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Australia ends 5-test losing streak with win vs South Africa

Associated Press Associated Press 27/11/2016 By JOHN PYE, AP Sports Writer
Australia's Steven Smith, left, and South Africa's Faf du Plessis shake hands at the end of their cricket test match in Adelaide, Australia, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. Australia win the match while South Africa took the series 2-1. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft) © The Associated Press Australia's Steven Smith, left, and South Africa's Faf du Plessis shake hands at the end of their cricket test match in Adelaide, Australia, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. Australia win the match while South Africa took the series 2-1. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

ADELAIDE, Australia — Steve Smith ushered his new-look Australia lineup to the brink of victory, then entrusted a pair of rookies to finish off the seven-wicket win over South Africa on Sunday that ended a demoralizing streak of five defeats.

In a move that could be considered either bold or desperate, Australia selectors responded to big losses to South Africa in Perth and Hobart by making five changes to the XI for the day-night test in Adelaide, including three uncapped batsmen in the top six.

Two of them — 20-year-old opener Matt Renshaw and 25-year-old No. 5 Peter Handscomb — were there when Australia reached the target of 127 for the loss of three wickets, sealing the match with more than a day to spare.

Handscomb hit the winning single and Renshaw finished unbeaten on 34 after sharing partnerships of 64 with vice-captain David Warner (47) and 61 with his skipper, Smith (40).

South Africa won its third straight series in Australia, clinching it with wins by 177 runs and by an innings and 80 runs despite the absence of captain A.B. de Villiers and the injury-enforced loss of pace spearhead Dale Steyn.

But Australia won some redemption.

"It's nice to get a win on the board," said Smith, who was dismissed just two runs from victory. "We've been outplayed in the first two test matches, but to come out here with a new-look team, an inexperienced team, and show some character and some fight and resilience, I think it was a great turnaround."

After the loss in Hobart, Smith said he was humiliated and embarrassed by Australia's batting collapses.

Chief selector Rod Marsh retired, and five players were discarded. Youthful batsmen Renshaw, Handscomb and Nic Maddinson were rushed into the team, wicketkeeper Matt Wade replaced Peter Nevill and seamer Jackson Bird was brought in to support the new ball pair of Mitch Starc and Josh Hazlewood.

"I'm really proud and pleased with the way the boys stood up in this game," Smith said. "They showed a bit of fight, character and resilience."

Renshaw showed he could occupy the crease, surviving 12 overs under lights against the pink ball on the opening night after Faf du Plessis's tactical declaration at 259-9. It was the start Australia needed to get to 383. He anchored the second innings, facing 139 balls for his 34.

"He didn't seem fazed by it all. He just got on with the job," Smith said. "It was nice for him and Pete, two guys on debut, to be there at the end."

The Australians were coasting until Warner was run out and Usman Khawaja, who scored 145 in a first innings that spanned three days — was trapped lbw with the total on 64.

The rest of the fourth day, though, went entirely Australia's way. South Africa resumed at 194-6 and was all out for 250, with Starc returning 4-80 and spinner Nathan Lyon taking 3-60. Stephen Cook's 104 — his highest score since a century on debut against England in January — was the highlight of the South African innings.

"He's a fighter, Cooky," du Plessis said. "Just proud of his character that he showed. It's hardest when you're under pressure to score a big innings like that."

Du Plessis should know. He scored an unbeaten 118 in the first innings, when he was booed as he walked onto the field and when he reached his century. It followed a week of upheaval after he was found guilty of ball tampering by the International Cricket Council for the way he shined the ball in the second test with a mint in his mouth. He says he has been unfairly labeled a cheat for doing something that cricketers all over the world have done. Cricket South Africa has appealed the verdict.

"Mission successful," du Plessis said, reflecting on the three-match series. "Incredible series to beat Australia 2-1, and to do it three times in a row — it's fantastic."

Du Plessis praised his bowlers, led by player-of-the-series Vernon Philander, for how they rattled the Australians in Steyn's absence.

He said he'd take time out to relax before the home test series against Sri Lanka. Australia will host New Zealand in a limited-overs series before kicking off a three-test series against Pakistan on Dec. 15 with a day-night match in Brisbane.

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