It is becoming something of a habit on this current tour of South Africa, that England are being forced to fight back from deficit following early series disappointment. After almost miraculously manufacturing a loss in the opening T20 in East London on Monday, the tourists once more find themselves battling arrears.
In adversity however, the men with Three Lions emblazoned on their respective jerseys have found something near their best form, and after winning the Test series in emphatic fashion – after an opening match loss – have already proved they are a dangerous pride with their backs against the sporting wall.
Though largely outplaying their hosts at Buffalo Park, the result will read otherwise in the record books and despite two games remaining to salvage their latest cause, the pattern of failing to make early inroads into a series scoreline is becoming a worrying trend.
As Eoin Morgan‘s men roll into Durban for a Valentine’s Day clash with the Proteas then, England will be in no mood for sentiment, and after seeing their hopes for a potential ODI series win washed away on their previous trip to Kingsmead, the tourists will look to be in business mode on Friday.
Defeat from jaws of victory
England’s penchant for a collapse is no secret – far from it – but there have been few occasions where the Morgan’s men have so spectacularly fallen over the final furlong. East London however broke relative new ground.
Set a total of 178 to seal the win in front of a vibrant, packed house at Buffalo Park, the tourists were on course for the grandest of cruises home, only for England’s wheels to dramatically fall off over the final overs.
After Jason Roy bludgeoned 22 off the fourth over, England romped to 132/3 and were coasting to victory requiring the paltry sum of 56 runs from 5.4 overs – somewhat a formality in T20 terms. Following the departure the Surrey opener for 70 however, Joe Denly and Ben Stokes followed for the addition of just 20 runs, but even then the tourists remained poised.
As skipper Morgan crashed his side to within seven runs of the finish line, golden boy Stokes could only look on in anguish as the wind then began to drive the ball back and skyward from repeated attempts to reach the boundary.
With wickets tumbling, the face of the on-looking England bench turned to desperation and to the credit of South Africa’s bowling attack, the Proteas were relentless in search of a dramatic turn around.
Having seen Tabraiz Shamsi sent to all corners of the ground, Lungi Ngidi was the man to steer the hosts home as the crowd were whipped into a frenzy approaching the final over.
Needing just seven from as many balls, Morgan then holed out at cow corner leaving just Tom Curran, Moeen Ali, Chris Jordan and Adil Rashid in deigning to scramble England home.
Taking both Curran and Ali scalps, Ngidi’s final six deliveries were menacing and strangled England at the crease – forcing Jordan’s run out victory with two needed off the final ball.
For England, the defeat will burn for some time but with the World Cup only now a matter of months away, the second T20 at Kingsmead on Friday presents the chance for sporting redemption in Natal almost instantaneously.
Steyn to go again?
Aside point South Africa’s at one point hugely unlikely victory in East London, the main signifier of the first T20 was the return to the fold of Dale Steyn after another period of exhaustive absence.
Having retired from the Test side six months ago, the former World number one bowler and Test Cricketer of the Year in 2008 was a galvanising figure for the Proteas despite taking just a single wicket at Buffalo Park.
With his presence alone a huge fillip for new short-form skipper Quinton de Kock, Steyn propelled his bowling mates over the line on Wednesday. However, now comes the decision of whether the 36-year-old plays in back-to-back T20s – with a third to come on Sunday in Centurion.
After the sure-to-be buoyed Ngidi, Beuran Hendricks and Andile Phehlukwayo claimed seven wickets between them at Buffalo Park, there is perhaps the chance for Lutho Sipamla to come back in after an ODI series, where the Tshwane Spartans right-armer showed glimpses of his potential.
When Steyn called time on his Test career last August, the intention was to extend his limit-overs career with less impact on his well documented and much publicised shoulder issues. With that however, comes the priority of managing his schedule and whether Steyn will take his place in the South Africa XI in Durban remains a doubt.
South Africa face England in the second T20 international on Friday at Kingsmead, Durban.
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