South Africa 5 for 320 (Miller 139, du Plessis 125) beat Australia 9 for 280 (Marsh 106, Stoinis 63, Rabada 3-40, Steyn 3-45) by 40 runs
Captain Faf du Plessis joined the powerful David Miller for the biggest partnership in ODIs between South Africa and Australia to clinch the series in a high-scoring affair at Bellerive Oval in Hobart. The duo took the visitors comfortably out of reach of a doughty chasing effort by Shaun Marsh, who struck his sixth ODI century.
Having lost three early wickets after being sent in by Aaron Finch, du Plessis and Miller provided a model exhibition of how to build a dominant position from modest beginnings, getting well established through steady accumulation before accelerating in brutal fashion in the closing overs of the innings. Their stand of 252 surpassed a union of 222 between Steve Waugh and Michael Bevan, at Docklands in 2000, as the biggest ever stand in Australia v South Africa ODIs.
Both batsmen gathered momentum but offered contrasting styles and preferred scoring areas to give the Australian bowlers no end of headaches. The closing moments of the partnership were virtually a free-for-all, with 51 runs coming from the final 15 balls that du Plessis and Miller were together before the captain's dismissal.
That late avalanche of runs was to prove the difference, as Marsh, Marcus Stoinis and Alex Carey put together a strong pursuit after the Australians had also lost three early wickets to the new ball. Though the Australians kept up with the rate maintained by Miller and du Plessis for much of the chase, they were unable to career away at the finish, in a further indicator of the bowling quality provided by Dale Steyn, Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi.
Their efforts made for a sharp contrast with the way the Australian bowlers fell away in the closing overs, repeatedly drifting into the hitting zones of Miller and du Plessis. Having begun soundly with the new ball, all the Australian bowlers were to face varying degrees of punishment. Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins' final overs each went for 20, while Stoinis' two wickets came at a cost of 10 runs per over.
It all meant that Finch's side had to find a level of quality batting that they have not recently been able to reach since the bans imposed on Steven Smith and David Warner, save for the remarkable Test century in Dubai by the injured Usman Khawaja. What they delivered was a tremendous innings by Marsh, and supporting hands from Stoinis and Carey that kept Australia in the contest until near to its conclusion.
Things had not looked anything like that promising when Chris Lynn, promoted to open and taking strike for the opening over, pushed firmly at Steyn's first legal delivery, seaming away and bouncing, and edged behind. Finch also fell cheaply when trying to impose himself, clumping Ngidi to mid-on, and when Travis Head's halting innings came to an end with a mistimed forcing stroke, the Australian evening was in similar trouble to South Africa's afternoon.
Marsh had been timing the ball sweetly throughout, and after a temporary consolidation with Stoinis, the pair began to reach and clear the boundary with enough regularity to take the hosts ahead of South Africa at the same stage of the innings. But the partnership needed to be sustained for an extraordinary period in order to match what Miller and du Plessis had done, a task that was to prove beyond Stoinis.
After hammering a quartet of sixes, Stoinis let out an audible cry of "no" when he miscued Dwaine Pretorius to end a partnership worth 107, but the next man Carey was able to help Marsh to his third ODI century of the year while also striking his own share of telling blows. In the 42nd over Australia were well ahead of South Africa's relative standing with Marsh and Carey well set, but when the West Australian skied Pretorius - Heinrich Klaasen took a terrific catch - the wind was taken out of the chasers' sails.
Glenn Maxwell played reasonably, but was unable to replicate the sheer cleanness of hitting seen in the first innings, as the toll of South Africa's blistering final few overs with the bat was felt. Tellingly, Steyn, Ngidi and Rabada were able to nail enough yorkers to prevent similar Australian swinging for the fences, leaving the home side's tail to ponder the lengths they had bowled as they gave up their wickets in ultimately futile attempts to bridge the gap.
On a fine, cool afternoon, there was a modicum of early assistance in the pitch for Australia's pacemen with the new ball, something Starc exploited to perfection with a ball seaming away just enough to take the outside edge of Quinton de Kock's bat. While keeping an initial clamp of South Africa's run rate, the Australians were subsequently to benefit from a pair of leg glances into the gloves of Carey.
The first, from Reeza Hendricks, meant his dismissal by Stoinis for the second time in as many innings, and the second from Aiden Markram, after he had swished a trio of sixes, gave Starc a second wicket from as many spells. At an uncertain 3 for 55 in the 16th over, du Plessis and Miller needed to rebuild carefully, something they did with the aid of a pitch starting to settle down - save for one Starc delivery that leapt off a length at the South African' captain's gloves.
Gradually, du Plessis and Miller lifted their momentum, aided by a pair of narrow escapes against the offspin of Maxwell. First, du Plessis attempted to force Maxwell through the off side on 29, and the resulting thin edge was dropped by Carey - a rare blemish on his usually exemplary glovework. Then, Miller was pinned on the crease and given lbw by Aleem Dar, only for du Plessis to request a review. Ball-tracking was to show the ball hitting in line but bouncing fractionally over the leg stump, meaning a reprieve on 41 for Miller, and more than a few befuddled Australian faces.
These moments of fortune allowed the stand to grow to alarming dimensions for the Australians, as each batsman was able to clear the boundary. Estimations of South Africa's tally were duly revised more than once, with the rate climbing from a humble 3.5 after 18 overs to well beyond the six mark. In all, 130 runs were piled up from the final 10 overs, 75 from the last five.
Du Plessis was first to reach his century with a shovel to the leg side and a composed celebration. Miller followed him with an upper cut to the third-man boundary the very next over and a more ebullient showing of emotion, vindicating his promotion to No. 5 in the South African order. A few percussive blows later and the visitors had piled up their highest ever ODI score in Australia, a mark ultimately beyond the reach of the hosts.