Australia have lost 0-5 in a five-match ODI series for the first time ever. They lost 0-2 in a two-match series against England in 1980 and 0-3 in a three-match series to the same opposition in 1997, but this is the first time that they have been on the end of a whitewash over these many matches. More worrying than the scoreline was the fact that Australia deserved it. It wasn’t so much that they were completely outplayed by South Africa as it was that they just rolled over and accepted defeat.
There were some mitigating factors though. They were without Mitchell Starc who is, without a doubt, the best white-ball seamer in the world. Any side would miss him, but Australia have struggled to find anyone who comes close to his contribution either in terms of keeping the runs down or taking wickets. The second string Australian bowlers look callow and a long way away from international standard.
Not a single Australian bowler went at less than a run a ball in the series against South Africa. The best bowling average was Scott Boland’s 34.2, but he claimed just five wickets in his
three matches. Compare that with South Africa who had six bowlers with an economy rate of less than a run a ball and four bowlers who had a bowling average of less than 30.
While much has been made of the dominance of bat over ball in white-ball cricket, matches are just as often won by bowlers picking up wickets. That was summed up well in the way South African captain, Faf du Plessis, described Imran Tahir. The legspinner was hugely important for his team in this series and his captain was gushing with praise after his team wrapped up the series.
“He is an absolute gun,” du Plessis said. “He is the reason we are where we are in one-day cricket. He is a competitor, he wants to win games and he wanted to show everyone that he is still our number one which he is. He is my banker.”
Compare that with what the Australian spinners managed in the series. Adam Zampa and Travis Head rarely kept the scoring rate down and wickets were even more scarce. Head claimed one wicket and went at 7.8 runs an over. Zampa picked up just three victims for an average of 72, with an economy rate of 6.8. Neither man came close to bowling their full quota of ten overs, suggesting that captain Steve Smith just couldn’t back them to succeed.
The third ODI particularly, in which Australia failed to defend 371, showed how poorly the Australian bowlers performed. Head came into the attack in the 16th over and by the time he was removed from the attack, he had conceded 31 runs in 18 balls and South Africa were already accelerating towards their target.
All the bowlers – seamers and spinners – were inconsistent in line and length and that was the biggest reason for Australia’s defeat in this series. And the absence of anyone other than David Warner scoring big runs didn’t help. Warner had his best ever ODI series making 381 runs with two hundreds and a fifty. No other Australian managed half that many runs with only Smith managing a hundred. If not for Warner, Australia would have had it even worse.
The real concern for Australia going forward is that this side has now made losing a number of matches on the bounce bit of a habit. They lost the Test series in Sri Lanka 0-3. They were beaten by India in a T20 international series 0-3. When teams have got on top of them they have crumbled under the pressure rather than being driven on by it.
There is no doubt that there is a great deal of talent in this Australian team, but the steely determination that has become part of their cricket folklore is something Smith and his team need to work on, especially in overseas conditions. They may bluster and sledge, but when teams have them on the rack they have been wont to capitulate.
After the 0-3 loss in the Test series in Sri Lanka, Australia bounced back to win the ODI leg of the tour 4-1. Australia have the chance for (almost) immediate revenge when they play South Africa at home in three Tests next month. In home conditions they will start that series as favourites and should emerge winners, but the ODI series in South Africa was a real wakeup call for this team. If Australia are to hang on to the number one spot in the ODI rankings that they have held for so long, they need to get more out of their top order and backup seamers.
The person who is hardest done by in all of this is Warner who was faultless for the most part of the series. Scoring nearly 400 runs in five matches and losing all of them is really quite remarkable.