A thrilling encounter between two high-quality sides came down to the last over as a composed innings from David Miller clinched the first T20I for South Africa.
Despite an efficient fielding display, Australia were left to rue a batting collapse in the middle-overs on a sluggish surface at Durban.
Earlier, newly-appointed T20I captain Steve Smith won the toss and chose to bat first. Peter Nevill and Adam Zampa made their debuts in the shortest format. Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn were the surprise omissions from the South African eleven.
Interestingly, the Aussies opened with Usman Khawaja and Aaron Finch leaving David Warner to bat at number 3. The move did not work out though as Khawaja mistimed a pull shot.
However, Finch and Warner began to dominate the Proteas with belligerent hitting. The right-left combination gave skipper Faf du Plessis plenty of things to work out as the bowlers began to leak runs.
Finch was ruthless against the part-time spin of JP Duminy by smashing him for a hat-trick of sixes. The 24-run over had swung the momentum in the visitor’s favor. On the other end, Warner took a special liking to Chris Morris as the Powerplay yielded 69 runs.
David Wiese brought the breakthrough as Duminy attempted to make amends by plucking out a smart, low catch to send Warner back. Imran Tahir joined in on the act by snaring the key wicket of Finch who failed to put away a full toss.
The canny leg-spinner started to weave a web around Smith and Glenn Maxwell by mixing his variations beautifully. Smith’s ability to play spin was exposed by Tahir as South Africa clawed their way back.
His misery was ended by Wiese with a loopy short ball. Maxwell followed suit after unsuccessfully trying to clear the inner circle. Tahir compounded Australia’s woes by snaring Neville and John Hastings in quick succession.
But, a vital partnership of 35 between Mitchell Marsh and Nathan Coulter-Nile steadied Australia’s ship. Marsh was severe against the seamers and guided the death-overs acceleration with aplomb to take his team to a competitive 157.
The Proteas’ chase was dealt a huge blow when AB de Villiers edged Coulter-Nile for a golden duck. Quinton de Kock survived serendipitously after a top edge flew over the wicket-keeper’s head.
His luck ran out when he closed the bat face too early as South Africa were jolted again by Coulter-Nile. The move to introduce Maxwell backfired as du Plessis found the boundary at will.
Andrew Tye snaffled Duminy with a clever change of pace to leave the hosts reeling at 41/3 when the first six overs ended. Rilee Rossouw joined Du Plessis at the crease and instantly looked to rotate the strike.
The free-flowing pair consolidated by forming a useful partnership to shift the pressure back on the Australians. But, Marsh extended his contribution by picking up Rossouw.
A swift throw from Nevill ended du Plessis’ charge as back to back wickets evoked concerned looks from the team management. Wiese ran himself out in comical fashion as Proteas’ pursuit was threatening to get derailed.
It was all left to David Miller and the lower order to spark a comeback. He immediately obliged by whacking Tye twice over the fence to bring down the required run rate.
But, Morris who had developed a solid reputation for being a handy finisher could not replicate his heroics as Finch produced a stunning catch to bring the equation down to 23 from 18 balls.
However, the dismissal did not matter much in the end as Miller took the Proteas home with his first T20I fifty.
Brief Scores: Australia 157/9 (Finch 40, Marsh 35, Tahir 3-21); South Africa 158/7 from 19.2 overs (Miller 53*, du Plessis 40, Coulter-Nile 3-29)
Result: South Africa won by 3 wickets