Australia reclaimed No.1 spot in the world ODI rankings with a third straight win over South Africa at the SCG, despite a dramatic lower-order collapse during their run chase that threatened to undo the heroics of Aaron Finch, Shane Watson and the mercurial Steve Smith.
The hosts reached the rain-revised total of 275 with five balls and two wickets to spare, but only after losing four wickets for just three runs in the space of two overs late in the chase.
Without their regular skipper, the in-form AB de Villiers, the Proteas posted 6-280 from their 50 overs after choosing to bat – largely thanks to a superb century by opener Quinton de Kock. The South African wicketkeeper belted 14 boundaries in his 107, finally dismissed in the 41st over when he became Pat Cummins’ third victim.
After stand-in captain Hashim Amla fell for 18, caught behind off Glenn Maxwell’s bowling in the 11th over, de Kock received some handy support from Rilee Rossouw, who posted his maiden ODI half-century before being dismissed for 51.
South Africa lost four wickets for 45 runs in nine overs to threaten the tourists’ prospects of setting a decent target, but Farhaan Behardien then produced one of the standout innings of the series. With Wayne Parnell turning over the strike at the other end, Behardien hit a sizzling 63 off 41 balls, including seven boundaries and a pair of sixes.
Once again, David Warner made a blistering start before departing early, clubbing three boundaries and a six in his 16-ball stay, caught off Parnell’s bowling in the fifth over. But Aaron Finch (76 off 67 balls) and Shane Watson (82 off 93 balls) combined for a 100-run partnership while keeping the run-rate up well over six. Finch was sent packing by a brilliant effort on the boundary by Faf du Plessis, who took a running catch before throwing it in to Rilee Rossouw before stepping over the rope.
Steve Smith’s star continued on its steep ascent with a hard-fought 67 off 74 balls, but his dismissal sparked Australia’s late-innings capitulation. No batsman outside the top four made more than seven runs, with George Bailey, Matthew Wade and Cummins swiftly following Smith back to the sheds.
Clutch specialist James Faulkner finished of the match in the final over, however, sweeping to the fence to collect the four runs Australia needed for victory – a result that saw them leapfrog India into top spot in the rankings in a handy boost before MS Dhoni’s crew arrives Down Under.
Stud of the day
After a largely disappointing tour in Australia, Quinton de Kock proved his class with his sixth ODI ton to claim man-of-the-match honours from the losing side.
Smith, on 20 and struggling for rhythm, chopped the first ball of the 34th over onto his stumps. But as he despondently made his way to the pavilion, Smith was called as Kyle Abbott had overstepped. The charmed Smith went on to cause plenty of subsequent damage in a costly blow for the Proteas.
Stud of the series
Steve Smith – who else? A blazing hundred, bookended by sensational half-centuries, helped lay the foundation for Australia’s convincing 4-1 series win.
Australia’s four-Test series with India begins next Thursday, and the hosts will be looking to atone for their dismal effort against Pakistan in the UAE. But their limited-overs success against the Proteas has given the Aussies plenty of confidence heading into the World Cup warm-up ODI Tri-Series on home soil against India and England, starting in mid-January.
De Kock has moved into fifth spot for most ODI centuries by a wicketkeeper, behind only Kumar Sangakarra (17), Adam Gilchrist (16), AB de Villiers (9) and MS Dhoni (9). He also has the best matches-per-century ratio of any of the 71 batsmen with five or more hundreds to their name, with 5.8 games per ton. Next best is his opening partner Hashim Amla, with 6.1 games per hundred.
Meanwhile, Shane Watson scored his first ODI half-century in more than a year. His average for 2014 is a pretty ordinary 23.6, despite his 82 in the fifth one-dayer against South Africa.