England completed the second-highest successful chase in T20 internationals and the highest in World T20 history to keep their campaign alive. They held their nerve chasing 230, thanks to a blistering start from Jason Roy and a clinical innings from Joe Root that ripped South Africa’s attack apart and undid their batsmen’s efforts.
Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla and JP Duminy all scored half-centuries in a line-up that included AB de Villiers at No. 3 and South Africa would have thought they had enough. Instead, they were left to rue the three overs between 10 and 13, bowled by Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali, when South Africa could not find the boundary and scored just 14 runs. Before that, they were 125 for 2; after it, 139 for 3 and it was the difference between a score under 250 and one greater than. In the end, South Africa needed the latter.
On a night when no one wanted to be a bowler, the England seamers’ scattergun approach was nullified by South Africa’s overcompensation in bowling too straight, as well as some ill discipline. While England only gave away two wides, South Africa donated 20. An England line-up whose approach is built on aggression punished them for that.
Given the magnitude of their task, England showed intent from the first ball. Jason Roy swung hard at Kagiso Rabada and took 21 runs of the opening over – the most Rabada has conceded in an over in this format.
Alex Hales treated Dale Steyn with equal disdain. He sent the first three balls for four, all flicks on the leg side, although he should have been dismissed off the first. Kyle Abbott was at short fine leg and could not hold on. Roy had even less respect for Steyn. He finished the over with 10 runs off two balls to take England to 44 after two overs, the most runs off 12 balls in a T20. It was also Steyn’s most expensive T20I over
England were running away with it but Abbott made up for his earlier blunder when he had Hales rapped on the pads in front of middle and leg to strike the first blow.
Ben Stokes was promoted to No. 3, Roy kept going and South Africa had to turn to death bowling strategies in the Powerplay. Abbott searched for the yorker and found it but when he missed Roy ramped him for six over de Kock’s head. Roy tried to do it again but skied it and de Kock took the catch, ending his contribution at 43 from 16 balls.
When Stokes hit a Rabada full toss to the deep square leg boundary, it was advantage South Africa. Although England had more runs than South Africa had after six overs – 89 to 83 – they had already lost three wickets.
Imran Tahir was introduced in the seventh over and immediately quietened things down. His opening over cost seven runs without a boundary and, having seen England’s spinners have a similar impact, Faf du Plessis gambled with bringing on Duminy. It paid off as Duminy worked in tandem with Tahir and snaffled Eoin Morgan, who chopped on, to keep the advantage with South Africa at the halfway point. After 10 overs South Africa were 125 for 2; England 118 for 4.
But the brakes were slammed on South Africa’s innings then when Rashid and Moeen kept du Plessis and Duminy quiet. In the same period, South Africa used Chris Morris, Duminy and Steyn and the effect was entirely the opposite. England scored 42 runs in those three overs, Morris bowled short balls to his detriment, Root and Jos Buttler finally decided to take on Duminy and Steyn could not scare England into a mistake. The advantage swung. After 13 overs, England were 160 for 4 and the required rate had been dragged down from over 11 to 10.
South Africa still had Tahir and he went on to become the only bowler not to concede a boundary on the night, and to remove Buttler, but he lacked support. Morris was South Africa’s weak link and gave Root the full toss that saw him bring up fifty off 30 balls. His was the slowest half-century of the night, after de Kock’s came up off 21 balls, Amla’s off 25 and Duminy’s 26, but it was the one that mattered most.
Root took England to within 11 runs of victory before he swatted Rabada to deep midwicket and left it for Moeen to finish off. England lost two more wickets before they got there, but they won’t dwell on those late nerves.
They will, however, want to address their own bowling lapses and a messy fielding performance that saw them on the received end of a total in excess of 220 for the fourth time. Reece Topley offered too much width even as Morgan refused to put a fielder at point to allow de Kock to hit him through there three times. De Kock was even more severe on Willey and forced Morgan to introduce a spinner in the Powerplay.
Amla had only faced three balls by the time Moeen came on but already had his eye in. Amla found two boundaries before he should have been caught at mid-off but Topley, perhaps still recovering from his own mauling, spilled the chance. Jordan and Stokes could not find control and England conceded 81 runs in the five overs after Willey’s first had gone for two.
Rashid was introduced as soon as the fielding restrictions were lifted but did not immediately appear a threat. De Kock used his first ball to bisect the men in the deep and bring up his first T20I fifty but did not add many more to his total. He picked out the fielder at deep midwicket to allow South Africa to unleash de Villiers on the perfect platform.
The innings seemed to be playing to script when de Villiers smacked successive sixes but his show was short lived. Instead it was Amla and then Duminy who kept South Africa going. They scored 90 runs off the last seven overs but on a small field, a good pitch and against a bloody-minded England, it was not enough.