Until the other day, I only associated Bloemfontein with football.
In fact, it was nearly a decade ago. The day of the goal that never was, the blunder of officials and England suffering their heaviest defeat at a World Cup finals.
Now my mind has been cast back to the capital city of the province of Free State, one of South Africa’s three national capitals and the seventh-largest city in the country.
That’s because it’s time for one-day international cricket at the Mangaung Oval in Bloemfontein.
As this is a three-ODI series, Australia cannot afford to lose. They have already wilted in the South African heat, losing the series opener by 74 runs amid smoke from a nearby bushfire in Paarl.
Chasing 292 to defeat a depleted Proteas side missing Kagiso Rabada, Faf du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen, the tourists were in reasonable shape at 3-174 before collapsing to be all out for 217 with 29 balls remaining.
There were plenty of one ODI 2020 highlights to enjoy for the neutral (and the hosts). Australia’s bowlers found it tough going in hot and windy conditions exacerbated by smoke from the blaze, while flames were visible on the mountain when night fell.
The hosts recovered admirably to finish 7-291, piloted by an assured Heinrich Klaasen (123 not out), who posted his first international century.
The only bright side for the Aussies was Pat Cummins (3-45), the pick of their bowlers and his dismissal of debutant Kyle Verreynne (48) which made him the sixth-fastest Australian to 100 ODI wickets.
Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne also continued their good form together; since October, their partnership has averaged nearly 100 across formats and they added the latest chapter in Paarl.
It wasn’t enough, however, and the SBOTOP ODI 2020 tips expect the tourists to bounce back.
One-day internationals involving South Africa always bring to my attention the glorious memories of last summer’s World Cup – and I’m not particularly a cricketing fan.
Yet one-day internationals do tend to evoke emotions that few other forms of the game do and South Africa have a point to prove.
They have already lost 2-1 in the Twenty20 series so are keen to restore some pride in the ODIs. The won the first ODI against England back in February.
They will also have fond memories of the last Aussie tour to their country – two years ago, in fact.
Then, Australia won the opening test before South Africa hit back to win the series. A series full of bad blood and boorish behaviour, collateral damage and carnage ended with the latter.
Australia started the day on 88 for 3 and lost their remaining seven wickets for 31 runs inside 17 overs.
South Africa took less than 90 minutes on the final day in Johannesburg to wrap up victory by 492 runs, sealing their first home series win against Australia since 1970.
How they would love to beat them again, regardless of the format.
South Africa, ranked fourth in the ODI world rankings, have held the advantage in recent bilaterals between the sides, winning eight out of their last nine games, including a 5-0 sweep at home in late 2016.
Yet they will be careful not to get too carried away. Three times before, in the Test, ODI and T20I series against England, South Africa won the first match of the series only to fall away as the fixtures progressed.
Australia, ranked second, have been on the rise since March last year when they defeated world number one ODI side India in their backyard, and have shown few signs of stopping since Smith and David Warner returned to the setup.
The final two ODIs of the 2019-2020 season are upon us.
Who is your money on?
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