Australia put their dreadful T20 form behind them to pull off a tense five-wicket victory over South Africa as the World Cup’s Super 12 stage got under way in Abu Dhabi.
There were only two balls to spare when Marcus Stoinis heaved Dwaine Pretorius over midwicket for the winning boundary – though at 81 for five in the 16th over in pursuit of a lowly 119, the Australians were in danger of fluffing their lines on a slow surface.
But Stoinis pulled the dangerous South African fast bowler Anrich Nortje for four from the penultimate ball of the 19th over, then settled nerves by straight-driving Pretorius for another boundary from the second delivery of the 20th.
Marcus Stoinis shows his delight after scoring the winnings runs for Australia in Abu Dhabi
Justin Langer’s men came into the World Cup off the back of five straight T20 series defeats
He finished with an unbeaten 24 off 16 balls, while wicketkeeper Matthew Wade chipped in with 15 not out off 10, allowing the Australians to belie the form that had produced five successive T20 series defeats, including 4-1 thumpings in both the West Indies and Bangladesh.
‘The dugout was probably a bit more relaxed than I was,’ said Australia’s captain, Aaron Finch, who had begun the chase with a five-ball duck. ‘Stoinis and Wade kept their cool there. It’s what experience can do.’
Earlier, Australia fielded all three of their big fast bowlers – Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins – in a T20 game for the first time, and the move paid off as South Africa limped to 118 for nine in their 20 overs.
Hazlewood picked up two for one in his first two overs, while Cummins finished with a miserly one for 17 from his four.
Josh Hazlewood was named Player of the Match after taking two wickets for 19 runs in the UAE
Anrich Nortje impressed with the ball for Mark Boucher’s side – but his display proved in vain
Aiden Markram made 40, but no one else reached 20. As captain Temba Bavuma put it: ‘That was definitely not according to plan.’
No team had ever won a T20 World Cup game defending as few as 119, but South Africa gave it a good go.
After Nortje removed Finch, Kagiso Rabada got rid of the out-of-form David Warner for 14, and it was 81 for five when Steve Smith was brilliantly caught in the deep by Markram, and Glenn Maxwell bowled by Tabraiz Shamsi as he missed a reverse slog.
To Australia’s relief, Stoinis and Wade held their nerve. Their next game is against Sri Lanka on Thursday in Dubai, where they will then face England two days later.