Concussion substitute Marnus Labuschagne has rescued Australia in the first ODI against South Africa, guiding the visitors towards an unlikely three-wicket victory after an early collapse in Bloemfontein.
The Queenslander, who finished on 80 not out, combined with Ashton Agar for an unbeaten century partnership for the eighth wicket to help Australia chase the 223-run target with 58 balls to spare.
Labuschagne, who missed out on Australia’s World Cup squad, had replaced all-rounder Cameron Green in the starting XI after the West Australian was struck in the helmet while facing Proteas quick Kagiso Rabada in the sixth over of the run chase.
MATCH CENTRE: South Africa vs Australia first ODI scorecard
Earlier, South Africa was bowled out for 222 despite an unbeaten 114 from captain Temba Bavuma, his second ODI century, while Australian quick Josh Hazlewood snared three wickets in a classy bowling display.
In response, Australia collapsed to 7-113 in the 17th over before the unlikely duo of Labuschagne and Agar, who finished with a career-best 48 not out, steered Australia towards its first ODI victory in South Africa since 2011.
“What a roller coaster,” Labuschagne said in the post-match presentation.
“My mum last night was adamant that I was playing. I said, ‘Mum, I’m not in the team, I’m not in the team’.
“I guess I’ve just got some weird things that happen around concussion.”
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Australia captain Mitchell Marsh won the toss and elected to field first on a wearing surface at Mangaung Oval. Proteas wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock, who announced his ODI retirement earlier this week, was the first to depart, hooking a short ball from Marcus Stoinis towards deep fine leg for 11 (31).
In the 12th over, Rassie van der Dussen was left stranded in the middle of the pitch after a calamitous moment of miscommunication with his captain, run out for 8.
Aiden Markram and Bavuma steadied the ship, combining for a 47-run partnership before the Proteas No. 4 suffered a rush of blood to the head while facing Green in the 19th over, top-edging a wild slog and caught by wicketkeeper Alex Carey for 19.
South Africa was suddenly in dire straits at 5-100 after Heinrich Klaasen and David Miller departed in quick succession, bowled by Stoinis for 14 and nicking behind off Hazlewood for a second-ball duck respectively. However, Bavuma and all-rounder Marco Jansen formed a 57-run partnership for the sixth wicket to prevent a collapse.
An absolute peach from Hazlewood ended Jansen’s resistance on 32, forcing Bavuma to counterattack alongside South Africa’s lower order. The Proteas skipper, while battling leg cramps, accelerated towards his century in 136 deliveries, blasting 14 boundaries and a six before Australia’s bowlers cleaned up the tail.
Bavuma became just the second South African to carry his bat in a complete men’s ODI innings, joining Herschelle Gibbs on the illustrious list.
“Their bowlers exploited the conditions very well,” Bavuma said in the post-match presentation.
“There were no balls to cut, there were no balls to drive. They really made things hard for us.”
Australia’s run chase got off to a horror start, with opener David Warner lazily chopping Jansen’s second delivery back onto the stumps for a duck.
A hooping outswinger from Rabada accounted for rival captain Marsh, who edged behind to de Kock for 17, before Green ducked into a brutal bouncer a couple of deliveries later. The right-hander grimaced in discomfort before consulting the team medic, ultimately retiring hurt and substituted out of the match with a visible cut behind his left ear.
Sickening blow forces Green off-field | 01:41
Josh Inglis became the second Australian batter to chop on without any footwork, falling victim to Rabada for 1, before opener Travis Head miscued a pull shot against Proteas quick Lungi Ngidi for 33 (28).
Gerald Coetzee was introduced to the attack in the 12th over, knocking over Carey for 3 with his first delivery, which brought concussion substitute Labuschagne to the crease at No. 8. Australia was suddenly reeling at 6-93 when Stoinis botched a pull shot during Coetzee’s following over, caught at mid-wicket and trudging back to the sheds for 17.
Proteas spinner Keshav Maharaj produced an unplayable delivery to bowl Sean Abbott for 9 in the 17th over, but it would prove South Africa’s final breakthrough.
Agar and Labuschagne, later named player of the match, chipped away at the deficit, combining for a 112-run partnership and ensuring the tourists reached the target in the 41st over. It was Australia’s highest unbeaten partnership for the eighth wicket in men’s ODIs.
“We got lucky there,” Marsh confessed in the post-match presentation.
“(Labuschagne) was the perfect man to come in for that job … tonight was a class innings.
“That’s a really gutsy Australian win. I’m very happy for the boys.”
The second ODI between South Africa and Australia gets underway at the same venue on Saturday at 9pm AEST.