South Africa vs England 2020: For once Proteas choke rivals shorn of common sense
South Africa have been the cricketing world's perennial 'chokers'. The Proteas have had an uncanny tendency of crumbling under pressure to squander advantageous positions and graciously dole the opposition a rather unforeseen victory. However, Quinton de Kock's men enjoyed a rare occasion in Buffalo Park's T20 series opener against England where for a change, they weren't standing deflated at the receiving end of yet another horrible goof up. It was England instead, who fluffed a manageable last-over equation and ended short of the finishing line, albeit by the barest of margins, to give South Africa their moment in the sun.
The 177-run target deemed inadequate considering England's high-flying batting arsenal. Moreover, South Africa's hopes of finding an elusive triumph were seemingly quashed early by a mighty Jason Roy, who embarked on a mission to demolish right from the word go. With lofted hits dominating his array of strokes, the swashbuckling opener blasted a quickfire 22-ball half-century, snatching every ounce of momentum away from the visitors.
South Africa, though, refused to succumb to Roy's carnage and kept dealing blows, ensuring they stay in the hunt throughout. While a resurgent Dale Steyn turned back the clock and drew first blood removing Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow's premeditated flick spelt his doom.
Still, England fancied their chances at halfway mark with the scoreboard reading 95/2, and their white-ball giants Roy and skipper Eoin Morgan occupying the crease. 83 required off 60 deliveries, pinch-hitters to follow, there was no way England could go astray from here. But pressure, the funny old thing, was ready to join the party.
'Harakiri' would be an understatement to describe the progression of events henceforth. England's seasoned campaigners exhibited temperamental incompetence and consequently, dreadful shot-selection as the hosts lost ascendancy in the blink of an eye. The nosedive began with the well-set Roy's dismissal, who couldn't resist going after Beuran Hendrick's dragged down cutter and the attempted pull landed down short fine leg's throat. Joe Denly, promoted ahead of proven match-winner Ben Stokes, followed suit, hoicking Andile Phehlukwayo's deceptive knuckle-ball straight to mid-wicket.
39 needed from 4 overs. Suddenly, out of nowhere, panic had crept into the England dressing room. What had seemed plain sailing hitherto now looked an uphill task. Danger lurked, and their chances took a turn for the worse when Stokes perished trying to counter-attack, leaving the vociferous crowd shrieking.
Meanwhile, Eoin Morgan had somehow held England's fort, countering South Africa's unforgiving lengths and tricky field placements. The southpaw's consecutive boundaries followed by an audacious maximum over extra cover briskly skewed the equilibrium in England's favour. But, the game-changing moment arrived forthwith when Morgan unfurled the glory shot the very next ball to his own, and his team's peril.
A single was worth its weight in gold in that scenario and would've been sufficient to get Morgan on strike for the final over. Safe to say, better sense had eluded the English captain, who, after having brought the equation down to 7 off the last over by accumulating 14 off his last three balls, had recklessly thrown away his wicket and spurred life into the contest that had no business staying alive whatsoever. Their spirits lifted, South Africa could smell blood.
Although Lungi Ngidi produced a death-bowling masterclass to ultimately deny England a facile win, an important factor behind the debacle was how the likes of experienced players like Moeen Ali and Tom Curran, with England in touching distance of victory, kept swinging their willows aimlessly whereas pinching singles or doubles would've certainly been the smarter option.
Notwithstanding the increasing emphasis on power-hitting ability or brute force, it was the negligence of basic cricketing smarts which cost England dearly. England, who largely appeared to have the upper hand over South Africa over the course of the encounter, have only themselves to blame for fumbling at the last hurdle. For, they were predominantly self-induced elementary errors which led to their shocking collapse.
Pity the ODI World Champions. They were so near, yet so far.
Published 13 Feb 2020, 19:10 IST