South Africa have come back from the brink to level the T20 series against Australia, snatching a 12-run win in a breathless finish in Port Elizabeth.
Chasing 159 to win at St George's Park, Australia were cruising at 2-124 but fell victim to a brilliant bowling and fielding performance from South Africa at the death.
‘BOYS AGAINST MEN’: Proteas strike back after brutal criticism
With David Warner (67 not out off 56 balls) anchoring one end, Alex Carey, Mitch Marsh and Matthew Wade all fell in quick succession, leaving Australia needing 17 off the final over.
The tourists' hopes faded when Anrich Nortje knocked over Ashton Agar's off stump, sending the capacity crowd into raptures and levelling the series at 1-1.
It was a comeback for the ages after the Proteas were humiliated in Johannesburg, bowled out for just 89 in a record 107-run defeat.
The series-decider will be played in Cape Town on Wednesday night (Thursday morning AEDT).
Quinton de Kock (70 off 47 balls) was the hero with the bat in Port Elizabeth but it was in the field where South Africa were truly redeemed.
Faf du Plessis and David Miller combined for an outrageous relay catch on the boundary to see off Mitch Marsh, while quicks Lungi Ngidi (3-41), Nortje and Kagiso Rabada all delivered inspired performances in the final overs.
Australia gambled on promoting Carey to No.4, backing his batting against spin with crafty left-arm tweaker Tabraiz Shamsi controlling the tempo.
Carey was bowled by Ngidi for 14 and neither Marsh nor Wade made it past single figures.
“Sitting back there now, I think the players will feel it's a missed opportunity to win the series away from home, which is always a huge accomplishment," assistant coach Andrew McDonald said.
“Now we've got our work cut out, a short turnaround to Cape Town and prepare as best we can to perform well there.”
Warner and Steve Smith (29 off 26 balls) combined for a 50-partnership before du Plessis snared a superb low catch at long on to dismiss Smith off the bowling of Dwaine Pretorius.
Fans were quick to pile onto Smith and Warner, with many labelling Australia’s loss a ‘choke’.
Many thought Warner and Smith batted too slowly, using up too many balls and not showing enough urgency.
What the hell are Smith and Warner on? So jittery? 🤨#SAvAUS
— Ruan van Jaarsveld (@ruanvj) February 23, 2020
Absolute shocker for Australia. Embarrassingly complacent after Smith and Warner cruising. Warner literally getting them in singles even when boundaries required. Aussie lower order weak again. SA got their bowling right in the last 10, brilliantly in the last 5... #SAvAUS
— Jonny (@Leathernwillow) February 23, 2020
What a choke by Australia! Warner choked and didn't hit a boundary after the 13th over...
And some IAH or ICT fans comparing a better batsman than Rohit Sharma in LOIs. 🤣🤣🤣#SAvAUS
— Sharique (@Jerseyno93) February 23, 2020
Smith + Warner in the middle : 96 runs from 82 balls .
Equivalent to 96 runs from 13.4 overs at a RR of of 7.16 in a 8 Run/over chase.
Leaving the rest of the batsmen to score 63 from 38 balls at an RR of 10.16
The Great Australian Choke#SAvAUS
— Anish Ancil (@anishancil) February 23, 2020
Just got home and catching the highlights. How the hell do Australia need 35 from 28 with 7 wickets in hand and go on to lose the match? Proper choke. #SAvAUS
— The LeftBacks (@LeftBacks) February 23, 2020
— Cricket 22 Yards (@Cricket22Yards) February 23, 2020
— The Oddball..!! (@iamthunder847) February 23, 2020
Warner crushed after ugly collapse
Australia's last man standing, Warner was left crushed after South Africa flipped the script on his return to Port Elizabeth.
Last time Australia had played at St George's Park, an already heated Test series went into overdrive when a number of fans - and two Cricket South Africa officials - were photographed wearing Sonny Bill Williams face masks.
The nasty reference to Warner's wife Candice plunged relations between the two countries to new depths.
Warner fittingly looked set to pilot Australia to a fourth straight T20 series victory when he and Mitch Marsh narrowed the equation to 25 off 18 balls.
But Du Plessis and Miller combined for an outrageous relay catch on the boundary to see off Marsh and Warner found himself stranded at the non-striker's end as Matthew Wade and Agar came and went.
“He's a competitor and I think every game of cricket means something to him,” McDonald said.
“He was out there in the contest and he's disappointed as he sits there in the change rooms.
“He feels like he potentially could have got us over the line, that's the sort of player he is ... he's motivated no matter what the scenario or the opposition is.”
Smith also delivered a moment of magic in the field.
Proteas skipper de Kock had already cleared the rope three times when he thumped an Adam Zampa delivery over deep midwicket, only for Smith to launch himself over the rope and throw the ball back before landing to save the six.
Smith almost did it again to dismiss Miller off the final ball of the innings but spilled the juggling effort when he tripped over the boundary rope.
with Yahoo Sports Staff