South Africa 160 for 6 (van den Dussen 56, Miller 39, Jarvis 3-37) beat Zimbabwe 126 all out (Moor 44, Tahir 5-23) by 34 runs
Rassie van der Dussen launched his international career with a fifty and Imran Tahir took 5 for 23 as South Africa surged to a 34-run win over Zimbabwe in the first T20I at Buffalo Park in East London. One of two debutants for South Africa, van der Dussen shared in stands of 41 and 87 with Faf du Plessis and David Miller to leave Zimbabwe chasing 161 under lights.
A dewy outfield did nothing to numb Tahir's zip in the second innings and during a mesmerising performance he moved ahead of Dale Steyn as South Africa's leading wicket-taker in this format, twice finding himself on a hat-trick. Once he was done, Peter Moor and Brandon Mavuta sparked an unlikely comeback late in the evening with six sixes and two fours in the space of 13 deliveries as Zimbabwe hustled their way into a dangerous position, but the tail had been left with too much to do after another limp top-order effort. Junior Dala, Lungi Ngidi and Andile Phehlukwayo struck in successive overs to close out the game and give South Africa a 1-0 series lead.
The hosts had needed to be sharp with the ball after firing in fits and starts to reach 160 for 6 after deciding to bat - just about par if the scores from the recent Africa T20 matches played in East London are any indication. That they got as many as that was thanks in large part to an assured debut innings from van der Dussen.
He helped to jump-start South Africa's innings from a rickety 11 for 2, first as a spectator as his captain du Plessis bullied five fours and two sixes inside the Powerplay, and then as the main act alongside Miller. Van der Dussen looked to score mainly through the leg side - 41 of his 56 came in that direction - and a whip to the long-leg boundary took his stand with Miller to fifty, and his team beyond 100, in the 13th over.
He and Miller had been made to graft at the beginning of their stand, and Miller's strike rate didn't reach 100 until he'd faced his 11th delivery. Brandon Mavuta's legspin proved particularly difficult to get away, and he followed up his first-ball dismissal of du Plessis with a spell of 1 for 19 from his four overs.
Van der Dussen reached a 39-ball fifty and with four overs to go South Africa had set a solid base, reaching 124 for 3 with two set batsmen at the crease. The pair seemed to have lit the fuse on their charge with 15 runs off the first four balls of the 17th over, but Zimbabwe executed the T20 death bowling skillset to perfection to seize control of the remainder of the innings. Eleven of the remaining deliveries brought either dots or wickets.
Were it not for five wides from a yorker gone awry, Chris Mpofu's last two overs would have cost only eight runs and his last six balls were an exposition of deceptive changes of pace and line. He kept Andile Phehlukwayo and Junior Dala to just four runs in the final over as South Africa reached a total that seemed, at the time, about 20 runs short.
It seemed like plenty when Tahir - once again opening the bowling - took three wickets in four balls to find himself on a hat-trick for the second time in a week. His third wicket left Zimbabwe teetering at 11 for 3, and though Sean Williams survived the hat-trick ball, Tahir wasn't done there.
He returned in the 11th over to get rid of Williams, the left-hander charging out only to be bowled for 21, and Elton Chigumbura lbw to a wrong 'un one after the other, but his second hat-trick chance of the evening also went begging. Nevertheless, Zimbabwe seemed utterly out of the contest at 70 for 7 in the 13th over, and Tahir had every chance of claiming South Africa's best-ever T20 figures with an over still in the bag.
Instead, Mavuta slogged him for six over midwicket, sparking a frenetic few minutes that threatened to turn the game on its head. Moor pulled and swept four sixes in a row to wreck Tabraiz Shamsi's figures, and when Mavuta swiped 18 runs from the first five balls of Dala's third over Zimbabwe needed a suddenly gettable 38 from 25.
But Dala dismissed him with the sixth to snap a 53-run stand, and the tail was left with too much to do. Lungi Ngidi and Kyle Jarvis' bouncer war continued, with the South African decisively winning this round, and Moor's first mis-hit of the evening landed in Christiaan Jonker's lap at long off to end the innings with two and a half overs yet to be bowled. Once again, Zimbabwe bossed passages of play but as was the case in the ODIs, South Africa were good enough when it really mattered.
Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town