lat track, short bounds and endlessly aggressive batting: England threw 20 sixes then held off an all-powerful onslaught from South African Tristan Stubbs to claim victory in a dizzying opening T20 in Bristol.
On a night of breathtaking batting, England’s second-highest T20 tally (234) looked, as Stubbs threw 72 of 28, as if that might not be enough. But cool-headed death bowling, especially from Chris Jordan, carried them to victory. The margin was 41 points, but during hunting periods it seemed much closer than that.
The main instigators of the carnage in the English innings were Jonny Bairstow, who hit 90 from 53 balls, his highest T20I tally, and Moeen Ali, who scored England’s fastest T20, from just 16 balls. They hit 14 sixes between them, while Dawid Malan hit four of his 43, and Jos Buttler only faced seven balls but still hit two to get things going.
England were brutal, but South Africa had a horrible night on the pitch. Bairstow had two easy lives and a tougher one, when there were misses, no balls from front and back and plenty of wide. The five-man attack was lopsided, with all four overs shared by Tabraiz Shamsi and Stubbs on an emergency part-time for 69. Keshav Maharaj and Kagiso Rabada kept things relatively close, while Lungi Ngidi finished with the carry at five wickets the most expensive in the T20. international.
Fortunately, they were much better at bat, with Reeza Hendricks starting well and then 21-year-old Stubbs throwing a half-century 19-ball to announce himself on the international stage.
For the eighth game in a row, Buttler lost the draw, with England having to set a goal. By the time they were done doing it, the result was pretty much beyond doubt. When Reece Topley’s excellent form continued with two wickets in his opener, that feeling was reinforced. It was much closer than they would have imagined at the time.
England have rebalanced their squad with the return of Jonny Bairstow. He came in at No 4, with Sam Curran’s cameo in last Friday’s ODI earning him a place in a bowling line-up ahead of Harry Brook and Phil Salt.
Buttler got the party started, smashing two sixes and two fours in his seven balls, only to be dismissed with a brilliant midfield catch by South Africa captain David Miller. It was pretty much the last strong fielding piece from South Africa.
At the other end, Jason Roy struggled, limping eight from 15 balls before knocking Ngidi down to the back spot. That paired Malan and Bairstow, who shared 71 balls in 45, taking on Shamsi. Malan ruthlessly aimed for the short border but, after six then four on Andile Phehlukwayo, he was caught. It was as good as Phehlukwayo night.
After more torture for Shamsi and then Stubbs (who was the first to knock down Bairstow, on the 57th, but ended up conceding 20 on his only over), Phehlukwayo returned for his final over, the 17th. He went for 33, including five sixes (two for Bairstow, three for Moeen) and two wide. It also featured a terrible drop from the now 73-year-old Bairstow for a long time.
After 17.3 overs, England had moved to 218 for three and had taken 98 runs from the previous 27 balls. All of this made the last 15 serves – 16 runs, three wickets – a success for South Africa. It just happened too late. Moeen and Liam Livingstone were both caught, which left Bairstow with 10 needed for his first international T20 and two balls remaining in the innings. He was eventually taken to the depths.
South Africa’s pursuit got off to a terrible start, with the loss of Quinton de Kock and Rilee Rossouw, but Hendricks quickly pushed the envelope. By the time he reached fifty from 28 balls, Heinrich Klaasen – perhaps the most at fault on the pitch – had been dismissed by Adil Rashid, taken aback.
Unlike Miller, Buttler had the bowling options to get his way. Moeen was brought in to bowl Miller, but fired Hendricks, caught in the deep.
Moeen’s second pass was 20, including three sixes kindly hit by young Stubbs, who then gave treatment to Jordan, Rashid and Topley. After Rashid picked up Miller, 21 was struck from Richard Gleeson’s third over, and South Africa needed 64 from four overs.
Sam Curran found a 10-point 17th, then Jordan’s 18th cost just three. The reward was Stubbs’ wicket for Gleeson in the top of the 19th and then two more in the overs. It wasn’t until Stubbs left that England could finally breathe.