50 overs South Africa 262 for 7 (de Villiers 73, Topley 4-50) v England
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AB de Villiers made 73 but fell when well set © Getty Images
AB de Villiers, the hard yards done and his form flooding back, signalled his intentions as South Africa reached the last 10 overs by lashing Chris Jordan over midwicket for six. At 198 for 3, they must have had ambitions for something approaching 300; that had the sound of victory. They made 262; that felt like a match in the balance.
The difference, most of all, was because of Jordan. He is a multi-faceted cricketer, dangerous with the bat, more agile than most at slip and in the deep, and when de Villiers failed to middle another mighty hit over the leg side off Ben Stokes in the following over, Jordan was equal to the challenge.
It was a hugely difficult catch, a white ball falling out of a blue sky, a swirling breeze strong enough to fleck the sea and shake the branches of the trees outside the ground holding the ball just within range. Jordan’s range anyway. It was a chance that was available to few.
Jordan, the wind battering his senses, dashed back full tilt to take the ball over his shoulder at mid-on with remarkable poise. De Villiers had 73 from 91 balls but the final onslaught which could have carried the game away from England never materialised. Only 64 came from the last 10 – respectable but not a game changer.
De Villiers came into the match with three successive ducks to end the Test series and 8 in the opening ODI, but he worked hard for his runs as St George’s Park, the oldest of South Africa’s international venues, true to its nature, oversaw a one-day international with an old-fashioned flavour as the bowlers squeezed advantage from a dry and slow surface.
It was a contented scene on a day of dreamy blue skies, even though front-foot pushes and crafted singles had supplanted the usual avalanche of sixes, but one man was more contented than most. Chris Morris was sitting on a cool million dollars after an IPL bidding frenzy that eventually saw him move to Delhi Daredevils for considerably more than expected. However, his smiles were only witnessed beyond the outer as South Africa, seemingly of different persuasion, chose to drop him.
Sloppy new-ball bowling on the placid surface in Bloemfontein had also cost Marchant de Lange his place with Kagiso Rabada and Kyle Abbott, back from hamstring trouble, brought in. The attention, though, first rested with England’s attack as de Villiers won the toss and took first strike.
England’s seamers had hopes of swing and cut, the spinners sensed the chance of turn, and although rewards were limited they gradually made inroads. By the 20th over, South Africa were three down for 98, Hashim Amla bowled when Reece Topley’s semblance of inswing developed into something straighter, Quinton de Kock’s bountiful run of form ended when Ben Stokes had him lbw with a fullish delivery, and du Plessis’ confident innings fell just short of a half-century when Adil Rashid found drift and turn to have him caught at slip. That a slip was stationed was credit to Eoin Morgan.
Morgan ran his spinners through to throttle the mid-innings – Rashid and Moeen Ali going at around four an over, both stints completed by the 37th over. That left a lot of onus on Jordan, whose variations at the death were essential in such conditions and he could have done without Jos Buttler spilling a very acceptable catch, one-handed to his left, when JP Duminy tried to run him to third man on 37.
Jordan was in better shape than in Bloemfontein, but he narrowly missed de Villiers’ stumps on both sides in turn and when he dropped short de Villiers’ lashed six over midwicket was a bristling show of intent to introduce the last 10 overs with South Africa handily placed at 198 for 3. Five overs for 33 did not flatter him.
But de Villiers departure abruptly broke the momentum. JP Duminy, who had shared a fourth-wicket stand of 107 in 21overs, fiddled around his pads and fell lbw to Topley – a faulty decision, replays suggested, but de Kock had already used up the review.
Two overs later, Rilee Rossouw followed. England needed a review to win the decision as the inside edge was overshadowed by the drag of bat on ground, Rossouw adding to the confusion with a butter-wouldn’t-melt change of gloves. The leg-side catch from Buttler, this time to his right hand, an excellent one.
South Africa do not bat as deep as England. Topley, keeping the ball full even though swing was rarely apparent, kept Farhaan Behardien in check. A slow pitch began to feel slower and was likely to get slower still. The breeze was lifting. The match was in the balance.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo