddin. Hopes kept it tight and added a scratchy JP Duminy, chipping to mid-on.
Albie Morkel is a keen striker of the ball, but at 125 for 6 there was little he could do. Hauritz proposed, Albie accepted, and Haddin completed the vows with a simple stumping. The last two wickets came soon after, the debutant Ben Laughlin getting his name on board. Hauritz finished a dismal innings in the 32nd over and finished with 4 for 29. He bowled with great control, fizzing it up on good lines, and was rewarded for his accuracy.
Rarely during their 50 overs on a good batting track were Australia in any serious danger, except perhaps from themselves. A quixotic innings of fits and starts, counter-attacking partnerships and catastrophic running ended on a challenging 286 thanks to Michael Hussey and Haddin. Ponting's untimely dismissal to a casual shot had earlier triggered a manic collapse of three wickets for 36 before Hussey's superbly paced inning bruised South Africa on a flat pitch.
Even with Clarke's early dismissal runs were available. Ponting grew into his aggressive skin after an uncertain beginning and was typically dismissive off his legs. He bettered a straight shot off Ntini by clubbing Morne Morkel back over his head for an effortless boundary but was out next ball, lofting to mid-on. At first Haddin's ventures at the crease gained him little, but he soon found a range of shots, veering from flat-batted fours off the bemused Makhaya Ntini to swings past midwicket and nudges past the wicketkeeper.
Two needless run outs, down to plain poor calling, threatened to derail Australia but Callum Ferguson and Michael steadied with a 53-run stand. No heroics were needed, although the run rate dipped as Johan Botha bustled down his off spin. Ferguson and Michael ticked over singles and the odd double, mindful of the need to avoid another collapse.
Michael dug in and found some much-needed form. He had an uncomfortable time in six Tests against South Africa but shrugged it off with a composed half-century. It was a finely-judged effort, nudging singles at first as Australia rebuilt and then improvising cannily. His innings contained pleasing drives, wristy clips and stolen runs but most importantly Michael remained till the end.
With the enthusiastic Hopes he played the field well, waiting for the loose deliveries rather than trying to create something from nothing, and added 67 in 68 balls. Hopes went for 38 in the 46th over but some generous full tosses didn't help South Africa. Michael made room and cracked Steyn for four and collected two sixes as the bowlers slightly wilted in the line of fire. Hauritz chipped in with a priceless 20 from 11 balls.
Those efforts proved more than enough for a sloppy South Africa.