One Day disaster: Why skipper was powerless to save Australia

    How do you react when you’ve just gone for the equal-worst bowling figures in the more than 4600-match history of men’s one-day international cricket?

    With a smile.

    Adam Zampa has always been different, but when cameras panned to him heading up the stairs at SuperSport Park in Centurion after being smacked for 113 from his 10 wicketless overs, equalling the record set by compatriot Mick Lewis against the same opposition some 17 years earlier, he was sharing a lighter moment with stand-in skipper Mitch Marsh, chuckling as though he didn’t have a care in the world.

    Zampa wasn’t alone though. The body language in the Australian camp belied a team that had just been smoked for the third-highest ODI total ever conceded by an Aussie side, the damage inflicted primarily by Heinrich Klaasen with David Miller riding shotgun.

    Marsh, true to his laid-back nature, was grinning, and greeted by coach Andrew McDonald and recuperating captain Pat Cummins outside the dressing rooms, there were pats on the back and grins all round.

    At one level this might be surprising. Often when a team cops such a hiding heads are down and brows are furrowed.

    Yet at another level it should be no shock. Since McDonald replaced Justin Langer, the air of intensity has been taken out of the Australian dressing room. McDonald, Cummins and Marsh are at one in their calmness and there would be no catastrophising despite a couple of hours in which the Proteas made an undermanned Aussie attack look well off the pace.

    So, how concerned should Australia and its fans be after losing an ODI to the world’s fifth-ranked side by 164 runs less than three weeks out from the start of the World Cup?

    That largely depends on how much faith you have in Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Glenn Maxwell, Steve Smith and Cameron Green to fire when they return from their respective injuries in the lead-up to the tournament.

    Australia’s depth held up very well through the early stages of this tour, but across the last couple of games it is clear that the absentees have reached critical mass levels.

    At Centurion, the Aussies again fielded just seven of its 15-man World Cup squad, and it was in the bowling department where the strain was felt most acutely.

    Far from the dream of a side stacked with all-rounders that has underscored preparations for the tournament, Australia went in with a rigid team heavily reliant on plan A coming off.

    It is extraordinary that in the face of the Klaasen onslaught, Marsh only used five bowlers, all of whom had to fulfil their allotment of 10 overs.

    Ever an injury-watch, Marsh has been nursed through this tour after bowling more than expected during the Ashes, meaning the captain was under instructions not to bowl himself. He will resume rolling the arm over come the next preparatory series in India.

    But with Marsh opting not to call on Travis Head, it meant that all five Aussie bowlers had to keep being subjected to punishment no matter how badly they were going.

    Josh Hazlewood, the No. 1-ranked bowler in the format, looked anything but the reliable line- and-length man, finishing with 2-79, the worst figures of his career, surpassing the 0-74 he delivered three days earlier at Potchefstroom.

    And then there was Zampa, who started the day just three spots below Hazlewood on the rankings.

    Before Friday, the leg-spinner had never gone for more than 72 runs in an ODI. In other circumstances he would have been shielded from the unwanted record, pulled after eight or nine overs to avoid the ignominy. Yet there were so few options that he had to send down the 48th over of the innings, going for 26 to catch Lewis. There were some poor balls for sure, too short and wide, but it was also just a brutal display from Klaasen, who finished 174 from 83.

    Yet for all the destruction in the South African innings, it was the damage done by Gerald Coetzee in the run chase likely to have the most lasting implications. A short ball from the Proteas quick fractured Head’s left hand. His involvement in the early stages of the World Cup is up in the air.

    Australian team management announced that Head was due to go for a scan with results not expected until Sunday (Australian time). The injury potentially opens the door for Marnus Labuschagne to be parachuted into the squad after his heroics at the start of this series.

    But you only had to look at the South African acceleration to realise that losing Head’s firepower at the top of the order is more than a tiny setback for Australia’s hopes.

    From the wreckage the Aussies can at least be buoyed that Alex Carey has found touch with the bat for the first time since early in the Ashes, making 99 from 77 in a forlorn chase.

    However, smile as they like, the Australian camp would not have wanted to be so heavily pinning its hopes on a veteran quartet (Maxwell, Starc, Cummins and Smith) all coming back from medium-term injury. This is a bumpy road to the game’s most prestigious tournament.

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