Proteas check into Heartbreak Hotel
Kolkata — There is no solace in defeat. SA didn’t stop trying here, but they just never had enough of their best game, or runs on the board, or chances taken, or even, yes, luck.
Australia were simply the better team. They certainly out-bowled and out-fielded the Proteas. They were more assertive at the start of their innings compared to SA, but they were allowed to be because the Proteas weren’t as precise with the new ball as Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc had been.
That opening, after Temba Bavuma had won the toss and chose to do the thing his side is most comfortable with, was ultimately where this match was lost. There can be no coming back from 24/4 after 12 overs. Even with David Miller producing a magnificent hundred, and the partnerships he forged that took SA past 200.
The Proteas kept scrapping, just to hang in there and give themselves a chance, but Australia have always been a side that, once ahead, will not allow themselves to get caught.
In the aftermath, questions will be asked about Bavuma’s decision at the toss — well, it was the right one, Pat Cummins would have batted too. It’s what suits his team, it’s just that Hazlewood in particular was magnificent. Presented with conditions more akin to Headingley — albeit with balmier temperatures — Hazlewood snapped, crackled and popped.
There was the early blow of Bavuma’s dismissal to Starc, that immediately raised Australian confidence.
It was a tentative four-ball stay at the crease by the SA captain who admitted he wasn’t 100% fit. Questions about his selection will undoubtedly form part of the post-tournament debrief and at the very least a debate needs to be had about the establishment of fitness policy.
In Bavuma’s defence, the delivery from Starc would have probably dismissed him even if he had been completely fit.
Australia’s fielding was aggressive and suffocating, aiding in creating the pressure that led to the ill-judged and poorly executed strokes from Quinton de Kock, Rassie van der Dussen and Aiden Markram.
Miller’s sublime innings salvaged the contest. Having never played a Test match, here he produced an innings that wouldn’t have been out of place in one. He weathered the storm from Hazlewood and showed due care against the Australian off-spinners. It was against the leg-spin of Adam Zampa that he sought to give SA a foothold.
However as excellent as that knock was, because of the modest returns of the top four, Miller’s innings only provided a flicker of hope.
David Warner and Travis Head tried to douse those aspirations in the first power play, with a calculated assault against Kagiso Rabada and the wayward Marco Jansen, that saw them raise 50 on the scoreboard in the sixth over.
Warner’s wicket changed the tone of the innings. Bowled by Markram, who let out a ferocious roar as the stumps lit up, SA cracked open the window. Suddenly they began to create chances; Head was missed twice, by substitute fielder Reeza Hendricks and then Heinrich Klaasen. De Kock missed a devilishly difficult opportunity offered by Steve Smith off Tabraiz Shamsi.
But Shamsi and Keshav Maharaj turned the screws on the Australians. Suddenly they looked nervous and when they tried to attack, Marnus Labuschagne and Glenn Maxwell were dismissed.
It turned into a dirty struggle — trench warfare on a cricket field — Smith barely looked for the boundary, until he did and skied Coetzee with De Kock taking a fine catch as the ball dropped from the heavens.
It was the 23-year-old with that wicket and then the dismissal of Josh Inglis — as part of a courageous eight over spell — that raised SA’s hopes. But there were not enough runs any more. There weren’t the same tears as in Auckland, nor quite the anguish of Birmingham, but there will be regret.
Australia fly to Ahmedabad where India awaits. SA head home, heartbroken once again.
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