Marnus Labuschagne came to Australia’s rescue in the role of concussion substitute, helping his team get out of a big hole and to a three-wicket win over South Africa in the first one-day international in Bloemfontein.
Labuschagne, who was not selected in the original eleven, replaced Cameron Green during the chase on Thursday night (Friday AEST) and scored a masterful, unbeaten 80 as Australia matched the Proteas’ full 222, including a haul from Temba Bavuma, in 58 balls have left.
Australia activated the concussion substitute at Mangaung Oval after Green was forced to retire injured in the sixth over of the chase after being hit by a vicious Kagiso Rabada rebound in the helmet’s second ball.
Labuschagne famously became the first concussed substitute in Test history when he replaced Steve Smith during the 2019 Lord’s Test of the Ashes series, which proved to be a defining moment in his career. This time he and Ashton Agar, who scored a career-best 48, saved Australia’s skin after a ruthless batting show.
The tourists had already slumped to 7-113 in the 17th over, but the pair combined for a magnificent, match-winning 112-run stand in the eighth wicket, finally providing the sensible approach that the situation demanded.
Australia’s response got off to a shaky start when David Warner passed Marco Jansen for a duck in the first over. Mitch Marsh, the hero of Australia’s 3-0 win in the T20 series, hit a wayward Rabada for a series of boundaries but the bowler had the last laugh when the Australian skipper delivered a sublime outswinger to Quinton de Kock on the 17th tickled.
Rabada blocked Josh Inglis (1) in his next over before holding a high catch at square leg to get rid of the dangerous Travis Head (33). The runs continued to flow, with Australia well outdoing a run-a-ball, but so did the wickets. Gerald Coetzee’s first delivery sent Alex Carey (3)’s middle stump flying through the air before Marcus Stoinis (17) holed out tamely and Sean Abbott (9) was beaten by a ripsnorter from Keshav Maharaj.
Coetzee (2-44) and Rabada (2-48) were the South African bowlers’ favorites, but neither Labuschagne nor Agar gave them much trouble, leading Australia from a worrying collapse to an impressive win.
Earlier, Proteas captain Bavuma pulled off an epic solo knock, becoming only the 13th opener and second South African to carry his bat in an ODI innings after Herschelle Gibbs in 2000. Bavuma (114 no) braved leg cramps and a difficult pitch to score his fifth ODI century and single-handedly give his team hope.
Marco Jansen (32) offered Bavuma the most sustained support after de Kock (11), Aiden Markram (19) and Henrich (14) failed to capitalize on their starts. Bavuma, dropped on two by Agar and 88 by Carey, extended the strike ably in a 37-run stand for the final wicket with Lungi Ngidi not scoring.
Josh Hazlewood (3-41) and Stoinis (2-20) were Australia’s best players with the ball. The five-match series continues with the second ODI at the same venue on Saturday.