In a breathtaking finish, the victory arrived with a slog-swept six over midwicket from the first ball of the final over, Theron’s eyes having lit up when Cameron White handed the ball to David Hussey. But White had bowled out all his frontline men in the search for those last few wickets, and his choice was down to Hussey or the medium pace of the debutant Mitchell Marsh.
It hardly mattered, though, as Parnell and Theron effectively sealed the match by taking 55 from the previous four overs, including 18 off an over from Steve O’Keefe, who was deposited over the midwicket and square-leg boundaries by Parnell. Theron finished unbeaten on 30 from 16 balls, but it was Parnell’s 29 from 11 that really jolted the Australians.
The pair put on 64 in 4.3 overs, having come together when Heino Kuhn sent a return catch to James Pattinson (2 for 17), and at 84 for 7, the target of 148 seemed out of reach. But Theron drove and flicked a couple of boundaries off Doug Bollinger, and the teenager Patrick Cummins betrayed a few nerves in his last over, as the equation became more encouraging for the hosts.
Earlier, Cummins had delivered a double-wicket maiden that left South Africa in major trouble at 18 for 3. Colin Ingram played on when he tried to drive a wider ball from Cummis and then JP Duminy, who failed to score, edged a pearler to slip, where Hussey flew to his right to take an equally impressive catch.
Bollinger had bowled Hashim Amla in the first over, and the chase was well and truly off the rails. But Graeme Smith and Johan Botha, sent in at No.5, steadied and at least gave South Africa platform. Botha’s 34 from 28 balls was important, but when he reverse-swept O’Keefe to point, the hosts looked to have missed their chance.
Their brilliant recovery meant that a fine bowling effort, led by Lonwabo Tsotsobe, was not wasted. After White won the toss and chose to bat, the South Africans kept Australia in check, especially Tsotsobe, whose 2 for 11 was the most economical four-over spell ever completed by a South African in a T20 international.
A late blitz from Marsh, who at 19 was playing his first game for his country, pushed the Australians to 147 for 8. Marsh took 20 off the final over from Morne Morkel, including three sixes, one a monster over midwicket, and he ended up with 36 from 21 balls.
His runs were important after the loss of the White, who top scored with 39, but fell to a great piece of work from Parnell, who kicked the ball on to the stumps in his follow through to have White run out trying for a quick single. Australia were 106 for 6 at the time, having found no momentum as Tsotsobe and his colleagues built the pressure with dot balls and were rewarded with wickets.
Australia had crawled to 4 for 1 after two overs as Tsotsobe gave the batsmen nothing. The early pressure ensured David Warner’s tour went from bad to worse; having been run out for a duck in the first game he again failed to score, caught at mid-off when from his ninth delivery he advanced to Morkel and tried to clear the infield.
His opening partner Matthew Wade, promoted due to a minor hip injury that ruled Shane Watson out of the game, produced a sizzling cut for six off Morkel but fell for 10 when he edged behind advancing to Tsotsobe. Shaun Marsh led Austalia’s recovery and took ten from Parnell’s first two balls, including a cracking six over cover, but on 29 he top-edged off Theron and was taken by Kuhn running towards point.
Theron finished with an impressive 2 for 28, while Parnell’s figures of 0 for 44 from four were unflattering. By the end of the match, South Africa were thrilled with the performances of both men.