The South Africans were lacklustre with the bat and sloppy in the field, and while the result has not yet knocked them out of the tournament, they will need other results to fall their way if they are to progress to the semi-finals. For that to happen, Pakistan would need to lose to both India and Australia, and South Africa would need to beat India and then hope their net run-rate was good enough to sneak them ahead of Pakistan and India.
By the same token, the win has not technically confirmed Australia’s place in the semi-finals, but their very strong net run-rate meant that for them to miss out, not only would India need to beat both Pakistan and South Africa but Australia would also need a disaster in their last match against Pakistan. The way Watson is playing, such an outcome seems about as likely as Simon Taufel being drafted in to Australia’s XI.
For the fourth time from Australia’s four games in this World T20, Watson was Man of the Match. He ended the game on top of the tournament run tally and wicket list. It didn’t all go the way of the Australians early in their innings this time around. David Warner was kept quiet and then on 5 had his middle stump knocked back by Morne Morkel when he backed away and tried to release the pressure. Australia were 10 for 1 in the fourth over, and South Africa had a sniff.
But Watson batted precisely as he had to. He picked up the first boundary of the innings in the fifth over when he cut viciously for four off Jacques Kallis’ first ball, and then plundered three boundaries off the next over from Morkel. Watson was away, and it didn’t take long before he was really heaving, lifting Robin Peterson over midwicket for six and pulling Wayne Parnell for six to bring up his half-century.
By that stage, South Africa could not afford a single mistake, and they made one when Watson, on 52, skied Peterson and was put down by Parnell running in from long-off. Eventually Watson fell – caught by Parnell at long-off from the bowling of Peterson, oddly enough – but by then he had added another 18 runs and put Australia within sight of victory.
Michael Hussey kept the runs coming – a lofted six over wide long-on from the bowling of Parnell was especially impressive – and South Africa couldn’t find a way to pick up the wickets they needed to slow Australia’s run-rate. They could have had one when Hussey advanced to Peterson and the ball skidded through, but AB de Villiers fumbled what should have been a straightforward stumping.
The first six of the innings came in the third over when Hashim Amla drove Xavier Doherty over cover and the second – and last – six didn’t arrive until the 19th over when Farhaan Behardien clubbed Pat Cummins over long on. But it was Behardien’s partner Peterson who gave the Australians a slight scare, finding six boundaries during his 32 not out from 19 balls.There were no more chances and Cameron White brought up the win with six over midwicket off Johan Botha. It was the fifth six of Australia’s innings; South Africa had managed only two in their disappointing batting display. That they reached 146 for 5 was only through a late flurry from Peterson; they had threatened a much lower score earlier in the innings as the batsmen struggled to find the boundary.
He was especially creative against Brad Hogg, reverse-sweeping and reverse-pulling for boundaries, and he even produced a reverse off-drive. In fairness, the way the South Africans had batted up until then reversing everything probably wasn’t a bad ploy. Peterson also picked up three boundaries in the final over, including a lap over his shoulder and away to fine leg off Mitchell Starc as 28 runs came from the last two overs.
Behardien finished on 31 not out but he was surprisingly unwilling to go for big strokes, given South Africa still had five wickets in hand. Perhaps he was still being over-cautious after South Africa’s poor start.
Australia’s decision to include Doherty for his first match of the tournament at the expense of the allrounder Daniel Christian, and then to open the bowling with him, paid off immediately after George Bailey sent South Africa in. Richard Levi was bowled from the third ball of the game when he backed away and tried to force Doherty through the off side and the ball skidded through.
Doherty struck again in his second over when he tossed the ball up and found some turn off the pitch and Jacques Kallis (6) edged behind. Amla departed for 17 when he tried to hook Watson and gloved behind, and at 33 for 3 the South Africans were in trouble. JP Duminy and de Villiers steadied somewhat, though without really taking the bowlers on, as they chipped a few runs here and there.
But when Bailey brought Doherty back on for another spell he immediately broke the partnership. From the first ball of Doherty’s third over, Duminy (30) advanced down the pitch and Doherty (3 for 20) sent the ball between his legs to allow an easy stumping from Matthew Wade. That was followed by the wicket of de Villiers, who drove to cover off Watson for 21, and again South Africa were in a spot of bother.
They were in much more trouble when Watson was batting. And South Africa left the field knowing that by the end of the day they could be knocked out of the tournament. For now, their fate was in the hands of Pakistan and India.