Australia drew first blood but it was skipper Michael Clarke who was left singing the blues in Friday’s 32-run one-day win over South Africa at the WACA Ground.
Clarke is expected to miss the remainder of the ODI series after re-injuring his left hamstring while batting in Australia’s total of 8-300.
In reply, South Africa were bowled out for 268 in the 49th over despite the best efforts of skipper AB de Villiers, who overturned an early LBW decision to make 80 off 76 balls.
The win gave Australia a 1-0 lead in the five-match series heading into Sunday’s re-match in Perth, but Clarke won’t be there after tweaking his left hamstring for the third time since August.
Clarke will undergo scans on Saturday to determine the extent of his latest setback.
“Early in my innings I took off a run and just felt it grab,” said Clarke, who made just 11 before gloving a Dale Steyn bouncer behind.
“Fortunately I was batting with Watto so we both don’t run too hard these days.”
Vice-captain George Bailey (70) made the most of South Africa’s comical fielding to help rescue Australia from a mid-innings wobble in front of a disappointing crowd of 9272.
Australia were cruising at 0-94 in the 15th over as David Warner (46) and Aaron Finch (35) exerted their influence, but two quick wickets to Vernon Philander (4-45) and Dale Steyn’s menace left the hosts struggling at 5-144.
Bailey would have been out for two had David Miller held onto a regulation catch at point.
Moments later, spinner Imran Tahir dropped a simple catch off his own bowling.
Bailey still looked scratchy for a fair while after the double lifeline, and Philander was the next one to give the batsman a reprieve – this time on 37 – when he failed to grasp onto a tough running chance in the deep.
And South Africa were feeling more pain – literally – when Farhaan Behardien hurt his shoulder while attempting a diving catch when Bailey was on 47.
Bailey’s luck eventually ran out in the 44th over when Faf du Plessis ran backwards to take a high catch in the deep.
But by then the damage had been done, with Glenn Maxwell (29 off 19 balls) striking some lusty blows at the death to hammer home Australia’s advantage.
Australian paceman Mitchell Johnson, fresh from his ICC Player of the Year award, promptly removed both of South Africa’s openers to put the visitors on the back foot.
De Villiers combined with David Miller for a 126-run stand to resurrect the run chase, with South Africa on track for victory at 4-202 in the 37th over.
But when local hero Nathan Coulter-Nile (4-48) removed Miller (65) and Ryan McLaren in the space of three balls – and sub fielder Steve Smith ran out de Villiers – it was game over.
“It was a funny performance. We got our rhythm really wrong – too many dropped catches,” de Villiers said.
“As a cricket team things will go wrong sometimes, and it did go wrong today.
But I felt like we were still in the game right till the end. With 15 overs to go, I felt we were favourites.
“We didn’t have that ruthlessness to finish it off.”