Rusty Theron scored a half-century and took four wickets to see South Africa A bounce back from consecutive losses and claim their first win in the ongoing tri-series on Saturday. They beat Australia A by 19 runs in spite of a fine innings by Australia's Aaron Finch, who scored 119 off 129 balls.
Theron is happy to be playing cricket again after being forced to take almost a year off from the game due to injury, a Cricket South Africa media release said.
"It's the close games you want to win and it was a good team effort that got us there. It's good to be back playing cricket after my injury and a few niggles and it's even better to get this opportunity to try and stage a comeback," he said.
South Africa won the toss and chose to bat first on a gloomy morning following rain from the previous day. Their innings got off to a rocky start when Reeza Hendricks was dismissed by Josh Hazlewood at the end of the first over without scoring. Dean Elgar shared short-lived partnerships with Richard Levi, Vaughn van Jaarsveld and Justin Ontong before he was joined by Dane Vilas for a fifth-wicket 50 partnership. He was eventually removed by Finch for 52 off 76 balls in the 28th over.
Theron came in at number eight and played a classy innings of 53 off just 39 balls.
Despite Mitchell Marsh and Josh Hazlewood taking two wickets each, it was Gurinder Sandhu's day with the ball. He took 4/51 in just under nine overs, getting rid of the South African middle-order to restrict them to 252 with just over two overs left unbowled in the innings.
Australia's opening pair of Finch and Shaun Marsh packed a mean punch. They shared a 84-run partnership off just 76 balls before Roelof van der Merwe got the breakthrough, removing Marsh for 33.
If Sandhu was Australia's bowler of the day, Theron was South Africa's. His four wickets came at the cost of concede 51runs in exactly eight overs, including that of the dangerous Nic Maddinson (40) and Glenn Maxwell (3) before he could get a start. Finch carried the visitors' hopes, batting at a strike rate of 92.24 when his side were nine wickets down but fell victim to Hardus Viljoen, who returned figures of 3/63.
Justin Ontong was a happy captain but remains aware of the areas that still need work. Early wickets during their innings and loose balls bowled to Australia almost cost them the match.
"I'm very happy with the result but I felt like there are still a few areas that we need to work on," he said. "A few cheap wickets fell at the start of our innings which is something we need to avoid. Rusty took the responsibility upon himself and batted beautifully, getting us to a competitive total.
"The first 10 overs of our bowling nearly cost us the match," he continued. "They got off to a flyer again but we managed to bring it back nicely, but I feel if we want to go all the way to the final we need to put in some hard work and compete with these guys."
South Africa are now in with a chance of getting into the final. They need to beat India A on Monday in order to open the window of opportunity. Australia play India on Sunday and will look to extend their lead with a third victory.