Reeza Hendricks walks off the pitch after being dismissed. Photo: Reuters / Paul Childs

SOUTHAMPTON, England – Even with a largely second-string combination, the manner of South Africa’s thumping at the hands of the English was yet another embarrassment, on a trip that is fast descending into a British summer nightmare.

Nine wickets was the losing margin, but England won by a stretch as wide as the Thames, or whatever river runs nearby.

England didn’t even have to engage second gear on Wednesday. They just rolled down the hill that South Africa’s bowlers created.

Wayne Parnell was loose again, and his early spell ducked out any hope that the Proteas may have had.

For whatever reason, with bat, ball and in the field, the Proteas look timid, a pale shadow of their former selves from just months ago.

JJ Smuts went for the very first ball of the match, and that probably should have been taken as a sign.

AB de Villiers finally made some runs, with a steady 65 not out, but even he batted with the look of a man who knew he couldn’t dare get out.

De Villiers doesn’t do steady, generally. He does spectacular. He didn’t dare press the accelerator on Wednesday night.

On the other end, Farhaan Behardien also got to 64 not out, but it was slow going. Too slow.

A measure of how timid South Africa have become was the respect they afforded debutant leggie Mason Crane

He was allowed to go through his spell with no drama, scant pressure, until his final delivery.

He offered De Villiers a waist-high full toss which was pelted away for four.

In his wildest dreams, he wouldn’t have thought one of the world’s deadliest predators of bowlers would handle him with such caution.

De Villiers finally opened up in the last two overs, but 143 was never going to be enough on a massive ground, and a pitch that had plenty of runs in it.

Where the collective confidence and swagger of the summer has evaporated to no one quite knows.

The ODI series against England was explained away by means of Champions Trophy prep. Fair enough.

And then the Champions Trophy happened, and there was a week of contemplation and soul-searching.

Now they have been thumped in Southampton, in a manner so clinical that one wonders just how they will stay in this series.

Truly, if England had batted first, they may have racked up 250, so limp was the South Africa display with ball in hand.

The only wicket that South Africa got was that of Jason Roy, a man fighting his own international demons.

And yet, even Roy (28) kind of gave it away, trying to reverse-sweep Andile Phehlukwayo’s very first ball.

Jonny Bairstow (60 not out) and Alex Hales (47 not out) then bludgeoned their way to the most comfortable of canters.

They barely needed to switch the lights on at the Rose Bowl, and the beer vendors cursed their rotten luck that the South Africans had been so meek.

It is a strange thing to observe, this withering away of flair and even fun from the faces of players who do have talent.

It is inexplicable just how far they have fallen back, in such a short period of time.

The Mercury

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