Marcus Stoinis has underlined his ‘finisher’ credentials, delivering Australia a tense final-over win over South Africa in their Twenty20 World Cup opener that threatened to end in record-breaking calamity.
Josh Hazlewood extended his superb Indian Premier League form into the T20 World Cup, snagging two wickets and setting the tone to restrict the Proteas to 9-118 in Abu Dhabi.
What should have been a straightforward chase looked decidely challenging when the victory equation was 36 runs from four overs, with set batsmen Steve Smith (35) and Glenn Maxwell (18) both departing in the previous two overs.
It would have been a new low for Australia to fall short of victory; New Zealand’s inability to haul in a target of 120 against Sri Lanka in 2014 remains the lowest failed chase in this tournament’s short history.
But Matthew Wade (15no) and Stoinis (24no) stood up in an unbeaten 40-run stand.
The power-hitting pair didn’t panic, taking few risks before Stoinis got Australia home with two balls to spare by slapping two boundaries in the final over.
“The main thing for me there was actually trying to stay as calm as I can,” Stoinis said.
“For a Greek Australian, it’s pretty hard.
“You saw a bit of emotion come out towards the end.
“There was a bit of a feeling of ‘here we go again, there’s a run chase on’.
“It was good to get that one over the line.”
Aaron Finch, David Warner and Mitch Marsh departed as Australia crawled to 3-39 after eight overs.
Finch, who fell for a fifth-ball duck when he delivered catching practice for Kagiso Rabada at third man, admitted the chase was “quite stressful” viewing.
“Coming down to the wire, you’re always going to be nervous,” Finch said.
“Marcus Stoinis showed a really cool head, Matty Wade as well.”
Proteas captain Temba Bavuma lamented his side’s inability to swing momentum after Hazlewood’s dot-ball deluge despite a gutsy knock of 40 from top-scorer Aiden Markram.
“Around 150, 160 would have been competitive,” Bavuma said.
Stoinis forecast more low-scoring scraps at this tournament, which for Australia continues when they face Sri Lanka at 1am AEDT on Thursday.
“We saw during the IPL the scores weren’t as high,” he said.
“That might be a trend for this World Cup.
“You’ve got to get the conditions to score the big totals.
“We’ll talk as a batting group but you’re always so close. It’s never a big thing, it’s just the small things.”
Warner, who entered this match under near-unprecedented scrutiny after logging scores of zero, two, zero and one since landing in the UAE for the second phase of the IPL, crashed three boundaries off Rabada before falling victim on 14 to the same bowler.
Hazlewood, fresh from a starring role in Chennai Super Kings’ charge to their fourth IPL title, was called into the attack after two overs.
The paceman produced a remarkable two-over spell that cost just one run and featured the scalps of Quinton de Kock and Rassie van der Dussen.