Quadrangular series 2018: Travis Head, spinners eclipse Zondo stunner
Riding on the back of a Travis Head special, Australia A collected their first win on their ongoing tour of India with a victory over South Africa A in their fourth Quadrangular series game at Bengaluru.
On the way, they met a whirlwind knock from Khaya Zondo, who threatened them with an astounding rearguard century, but the one-man show did not have enough support from his teammates to eke out a surprise win.
Batting first on a flat Chinnaswamy surface that was baking under bright sunshine, the Australian lost Usman Khawaja early, but D'Arcy Short and Travis Head were quick to steady the ship with a crucial 83-run stand. Short lost his wicket to spinner von Berg, but Head carried on, lapping up some quick boundaries as he completed his fifty.
He had a couple of close shaves on the way, including a missed stumping off von Berg, but didn't loosen the grip, even as he found support in Marnus Labuschagne, who helped himself to a fifty at the other end.
The ease with which Head faced the spinners, and got the better of them, will certainly hold him in good stead as he eyes a Test spot for the UAE tour.
Matt Renshaw, who scored two Test fifties in India on his first away tour in 2017, played the role of the aggressor as soon as he got in, even as Head eased a bit as he approached the three-figure mark.
Beuran Hendricks and Dwayne Pretorius tried to suppress the run-flow with a heavy dosage of cutters, but Renshaw managed to outplay them by continuously creaming the ball through the off. Ashton Agar's blitz in the last over ensured that the score went well over 300, and give them the flourish they wanted.
The South African openers looked like a determined pair, staving off the duo of Joel Paris and Chris Tremain with ease. The two pacers started off with strict lines but ended up giving 58 runs in the first eight overs, with Gihann Cloete playing some authoritative strokes through the covers and Sarel Erwee following suit.
That was when Head, in an inspired tactical move, brought himself on in the tenth over.
Jack Wildermuth, introduced from the other end, was greeted with a couple of boundaries, but Head kept pressing on, eventually prising out a tame dismissal of Erwee, and following it up with the crucial wicket of Cloete, who had just completed his fifty.
Convinced that spin was the way to go forward, Head threw a three-pronged spin attack at the Africans, letting Ashton Agar and Mitchell Swepson loose on Khaya Zondo's side.
Agar quickly accounted for Rudi Second's wicket, and the South Africans were suddenly three down inside the first 20 overs.
Much was expected from Farhan Behardien, a veteran of 200 List A games, but a freak run-out ended his sluggish stay in the middle.
While he kept losing partners at the other end, Khaya Zondo did not let go of his strokes, welcoming D'arcy Short with a six off his first ball to signal his intent and resuscitate a South African innings that was fast crumbling like a biscuit dipped in tea.
Zondo's side was flat on the mat at 167-7 - head coach Russell Domingo must have been kicking himself for the tame surrender - but the 28-year-old captain refused to give up, holding onto one end as he found support in No.9 Robert Frylinck.
Together, the two stitched together a stunning 82-run stand and gave the South Africans a slight ray of hope.
Zondo kept going for his strokes, and collected sixes with astonishing ease, clearing the Chinnaswamy ground without breaking a sweat as he motored along towards a century.
Frylinck, at the other end, smartly kept on playing second-fiddle, as the two reduced the deficit to under 100.
As they neared 250, Frylinck succumbed to Joel Paris, but Zondo was unwilling to give up even as the required run-rate almost reached 15.
With the last two batsmen remaining and equation down to 37 off the last two, Zondo's remarkable effort ended as he tried to go for an extra run but fell short, just like his team did eventually.
"I should not have taken the two in hindsight. I think we were in a position to win", Zondo said in the post-match interview.
Having succumbed to two losses in four games, and yet to notch up a single win, Zondo's side might be down, but he maintained that the South Africans intend to "play good cricket and look to maybe have a win under our belt before we head home".