Failure of the England batsmen to convert starts saw them post 311/8 against South Africa in the opening game of the 2019 World Cup at the Kennington Oval on Thursday.
Riding on fifties from Jason Roy (54), Joe Root (51), Eoin Morgan (57) and Ben Stokes (89), the hosts ensured that the failures of Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler didn’t hurt them too much. The South African bowlers though put on a quality show in the second half of the innings to claw their way back into the game.
Winning the toss, South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis decided to bowl and leg-spinner Imran Tahir reposed the faith shown in him by his skipper as he sent back Bairstow off the second ball of the opening over. The first spinner to open the bowling in the history of the World Cup, Tahir used the googly to great effect as he took the edge of the bat and Quinton de Kock did the rest.
The early dismissal of Bairstow (0) brought Root to the crease and with Roy for company, the Englishmen started to stitch a partnership. Not just focusing on the boundaries, both Roy and Root looked to keep the scoreboard ticking as they reached 60/1 in the first 10 overs.
Putting on a quality 100-run partnership, it looked like the duo would run away with the game when Andile Phehlukwayo dismissed Roy against the run of play, caught by skipper du Plessis. Walking in at number four, Morgan made his intentions very clear as he hit the second ball that he faced from Phehlukwayo for a boundary.
But even before the duo could strike a partnership, Kagiso Rabada sent back Root as a casual sliced drive off his bat found J.P. Duminy at backward point. While the Proteas players celebrated the fall of the second English wicket in four balls, it was also the start of another quality partnership between Morgan and Stokes.
As the duo mostly looked to pick the singles in the middle-overs, Morgan took special liking for Lungi Ngidi in the 26th over and hit the pacer for back-to-back sixes to bring up 7,000 runs for himself in ODI cricket for England. Playing his 200th ODI for England, the skipper couldn’t have asked for a better moment to reach the landmark.
Even though Morgan looked his fluent self, it took Stokes some time to open up and the 36th over of the innings saw him get stuck into Dwaine Pretorius as he picked up three boundaries from the pacer’s over to also bring up his own fifty. It was the first time that four English batsmen had scored a fifty in a single World Cup game. But just when it looked like England would run away with the game, South Africa struck again.
With the pacers failing to create an impact, du Plessis turned back to Tahir and the wily old fox struck again as his flighted leg-spinner got Morgan to go for the swing and the English skipper failed to connect well as Aiden Markram completed a brilliant catch running in from long-on. The scoreboard read 217/4 in the 37th over as Buttler walked into the crease.
The crowd was already in anticipation for another whirlwind finish, but it wasn’t to be on Thursday as Ngidi cleaned him up with a slow bouncer that the batsman dragged onto his stumps in the 42nd over. Buttler (18) failed to read the pace of the ball and played his shot a tad bit early.
Moeen Ali (3) too departed in Ngidi’s next over as the batsman failed to connect and du Plessis took a perfect catch diving in from long-on. With the score reading 260/6 after 44 overs, it was important that Stokes takes it on himself to finish well in the last six overs as wickets kept tumbling at the other end. But Stokes too was dismissed in the 49th over in his effort to finish with a flourish.
Starting the last 10 with the score on 235/4, England managed just 76 runs off the last 60 balls for the loss of four wickets. Having started poorly, the South Africa bowlers showed great composure to ensure that they restricted England to a gettable total after the hosts looked to be dominating the game at the halfway stage with the score on 135/3 and Morgan and Stokes in control.