After months of pain-staking preparation, Proteas succumb to England at Newlands
CAPE TOWN - There were no spectators to mark the occasion, like in Australia and New Zealand earlier in the day, but international cricket finally returned to the playing fields of South Africa on Friday evening.
After months of pain-staking preparation, the significance was not lost on anybody inside Newlands’ bio-secure environment. There were unadulterated smiles from the players when they came out for their warm-ups, with none bigger than George Linde after the Cape Cobras all-rounder was handed his T20I cap in the Proteas huddle.
There was a genuine sense that everyone realised it was about something much bigger than just the start of a T20 series. The Proteas, in particular, had endured a mentally challenging week after two players had tested positive for Covid-19 during the build-up. The realisation that the series could actually be suspended was indeed sobering.
It was for these reasons both teams had spoken about “putting on a show” for the fans watching at home. And that’s exactly what they did in yet another highly-entertaining T20I between these two fierce competitors.
Faf du Plessis, fresh from the Indian Premier League, brought his form from the UAE home with a 40-ball 58 (4x4, 2x6) to drive South Africa to a competitive 179/6.
It seemed South Africa were on course for a total in the region of 200, though, when Du Plessis and captain Quinton de Kock (30 off 23 balls) were joined at the crease after the first-over loss of Temba Bavuma. Du Plessis and De Kock were really dominant in the Powerplay, with the former lacing Tom Curran for 24 runs in his opening over.
However, De Kock’s dismissal in the 10th over allowed Eoin Morgan’s team to keep the South African middle-order in check for the remainder of the innings. This was essentially due to Sam Curran, who assessed the conditions splendidly, to finish with the splendid figures of 3/28.
South Africa were always going to need early wickets if they had any hopes of keeping this power-packed England batting unit in check. Debutant Linde duly delivered with the second ball of the innings by removing the potentially explosive Jason Roy for a duck.
The left-arm spinner was in the thick of the action again in the final over of the Powerplay when World No 1 T20 batsman Dawid Malan was caught sweeping at square leg. With Lungi Ngidi also sandwiching Jos Buttler’s wicket between Linde’s couple, England were suddenly in a spot of bother at 34/3.
The visitors have an embarrassment of batting riches at their disposal though. If Roy or Buttler doesn’t get you, be sure that Jonny Bairstow (86* off 48 balls) and Ben Stokes will. And that’s exactly what transpired as the experienced duo added 85 for the fourth wicket in just over nine overs.
Even when Stokes (37 off 27 balls) fell to left-arm wrist-spinner Tabraiz Shamsi with 61 runs still required, Bairstow kept his nerve right to the very end to ensure England head down the N1 to Paarl on Sunday for the second T20I one game away from winning their successive series in South Africa.
Zaahier Adams is @IOLSport ’s embedded scribe in the Cricket SA bubble at Newlands in Cape Town.