Imran Tahir. Picture: REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
Imran Tahir. Picture: REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

It couldn’t happen again, could it? It could, and it did in Bloemfontein on Wednesday, when Zimbabwe made the Proteas look silly for the second time in as many games.

And, again, SA found their way out of the wet paper bag their opponents should have been — this time to win by 120 runs thanks to the all-round efforts of Dale Steyn and hat-trick hero Imran Tahir.

That, and SA’s five-wicket victory in Kimberley on Sunday, earned them the one-day series with a game to play.

But there was less for the home side to celebrate than to sweat over.

Another challenging pitch was only a minor mitigating factor in another shoddy batting performance, not an excuse.

On Kimberley’s spicy surface SA slumped to 58/4 and 96/5, chasing only 118. Things got worse in Bloem, where they dwindled to 101/7 in a ball more than half their innings.

Cue Steyn, playing his first ODI in almost two years, to show the proper batsmen how it is done.

It has taken him 48 innings and more than 13 years as an ODI player, but Steyn could not have picked a better moment to score his maiden half-century in the format.

He got there with a straight six off Donald Tiripano, and made it to 60 before trying to smack a full toss from the same bowler all the way back to Kimberley and having his middle stump nailed instead.

"Anytime I bat it’s difficult, and the wicket was tough," Steyn said. "Somehow I managed to get myself some runs."

Among them were eight fours and a six, his reward a clear commitment to take the game to the bowlers. Others did not look quite so keen. Steyn was last out in SA’s 198, which equalled their lowest total against Zimbabwe, which ended midway through the 48th over. But anything the Saffers could do the Zimbos could do worse; a lot worse.

They crashed and burned to 78 all out in 24 overs — only their ninth lowest total and the second time in 2018 they have been dismissed for fewer than 80.

Steyn took the new ball and the visitors discovered what they were in for in his superbly sniping spell of five overs in which he claimed 2/16, along the way exploiting everything a cracked, steeply bouncing pitch afforded him.

Much of the rest of the damage was done by Tahir, whose 6/24 included having Sean Williams stumped, trapping PJ Moor in front and bowling Brandon Mavuta with consecutive deliveries.

Tahir joins an SA hat-trick club that also has as members Charl Langeveldt, JP Duminy and Kagiso Rabada.

Feats as significant as that would usually feature more prominently in a report such as this.

But there are more important things to talk about when one of the teams are risibly poor and their opposition, who should prove themselves clearly superior, instead come up with a display that should embarrass them.

South Africans on both sides of the boundary will be talking about them all the way to Saturday, when the last match of the series is played in Paarl.