South Africa's batting underbelly hardened up, after unconvincing showings since their World Cup quarter-final in Dhaka in March. Like many middle orders in international cricket, South Africa's need a solid start to build on, rather than wreckage to piece together, and this time they got it.
Graeme Smith found form and Jacques Kallis served as his wonderfully astute assistant, who excelled in his own right to set South Africa on track. They formed the first of two century partnerships for the team, who had struggled to put on stands of significance in their three international matches of the season.
"I'm not too sure if it was a 300 wicket, probably a 250-par score but those partnerships built it up," Hashim Amla, who was visibly delighted with his first ODI win as captain, said. "This is the way we have played cricket over the last few years and it's taken us a while to get there. It's been a bit erratic at times." South Africa succumbed to a listless collapse in the first game on Wednesday but appear to have shaken off any residual rust.
Smith's performance, in particular, was welcome, after he looked awkward in his last three outings. With public pressure mounting and calls for his head, Amla said the team knew it was only a matter of time before Smith succeeded. "Everyone knows Graeme and the amount of work he puts in and the desire he has," Amla said. "When he is playing well, we usually get good starts."
The former captain survived a few chances, after Mitchell Johnson failed to run him out and a stumping was missed off Steve Smith's bowling, but even Australia were impressed with his showing. "He hit some nice cover drives, which we didn't expect him to play," Michael Clarke, Australia's captain, said. "He had a bit of luck on the way but he was able to score quickly."
The aspect of South Africa's game that was pleasantly surprising was the second century partnership between David Miller and JP Duminy, particularly the way Miller went about his innings. Prior to this match, Miller had scored 197 runs from 14 ODIs, with one half-century against Zimbabwe.
Miller's talent has always simmered but never boiled and he was talked up as a power-hitting prospect but had not had the occasion to show it. He came in with South Africa well placed on 153 for 4 in the 31st over, with enough runs on the board to keep any panic at bay and with time left in the match to craft a proper innings.
His six off the second ball he faced was another indication of the ability that many have seen at domestic level. When he was given out lbw, at the end of the next over, it was just another promising start that ended prematurely. But, Miller showed supreme confidence when he called for the review without consultation, certain that he had inside edged. Hotspot showed that Miller was surety was unquestionable and he had made the right call.
"The point is to try and take away a decision that is obvious," Amla said. "Fortunately he got some bat on it and he batted really well for us after that."
Miller played with assurance against Johnson, driving well on the offside and making use of delicate touches on the leg side. Despite being the junior partner, Miller dominated his 107-run sixth-wicket partnership with Duminy, who acted as the perfect foil and bided his time before reaching an equally accomplished half-century of his own.
In a middle-order that consists of Duminy, Faf du Plessis and Miller, Duminy has to take on the senior role. Duminy has played 79 ODIs but is still seen as one of the young guns of the side and showed that he has matured since his explosion into the international game in the 2008-09 season. Many forget that Duminy did not debut then (he played his first match in Sri Lanka in 2004) but it was in that season that he made his name.
"JP has a lot of experience," Amla said. "He assessed the situation, saw David was playing well so he didn't have to force the pace. We know at the back end of the game he is very aggressive, he's got fantastic hands and lovely scoring areas."
South Africa's batsmen gave their bowlers plenty to work with and, although they would have liked to bowl Australia out earlier, appeared more penetrative than they have so far this season. Dale Steyn, despite his two wickets, was not on target but Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Morne Morkel and Johan Botha led the attack in impressive fashion. Duminy, operating in part-time capacity, was also economical in helpful conditions.
On a benign pitch, the pace attack had to adjust quickly and they managed with aplomb. "The key for a one-day bowler is to adapt to the conditions quite quickly," Morkel said. "I bowled first change, so I had an idea what to go with, like to take pace off the ball and bowl back of a length."