Just a few months back, England wicket-keeper Jos Buttler couldn’t get bat to ball. England selectors were pondering on whether they should give him a break, a softer way of saying ‘dropped’. But, how things change in this game. Having smashed the fastest hundred by an Englishman against Pakistan at Dubai, he came up with a ton in the first ODI against South Africa. On Saturday at St George’s Park, he did not get a hundred, but his contribution was no less crucial in aiding England get a crucial 2-0 lead over the South Africans. It was a knock that completely blew away Proteas’ hopes.
While opener Alex Hales starred for England in the chase, his dismissal on 99 left the team with some work to do. Chasing 263, they needed 61 in a little over eight overs. The pressure was definitely on, but not on Buttler. The England wicket-keeper showed no nerves at all, and was in a completely different zone of his own in a match that was evenly contested. His unbeaten 48 in merely 24 balls made what seemed like a difficult chase a canter for the visitors. Buttler slammed three fours off Kyle Abbott and three sixes off Imran Tahir, both in succession, to shell-shock the South African camp.
With all due credit to Buttler, it was Hales who set up the victory earlier in the innings for England although he couldn’t finish off the job. Hales had a poor Test series, but he clearly hasn’t let that affect his performance in the shorter formats. Impressively, Hales displayed another dimension to his game at Port Elizabeth. Unlike his reputation, he did not go bang bang at the bowling. Instead, he took his time and settled in, and played an old-fashioned knock, which ensured England were mostly within touching distance of the required run-rate till he was at the crease.
Earlier in the day, England’s bowlers also chipped in to ensure that South Africa were restricted to a gettable total. Reece Topley starred with four key wickets while Ben Stokes also chipped in with two crucial wickets at important stages of the match. Further, the spinners also kept things extremely tight for the visitors. Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali both went at four an over even though they managed only one wicket among themselves. It was a good team effort by the bowlers, which restricted South Africa to a gettable total, which they chased down in the end.
South Africa’s batting let them down at Port Elizabeth. 262 was never going to be a match-winning score. It was only a fighting performance by the bowlers that kept them in the hunt, but it wasn’t enough. The only major plus from the match was the return to form of AB de Villiers. His 73 was a rather subdued knock, and following his dismissal South Africa failed to push ahead in the final thrust. JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis both got 40s, but at least one of them needed to carry on. In the end, South Africa just did not have enough to push for victory.
--By A Cricket Analyst