Half centuries by the South African openers set up a surprisingly easy seven-wicket victory over Australia on Tuesday in a World Cup warm-up match giving the holders’ skipper Ricky Ponting much food for thought.
In particular, another slump by his middle order will concern Ponting.
Chasing a modest 218 for victory, South Africa’s captain Graeme Smith (65 retired) and Hashim Amla (60 retired) survived a barrage of leg before and caught behind appeals by Brett Lee and Shaun Tait early on before settling down to put on 131 runs.
Smith then retired undefeated followed by Amla to give their team mates some batting practice and JP Duminy (47 not out) duly anchored the innings to take his team home inside 45 overs.
Although the match was only a friendly, the result which comes hot on the heels of Australia’s 38-run defeat to World Cup hosts India on Sunday will concern Ponting ahead of the tournament opening on Saturday.
In their innings, Australia made 217 all out with Ponting (55) and Michael Clarke (73) top scoring in a 122-run partnership for the third wicket which at least gave them some time at the crease after the two openers were dismissed with just six runs on the board.
It was 36-year-old Ponting’s second half century of the week.
Clarke, coming off a drop in form, spent some quality time and his gritty knock against the strong South African pace battery should instill some confidence in him.
However, the form of the middle order, badly missing Michael Hussey who was left out of the squad after injury, will worry Ponting after its failure against India two days earlier.
Australia slipped from a comfortable 127 for two in the 30th over to be bowled out for 217 inside their quota of overs, for the second match in a row.
Pacer Dale Steyn and left-arm spinner Robin Peterson took three wickets each as the Proteas’ fast bowlers and spinners shared the spoils.
While Peterson accounted for the middle order, Steyn accounted for the dangerous Shane Watson (0) before returning to mop up the tail.
Pakistan-born leg spinner Imran Tahir was again impressive despite picking up just one wicket while Lonwabo Tsotsobe shrugged off a strained right knee to also pick up one wicket.
In the field, Australia used as many as eight bowlers but the only wicket to fall was by a run-out.
Ponting turned to spin in the 15th over but neither Jason Krejza, Steven Smith nor Michael Clarke could stem the flow of runs or break the opening partnership on the same ground where India’s spinners destroyed Australia’s middle order on Sunday.
Australia kick off their title defence against Zimbabwe on Monday and South Africa take on West Indies in Delhi three days later.