Marcus Stoinis revived Australia’s flagging T20 form with a match-winning 24 not out under pressure to seal a five-wicket win over South Africa in the first game of the Super 12 stage at the World Cup on Saturday.
Stoinis won the Group 1 game and the first meeting of heavyweights at the tournament with four-over midwicket, taking Australia to 121-5 with two balls to spare and past what appeared to be an easy victory target of 119.
Although the Aussies had some jitters on the way in their chase — and South Africa fought hard in defense of its meagre total of 118-9 — the victory to open its campaign was a timely and morale-boosting one for an Australian team that had lost its last five T20 series and arrived at the World Cup in an apparent rut.
Needing 18 off the last two overs, Stoinis eased the pressure by slapping a four over that same midwicket area off Anrich Nortje in the penultimate over. He hit two boundaries in the last over to take Australia home alongside Matthew Wade, who was 15 not out.
“The dugout was probably a bit more relaxed than I was,” said Australia captain Aaron Finch. “But Stoinis and Wade kept their cool there. It’s what experience can do.”
Australia was seemingly halfway to victory with a disciplined bowling performance after putting South Africa in to bat in Abu Dhabi. Finch used spinner Glenn Maxwell in the second over and it paid off straight away with the wicket of South African captain Temba Bavuma.
Josh Hazlewood removed the in-form Rassie van der Dussen with his first ball and Quinton de Kock in his next over in a bizarre moment. De Kock tried to deflect the ball fine down legside, but the ball looped up off his bat and dropped onto his stumps as he looked around, bewildered at where it had gone.
Adam Zampa spun out David Miller and Dwaine Pretorius in the 14th over and South Africa, at 82-6, dragged itself to 118 in its 20 overs, with Aiden Markram top-scoring with 40 from 36 balls.
Maxwell and Steve Smith (35) shared a run-a-ball partnership of 42 and Australia was cruising at 80-3 when the complexion of the game changed in the space of four deliveries.
Markram pulled off a flying catch at wide mid-on — running, diving full-length and holding on with two hands — to brilliantly dismiss Smith. Tabraiz Shamsi bowled Maxwell (18) next over as Maxwell tried to switch hit one too many times and Australia’s nerves set in.
But a composed Stoinis flipped the recent form book for Australia and delivered a crucial opening victory in a stacked Super 12 group that also contains defending champion West Indies, England, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Only the top two teams from the two Super 12 groups will make the semifinals.