Aussies strike back

HARARE - After Australia's loss to Zimbabwe on Sunday, there was the odd whisper of hope that maybe, just maybe Saturday's final would be a Southern African derby.

But as soon as the flame was lit, it was immediately extinguished.

In truth, it would have been near on impossible for Zimbabwe to have qualified for Saturday's final, but where there is life, there surely has to be hope as Sunday's game proved.

Australia came into the game yesterday under a fair amount of pressure.

They had just lost to the lowly ranked Zimbabwe, they had lost their inspirational captain due to a reoccurring injury, and it also emerged that coach Darren Lehmann and Michael Clarke had a bit of a disagreement regarding the selection of the team that lost to Zimbabwe.

Normally, these setbacks would hamper the progress of a touring team, but this is Australia, and people should know better than to write off an Australian team.

A feeling of anticipation hung in the air as heavy as a raincloud about to burst, and when South Africa picked up the crucial wicket of Aaron Finch for 16, the stage was set for a good contest between bat and ball.

Australia were on the back foot, having lost an early wicket, the press back home were sharpening the pens and warming up their fingers to once again berate their team, and it soon became very apparent that despite the so called mediocrity of this series, people actually were very disappointed with Sunday's result.

And that alone is exactly what the Aussies needed to get the adrenalin pumping.

The under-rated Steven Smith was promoted to number three, and after Finch's dismissal, batted positively and intelligently with Phillip Hughes, who has richly deserved his call up to the national team.

Up to the arrival of Mitchell Marsh, the Proteas had kept the Australian batsmen quiet and even subdued, forcing them to rely on ones and twos.

The South African spinners Imran Tahir and Aaron Phangiso were outstanding in the middle order, and it does seem as if the Proteas have finally found two capable spinners to not only take wickets, but to keep things quiet in the middle overs.

Having said that, it would be very surprising to see two spinners playing in a South African team on the faster and bouncier pitches of South Africa and Australia.

But it does show that there are options, and that South Africa have a more flexible bowling attack, instead of the one dimensional attack they have relied on for so many years.

South Africa may have had hopes and visions of chasing down a total of about 230, but Mitchell Marsh's brutal assault on the bowlers, particularly the seamers changed that theory rather smartly.

Mitchell, the younger brother of Shaun, has been a fringe player for a number of years.

Nobody really knew if he was a bowler who batted, or a batter who bowled.

Every opportunity that came his way to play for Australia was accepted with glee and gratitude, yet, Mitchell always somehow found himself carrying the drinks or being overlooked.

He exudes confidence without arrogance when he strides out to the middle, and the utter disdain in which he treated Dale Steyn will go down as one of the classical moments at Harare.

It's not often you see Steyn being put to the sword, unless he is bowling to his team mate AB de Villiers in the IPL, but yesterday was an exception.

Marsh singlehandedly plundered the Steyn remover as he is affectionally known in South Africa for no less than 21 runs, which included three consecutive sixes, and one wonders which would have hurt more.

Prosper Utseya's hat-trick, [three wickets in three balls] or the three sixes Marsh hit off Steyn.

Even so, it is widely felt that Marsh's 51 ball innings of 86 was impressive, but that the overall total of 282 wouldn't pose much of a problem for South Africa, after their fantastic run chase against the same opposition a week ago.

It wasn't to be however, as both Quinton de Kock and Hashim Amla departed in quick succession, and the tight bowling and good fielding never allowed the Proteas to gain any momentum.

Well, that is to say with the exception of Faf du Plessis who is in the form of his life, and who has for the moment at least made the number three position his own.

Du Plessis played a real blinder, if you will excuse me using such a word, and his well-timed strokes through the infield, and powerhouse shots over the top made for real entertainment.

Zimbabwe now need to beat South Africa in tomorrow’s final round robin match by a huge margin to gain a bonus point and improve the net run rate to sneak into Saturday’s final.

Nobody really expected to see a final that included Zimbabwe, but it is encouraging and heart-warming to still see such optimism and belief in a country that has been ravaged in so many different areas.

Another lesson learnt by all, is to always beware of the wounded Aussie.

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