Cricket World Cup: Aussies disappoint in 10-run defeat


AUSTRALIA’s bid to top the 2019 Cricket World Cup group standings foundered on the rock that is South African captain Faf Du Plessis at Old Trafford yesterday.

The defending champions needed to tie to finish first and secure a semi-final against New Zealand at the same venue on Tuesday, but produced their poorest display of the campaign to go down by 10 runs – a margin which in truth flattered them.

While many of the ‘Baggy Greens’ wounds were self-inflicted, Du Plessis produced the classiest of centuries on what may have been his ODI swansong.

The Proteas’ skipper and father-figure has born the burden of criticism levelled at his side after another World Cup disappointment with thoughtful dignity, but chose this stage to take out any brooding frustrations on Australia’s much-vaunted pace attack.

Du Plessis had spoken in the build-up of his intention to take time out to consider his international future, but on this evidence, he should postpone thoughts of standing aside.

His 100 from 94 balls oozed all the class the game has long associated with him and he shared the third-wicket stand of 151 with Rassie van der Dussen (95) as South Africa piled up 325-6 after winning the toss.

And despite David Warner’s third century of the tournament and Alex Carey’s highest ODI score (85), the men from down under fell short in the chase.

South Africa’s Batsmen Finish with a Flourish

With Hasim Amla unfit, Aiden Markram was promoted to opener alongside Quinton De Kock and the pair plundered 73-0 from the first 10 overs, South Africa’s biggest powerplay score of the tournament. It needed Nathan Lyon to break the stand, luring Markram down the pitch to be stumped by Carey.

De Kock went on to complete his third fifty of the campaign and though he departed almost immediately afterwards, Du Plessis’ controlled aggression, including a magnificent straight six, ensured the scoreboard rattled along even while van der Dussen endured a scratchy start.

The younger man, however, arguably South Africa’s player of the tournament, gradually caught the mood, meaning Pat Cummins and Jason Behrendorff in particular were savaged.

Du Plessis’ hundred was secured with the help of two sixes and seven fours and although Behrendorff got a small measure of revenge when the centurion top-edged him into the hands of Starc at backward point, van der Dussen picked up the mantle.

Four maximums carried him into the 90s, but the fifth which would have secured his century off the final ball of the innings fell just short, snaffled by the hands of Warner at deep mid-wicket.

Australia were nervous right from the off and Warner should have been sent packing in the first over without a run on the board. However, stranded mid-pitch he was reprieved when Kagiso Rabada inexplicably threw to the wrong end.

The breakthrough though wasn’t long-delayed, Imran Tahir, in his last ODI before retiring from the format causing Finch to chip one to short mid-wicket, the trademark running celebration even more exuberant than usual.

Usman Khawaja was then forced to retire with a suspected hamstring problem before Australia enjoyed a second lucky escape. More comedic running between Warner and former skipper Steve Smith saw the latter well short of his ground, only for Rabada to fumble the return.

His blushes were spared in the following over when Dwaine Pretorius trapped Smith LBW.

Warner and Marcus Stoinis began a rebuild, despite the latter appearing to be hampered by a side strain.

Perhaps it was that slight lack of mobility which left Stoinis a yard short when Rabada’s return was brilliantly flicked back onto the stumps by De Kock to send the all-rounder on his way. Glen Maxwell soon followed, but Warner and Carey launched a counter-offensive.

Warner, already the first Australian to make six 50s in one World Cup, motored to a third hundred of the campaign and Carey raised 50 at faster than a run a ball as the pair added 108 in 15 overs.

But, Pretorious returned to have Warner caught at mid-on for 122 and although Carey continued to hit out bravely, he too holed out with 51 needed

Khawaja bravely returned to the crease but played on to Rabada as Australia’s late bid for victory finally stalled.

The win will provide scant consolation for Du Plessis side as they head home, some no doubt tempted to suggest they’d only come good once it was too late to matter.

Where were the real Australia?

The bigger question to arise here though is what happened to Australia, who were unrecognisable from the team of the last six weeks.

Starc, the tournament’s leading wicket-taker set the tone with a horrible first ball of the match which went for five wides and though he picked up two wickets later on he was well below par, while Cummins and Behrendorff were even worse.

Warner and Carey apart, both of whom were afforded lives, Australia were no better bat in hand.

The running was frenetic throughout, suggesting a sense of panic in the face of the scoreboard pressure the South African total had created. It was all so out of character.

Those tempted to argue it was the performance of a team who knew they had already qualified should probably think again.

That might have washed had they, as some thought they would, rested key players ready for an impending semi-final.

The fact they didn’t, choosing instead to name an unchanged side suggested an intent to carry maximum momentum into the knockout phase.

There was much to gain from securing such a win. It would have allowed them to stay in Manchester, so avoiding another day’s travelling to what will now be the second semi-final at Edgbaston and given them longer to rest before the final.

They would have faced a New Zealand team who have almost fallen into the last four, their form of early in the tournament having seemingly deserted them. Instead, they must now face favourites and hosts England – a team rebooted by the return of Jason Roy since Australia won the group clash between the sides at Lord’s.

It’s a win Finch’s men are more than capable of repeating on Thursday, but it is hard to escape the nagging sense they have left themselves a little further to travel on an already long road to glory.


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