By: Firdose Moonda (ESPNcricinfo)
South Africa secured their place in the triangular series final against Australia thanks to a third century in the competition from Faf du Plessis, which formed the spine of a target too tall for Zimbabwe to chase. Du Plessis shared a 103-run stand with JP Duminy for the fifth wicket and led the final assault which helped South Africa take 61 runs off the last five overs to put a place in the final beyond Zimbabwe’s reach.
The hosts had to reach the score in 25.2 overs to earn a bonus point and improve their run-rate enough to leapfrog South Africa but at a required run-rate of 10.83 to the over that was always going to be a tough ask. Zimbabwe have only managed over 200 once in the five ODIs they played before this one and, although they crossed the mark again this time, their batting let them down again. Aside from a welcome return to form for Brendan Taylor, who scored his first-half century in six innings, no one else managed to stay at the crease for longer than 41 minutes or score more than 29 runs.
This was the last of five ODIs played between South Africa and Zimbabwe over the past three weeks and it was a microcosm of all of them. Zimbabwe were disciplined in the field, after Elton Chigumbura asked South Africa to bat first. Their spinners enforced a stranglehold which kept South Africa quiet for most of the first 45 overs of their innings but, because they lacked the incisiveness to keep taking wickets, one batsman anchored and set up for a final assault. Du Plessis was that that man.
As soon as the score moved beyond 220, Zimbabwe’s chances of winning, not in the overs they needed to get to the final, but overall, were dimmed. Their opening partnership remains brittle, their middle-order soft and their tail brave but inadequate even against a South African attack that was a man short.
After a collapse against Australia in their previous match, South Africa chose to bulk up the batting by adding Rilee Rossouw to the XI and had to bench a bowler. Imran Tahir missed out to leave South Africa with just one specialist spinner in Aaron Phangiso. Had Zimbabwe found a partnership as stubborn as the du Plessis-Duminy one, South Africa may have been found wanting but poor shot selection and wavering temperament continue to stunt their progress.
They can look to South Africa’s approach as inspiration. When the openers were dismissed in the first eight overs, there was no panic despite the inexperienced player at No.4. Rossouw had two first-ball ducks to his name before this and Zimbabwe could have got through him and into the middle order but he showed more composure this time, particularly against spin.
Rossouw used his feet fairly well, brought out the sweep and reverse sweep and left du Plessis to be the aggressor. For all Rossouw’s caution, he could do nothing about the Sean Williams delivery that turned into him as he went back to cut and bowled him but he had acquitted himself well enough to show his promise.
De Villiers was run-out cheaply at the non-strikers’ end to give Zimbabwe another chance to take control but Duminy denied them that. He played a Test-match style innings with du Plessis which focused on finding gaps and rotating strike rather than muscling through. They did not breach the boundary for nine overs, including during the Powerplay but importantly, did not lose a wicket in that period either to ensue the foundation was laid.
Du Plessis eventually broke the drought in the 43rd over when he creamed Malcolm Waller through the offside and then slammed Nyumbu for six over long-on. As his century approached, fatigue shrouded du Plessis but he knew he needed to provide impetus at the end. Duminy was equally aware of the task.
In one eventful Madziva over, Duminy swatted one to the square leg boundary and then recorded his first half-century of the series, then top-edged and was dismissed, du Plessis inside-edged a ball for four to register a hundred in 135 balls and hammered the bowler for six over long-off. South Africa had the freedom to hit out at the end and ended up with a comfortable score on a sluggish surface.
Zimbabwe had prepared for a speedy start by inserting Vusi Sibanda in at the top but in his haste he was run out. Sikandar Raza threatened for the umpteenth time and then thew it away while Hamilton Masakadza also got a start he should have turned into something more significant.
Taylor was the only one to demonstrate an understanding of the approach required on this pitch with a patient start and careful application of when to attack. Taylor was composed but with Phangiso and Duminy turning the ball and the fear factor of Dale Steyn, Zimbabwe’s middle-order crumbled and with it, their chance to cause another upset.