TELFORD VICE in Cape Town
IT needed something special from South Africa’s batsmen after their bowlers blew their chances to win the first one-day international against England at Headingley in Leeds on Wednesday.
But something special never came, and another loss in Southhampton on Saturday will decide the series and ask uncomfortable questions about South Africa’s readiness for next month’s Champions Trophy.
AB de Villiers won the toss and chose to field, and his attack repaid that apparent confidence by conceding 339/6 – the highest total posted in the 39 ODIs played at Headingley.
South Africa’s reply floundered and foundered to 267 in 45 overs, which made England winners by 72 runs.
Only Chris Morris, aside from part-time JP Duminy, looked the part in an attack that bowled too full, bled runs and had to rely on loose strokes to take wickets.
Morris claimed 2/61 and owned the only maiden of the innings. Duminy went wicketless in his six overs, but the 34 runs he gave up made him South Africa’s tidiest bowler.
None of Morris’ and Duminy’s colleagues could keep the pressure on for long enough to bowl maidens, much less force errors.
And when they did put the batsmen on the spot, too often their hard work was squandered by shoddy work in the field.
Opener Alex Hales took advantage of all that while the ball was new with a 61 that rattled off 60 balls with eight fours and a six.
Hales and Joe Root steadied England in a second-wicket stand of 98 that followed Wayne Parnell having Jason Roy caught behind in the second over.
But the stars for the home side were Eoin Morgan and Moeen Ali, who put on 117: a record for England’s sixth wicket in ODIs against South Africa.
The partnership started after the home side had slumped to 198/5 in the fifth over and endured into the 48th.
Morgan went to his ton in the 45th, which leaked 22 runs and saw him smash Imran Tahir for three sixes.
Morris removed Morgan for a 93-ball 107, but Moeen was still there at the end with an undefeated 77 – 50 of them in fours and sixes – off 51 balls.
No bowler besides Morris sent down their full quota, but even he could have done without a last over that cost him 13 runs.
South Africa’s batsmen, then, would have to pull the game out of the fire as their bowlers had done so many times before.
But the only time redemption seemed part of the equation was during a second-wicket stand of 112 between Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis.
It was bookended by Quinton de Kock skying Chris Woakes to short fine leg in the seventh over and Amla being trapped in front after misreading an inswinger from Mark Wood in the 25th.
Amla made a classy 73 off 76 balls, only his second half-century in 11 completed innings for South Africa regardless of format.
Seven balls later Du Plessis, who clipped his 67 off 61 deliveries, was undone and caught behind by a decent away swinger from Liam Plunkett.
What of De Villiers, that proven matchwinner?
He scored a promising 45, then holed out at deep midwicket to Moeen.
Promising 45s do not win matches like this.