England 236 (Hales 112, Rabada 3-34, Wiese 3-50, Tahir 3-53) v South Africa
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Alex Hales continued his impressive series with a fifth consecutive fifty-plus score which he converted into a century © Getty Images
South Africa earned themselves an excellent opportunity to win the ODI series against England despite a century from Alex Hales in the deciding game.
South Africa were 2-0 down in the five-match series but, having limited England to just 236 in the first innings at Cape Town, are well placed to win their third match in a row and complete a memorable comeback. Only twice before has a side managed to come back from 2-0 down to win an ODI series.
That would represent scant reward for Hales, though. After four half-centuries – including an innings of 99 at Port Elizabeth – in the first four matches of the series, Hales became the fifth England player to register five successive scores of 50 or more in ODI cricket. The previous four were Geoff Boycott, Graham Gooch, Alec Stewart and Jonathan Trott. None of them had managed it in the same series.
Here Hales, with his second and highest ODI century, was the only man to reach 30 as England failed to exploit a frenetic display in the field from South Africa and failed to show the composure required on a pitch offering the bowlers some assistance.
Indeed, while Hales and Ben Stokes were in partnership, it appeared South Africa may have squandered winning an important toss on a tacky surface. Instead of pitching the ball up and allowing the conditions to help them, South Africa unleashed a barrage of short deliveries and, for much of the innings, struggled to maintain the tight line that might have brought them greater rewards.
But when Stokes, moving across his stumps, was bowled round his legs by Kagiso Rabada, it precipitated a decline that saw England lose five wickets for 37 runs in nine overs in mid-innings.
Jos Buttler, beautifully set up by a field that suggested a short ball, was slow to react to the full ball that followed from Rabada and played on, before Moeen Ali, attempting to hit over the top when the situation required retrenchment, was brilliantly caught at cover with more than 15 overs remaining.
Chris Woakes chipped a half-volley outside leg stump directly to the fielder on the fine-leg fence and Adil Rashid then attempted to clear the in field – an unnecessary risk with so much of the innings remaining – and gifted a simple catch to mid-off.
Not for the first time, the thought occurred that, for all England’s admirable dynamism and boldness in recent months, it might prove rather more successful if it was allied to some common sense and match awareness.
On this surface, a total of 280 may well have proved enough, but in attempting to score 320, they have left themselves vulnerable despite a below par performance from South Africa in the field or with the ball. It was the second time in succession they had been bowled out within their 50 overs.
A ninth-wicket stand of 31 between Hales and Stuart Broad gave England some hope and they will be aware that only twice have sides made more to win an ODI on this ground.
Earlier England named an unchanged side, while South Africa brought in Rilee Rossouw for the out of sorts JP Duminy. Both captains admitted they would have chosen to bowl first in overcast conditions with rain having forced the groundstaff to keep the covers on the pitch until around 30 minutes before the start.
Imran Tahir, introduced into the attack in just the fifth over, trapped Jason Roy – beaten a leg break that gripped and hit him on the back leg – with his sixth delivery, while Joe Root was unable to punish Hashim Amla for dropping him on 12 and was adjudged leg before, after a review, when he missed an attempted sweep against the same bowler. Eoin Morgan’s modest series with the bat – he has averaged 12.80 – ended when he gave himself room and could only edge a wide delivery outside off stump.
But Hales, once again showing the maturity to complement his natural positivity, put away the wayward deliveries – and there were many – with customarily sweet timing. Strong off his legs, powerful on the cut and pull, he also drove fluently. The on drive that brought up his century, a beautifully timed shot, was reminiscent of the stroke that brought Boycott his 100th hundred.
He enjoyed some fortune. He utilised a review, on 20, when umpire Johan Cloete thought he had edged a delivery off Chris Morris – reward, as much as anything, for Hales persuading Roy not to squander the review on his leg-before dismissal – and reached his 50 with an inside edge that flew perilously close to the stumps on its way to the fine leg boundary. Twice more he was slightly late on yorkers, but got enough bat on the ball to squirt the ball past the stumps or slips.
But he also showed a match awareness that his colleagues lacked and gave his side an outside chance of inflicting upon South Africa their first double defeat – that is defeat in the Test and ODI sections of home series – for 14 years. For a side with a chequered record in pressure situations, it could yet be an intriguing challenge.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo