South Africa defies Warner to level T20 series vs. Australia

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South Africa's Faf du Plessis takes a catch to dismiss Australia's batsman Steven Smith for 29 runs during the 2nd T20 cricket match between South Africa and Australia at St George's Park in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa — A late fightback by South Africa defied a half century by Australia’s David Warner to level the Twenty20 series 1-1 on Sunday and send it to a deciding game.

South Africa took wickets in the 18th, 19th and 20th overs to defend a modest total of 158-4 and win the second game by 12 runs at Port Elizabeth’s St. George’s Park.

Australia, which was cruising at one point in its chase, stuttered at the end and only managed 146-6.

The late rally by South Africa was inspired by a stupendous catch, a combination of Faf du Plessis and David Miller on the boundary, to get rid of Mitchell Marsh and start Australia’s collapse in the final three overs.

Marsh looked for a big six down the ground. Du Plessis initially took the catch at long-on but, falling over the boundary, he chucked the ball back infield toward Miller a few meters away, who had to suddenly change direction and completed the dismissal by grabbing it two-handed and diving full stretch.

Opener Warner fought through the innings and was 67 not out at the end but he couldn’t lead his team to a series win on Australia’s first tour of South Africa since the ball-tampering scandal of 2018.

Warner was at the center of that plot to cheat in a test and was one of three players to get bans from Cricket Australia. Warner was banned for a year, as was former captain Steve Smith, who also is playing in this series. The third player involved, Cameron Bancroft, is not on this tour.

The third and deciding game of this T20 series will now be at Newlands in Cape Town, the ground where that ball-tampering plot unfolded two years ago.

Australia won the first game in Johannesburg by 107 runs on Friday night, South Africa’s biggest defeat in T20 cricket. The home team needed a response and got it — eventually.

South Africa started strongly with 70 at the top of the order by captain Quinton de Kock.

But Australia strangled the Proteas in the second half of their innings after a total of 180-plus seemed likely.

Warner hit five fours and a six in his 67 off 56 balls. He shared a 50-run partnership with Smith (29). Australia, with Warner controlling things, was seemingly set for victory.

But at 124-2 in the 16th over, Australia lost four wickets for 19 runs in the final reckoning and South Africa cut off the runs.

Alex Carey was bowled by Lungi Ngidi, who led South Africa’s attack with 3-41.

Ngidi then had du Plessis and Miller to thank for that wicket of Marsh in the 18th over.

Kagiso Rabada removed Matthew Wade for 1 – caught and bowled two balls later and at the start of the 19th.

Critically, South Africa also managed to keep Warner off strike for most of the final overs.

Australia needed 17 off the last over. When Anrich Nortje bowled Ashton Agar with the second ball of that over, the game was done.

Australia’s last chance came when Warner had the strike with three balls remaining and 15 runs needed. Nortje bowled a dot ball and then conceded just two runs off the last two balls to set up the series decider.

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