Having lost the previous two games after winning the opener of the series, South Africa desperately needed to claim victory to stay alive in the series. They fought hard after a poor start. However, both with the bat and ball, they faltered at crucial juncutres. While Australia inched ahead during the big moments of the match, seizing the initiative, the Proteas couldn't quite maintain the momentum, thus handing over the series to Australia in spite of being competitive. Had they come up with better planning in all departments, South Africa could still have made an impact on the match at Melbourne.
There were two key phases where the game shifted momentum in a major way. Firstly, South Africa had recovered well after being down in the dumps earlier having lost key wickets early. Skipper AB de Villiers again led the way with a sublime 91, which was all about skill play. Knowing that he could not risk losing his wicket, de Villiers manoeuvred the ball around, picking up the singles regularly, and still maintaining a strike rate of 100. He was ably supported by David Miller, who went after the bowling, and proved to be the perfect foil for de Villiers. The end of the partnership however changed everything.
In a one-day match, the last ten overs often make a big difference. Again, here is where South Africa failed to ride home the momentum. Instead of getting big runs, they kept losing wickets at regular intervals. As a result, the run-rate took a major dip. Even the ones who played cameos could not maintain a good strike rate, which put South Africa on the back foot even further. The team managed to score at only 4 runs an over in the last ten overs. The dismissal of AB de Villiers without doubt proved to be a massive setback for the visitors.
The story was similar for the Proteas in the bowling department as well. They began wonderfully well, getting rid of big names like David Warner, the in-form Aaron Finch and Shane Watson early on. However, in spite of being on top, they couldn't manage to keep the hosts under pressure throughout the game. Steven Smith came in and compiled a masterful hundred under pressure. With every series, Smith has been going from strength to strength, and his ton at the MCG was another pillar in his growing stature. Smith was ably supported by Matthew Wade, who came into the series out of form, but came up with a crucial half century on Friday.
In an average scoring game, quick cameos are often the clincher. And, this is exactly what happened at Melbourne as well. Following the dismissal of Wade, South Africa were hoping to make breakthroughs. But, James Faulkner, as he has so often done in the recent past, came in and blasted a few smashing boundaries to turn the game in Australia's favour completely. Although Smith was dismissed with the Aussies needing only one run, it was Faulkner's dazzling batting which took them home easily in the end. Like in the series, Australia won the big moments at Melbourne as well.
--By A Cricket Analyst