Mitchell Marsh’s Australians have toppled South Africa by five wickets in the third T20I at Kingsmead to secure a comprehensive 3-0 series over the Proteas.
Australian opener Travis Head blasted a career-best 91 (48) during Sunday evening’s run chase, helping the tourists reach the 191-run target with 13 balls to spare.
The South Australian cleared the boundary rope six times throughout his blistering knock, combining with wicketkeeper Josh Inglis for a rapid 85-run partnership for the third wicket.
“There have been limited opportunities for me in this format for a while,” Head said in the post-match presentation.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit to find my tempo at the top, but it’s been nice to contribute tonight.”
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Earlier, a brutal cameo from South African debutant Donavon Ferreira (48 from 21 balls) steered the hosts towards a respectable 8-190, while Australian seamer Sean Abbott claimed a career-best 4-31 to press his case for World Cup selection.
The result caps off a perfect series for Marsh, who has put his hand up to captain more often should Pat Cummins need to pull back from more T20s.
Australia made three changes to its starting XI ahead of the series finale, with Perth Scorchers captain Ashton Turner making his first international appearance since August 2021.
South African captain Aiden Markram won the toss and elected to bat first, but the decision backfired early when opener Temba Bavuma departed for a golden duck, Travis Head taking a diving catch at point.
Proteas debutant Matthew Breetzke nailed an early boundary before miscuing a pull shot against Marcus Stoinis, spooning a regulation catch to Tim David at mid-on for 5 (7). However, Markram smacked three consecutive boundaries off Abbott in the fifth over to put pressure back on the visitors.
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Australian spinner Tanveer Sangha almost removed opener Reeza Hendricks with his second delivery, with the ball ricocheting off the batter’s body onto the stumps. However, miraculously, the bails were unmoved despite heavy contact.
Markham brought up the fifty-run partnership for the third wicket with a thumping six, but fell to Abbott later in the same over, chipping a catch towards Turner at cover for 41 (23).
In the 11th over, Australia called for a review after Nathan Ellis struck Proteas wicketkeeper Tristan Stubbs on the pads, but Hawkeye suggested the ball would have bounced over off stump.
Hendricks eventually fell victim to Sangha in the 13th over, feathering a cut shot through to wicketkeeper Josh Inglis for 42 (30).
Ferreira slapped his second ball in international cricket down the ground for six, but Stubbs departed the following delivery for 25 (16) after clipping a half-volley from Abbott towards the boundary rider at cow corner. Three deliveries later, Bjorn Fortuin was caught at cover by rival captain Marsh, giving Abbott his third scalp.
South Africa had lost 3-6 in seven deliveries, but Ferreira and Gerald Coetzee resurrected the innings with a 54-run partnership for the seventh wicket. Abbott broke the stand in the penultimate over, with Coetzee slicing a full delivery towards long-off for 13 (11).
Ferreira plundered five sixes before Inglis nailed an underarm run-out as the Proteas debutant attempted to steal a bye during the final over. South African tailender Keshav Maharaj smacked the final delivery of the innings for six, much to Ellis’ irritation.
Australia’s run chase got off to a horror start, with opener Matt Short back in the sheds after one delivery. The Victorian didn’t bother wasting a review after he was trapped on the pads while attempting to sweep Markram’s first ball.
Head cracked a trio of boundaries against Proteas quick Lungi Ngidi before fellow seamer Coetzee knocked over Marsh, who miscued a wild slog and was caught by Fortuin for 15 (12). It was the first time Marsh had been dismissed in the entire series.
Head continued on his merry way at the other end, bringing up his maiden T20I half-century in 24 deliveries. He reached the minor milestone by bludgeoning spinner Maharaj down the ground.
South Africa’s frustration grew when Bavuma put down a tough outfield chance in the tenth over, handing Head a reprieve on 55. But the worst was yet to come, with Bavuma botching an absolute sitter at long-on the following over, gifting Inglis an extra life on 40.
It was third time’s the charm for South Africa, with Inglis top-edging a length delivery from Fortuin that Coetzee caught at deep square leg, departing for 42 (22).
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Stoinis was incredibly lucky to survive an LBW shout against Markram on 13, saved by an inch on Hawkeye. To rub salt into the wounds, he smacked the Proteas skipper’s next delivery for six.
The target was within touching distance when South Africa finally removed Head, who was caught at long-off nine runs short of his maiden T20I century. Bavuma made no mistakes on this occasion, but it was too little, too late.
The Proteas knocked over Tim David in the 18th over, but it was nothing more than a consolation wicket for Coetzee, with Australia achieving the target a few deliveries later.
“I thought we were slightly better again today,” Markram said in the post-match presentation.
“Probably still not exactly where we want to be, but at least we’re on the upward curve I suppose.”
Attention shifts to the ODI series, which gets underway with the first ODI at Bloemfontein’s Mangaung Oval on Thursday at 9pm AEST.