South Africa take the upper hand, sound familiar?

England

Big picture

Well, here we are again, and that’s not meant in a ho-hum, repetitive sense, but rather in the enticing, stay-tuned-for-the-next-episode tone of a trilogy that promises to be a cracker if the cliffhanger first installment is any guide. The tension of South Africa’s one-run victory, achieved on the last ball of the contest in East London, hung largely on England’s collapse in the face of some brilliant death bowling by Lungi Ngidi.

But the threads of a gripping tale were woven earlier in the hosts’ failure to capitalise on a flying start which saw them reach 105 for the loss of just one wicket off the first 10 overs before managing just 30 runs in the next five and 42 after that. England welcomed the return of Jason Roy, whose 70 off 38 balls made the pursuit of 178 for victory look infinitely achievable, while captain Eoin Morgan contributed 52 off 34 before he was left “fuming” with himself for holing out and leaving his side needing seven off the last over. Cue Ngidi’s nerveless display in which he conceded just five runs and claimed two wickets before Adil Rashid was run out on the last ball.

So here we are, with South Africa claiming a 1-0 series lead, just as they did in the ODI series, which ended up 1-1 after rain forced the abandonment of the second match in Durban, the site of their next encounter, and England hit back in the final match. There is no doubt the tourists will come out fighting again on Friday. The fact that they only lost by one run – and Morgan acknowledged that Ngidi was the difference – will allow England to back themselves to put things right.

But while England are the stronger side on paper, there is something to be said for the confidence boost such a win will give to a relatively inexperienced South Africa side. Should England level the series at Kingsmead, there is a sense that the hosts will enter the finale in Johannesburg on a less-than-level pegging in the self-belief stakes. Don’t forget, they had a 1-0 lead in the Tests, too…

Form guide

(last five completed matches, most recent first)

South Africa WWLWW
England LTWLL

In the spotlight

Lungi Ngidi thrust himself into the spotlight with his 3 for 10 off two overs in the closing stages instrumental in England’s capitulation in the first match but can he back it up? England will be particularly wary of his slower ball, which brought them undone, and, if he looks like nailing it to the same effect in the next match, they will know to go after someone else. Ngidi must have found his resurgence particularly satisfying after sitting out the Test series against England with a hamstring tear. In his comeback match, the first ODI against England, he went wicketless in seven overs, conceding 42 runs. In the second, he bounced back with a final spell of 3 for 11 in four overs after his first five overs had cost 52. Following his star turn at East London, he was understandably keen to maintain a hold on his place in the side after so long on the sidelines, suggesting he could remain dangerous.

England have handed Joe Denly a prized opportunity to stake his claim on a place at the T20 World Cup. Having gradually worked his way to some sense of security in the Test set-up and proved himself handy in the ODI format in South Africa, the jury is out on the shortest format. His T20I record is unspectacular, with 95 runs in 11 matches at an average of 10.55 and strike rate of 97.93 with a highest score of 30. But he was the leading run-scorer in the Vitality Blast in 2017 and was top again for Kent the following year, indicating his potential. There is no better time to fulfill that promise than now. Denly didn’t look comfortable in scoring just 3 while batting at No. 5 in the first T20I and he had a day to forget in the field. With Dawid Malan in the squad but so far unused, it is clear there are alternatives. That particular alternative may require shuffling the top order, but England have the versatility to do that.

Team news

It is hard to see South Africa changing a winning team, although they may look to lengthen their batting by bringing in Reeza Hendicks and dropping Dwaine Pretorius. Beuran Hendricks, used late, did enough with the ball to justify his retention, although Sisanda Magala will undergo yet another fitness test ahead of the match in hopes of throwing himself into the mix.

South Africa (possible): 1 Quinton de Kock (capt, wk), 2 Temba Bavuma, 3 Reeza Hendricks, 4 Rassie van der Dussen, 5 Jon-Jon Smuts, 6 David Miller, 7 Andile Phehlukwayo, 8 Beuran Hendricks/Dwaine Pretorius, 9 Dale Steyn, 10 Tabraiz Shamsi, 11 Lungi Ngidi.

Given Eoin Morgan’s positive outlook on the defeat – being tested under pressure, learning from mistakes, and the narrow margin – it seems likely that England will stick with the same line-up to see if they can improve on their previous performance. This was backed up further by Morgan’s stated desire for “guys to get absolute clarity in their positions”, which makes sense with a T20 World Cup on the horizon, and confirmation that England would continue to play their strongest available XI for this series. Given the lack of potency England’s seamers showed in the Powerplay at East London, they could tinker with their attack, perhaps bringing in Sam Curran for brother Tom.

England (possible): 1 Jason Roy, 2 Jos Buttler (wk), 3 Jonny Bairstow, 4 Eoin Morgan, 5 Joe Denly, 6 Ben Stokes, 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Sam Curran/Tom Curran, 9 Chris Jordan, 10 Adil Rashid, 11 Mark Wood

Pitch and conditions

The good news is there is no rain forecast for Durban on Friday so there should be no repeat of last week’s ODI washout. The bad news is temperatures are expected to reach around 30 degrees – not bad, you say – but with humidity around an energy sapping 80% – not so pleasant.

Stats and trivia

  • South Africa have won their past three T20Is at Kingsmead and five of the seven completed T20 matches they have played there in total.

  • Dale Steyn moved ahead of Imran Tahir as South Africa’s leading wicket-taker in T20Is after both were tied on 61. He needs two more wickets to do it again in the overall standings, with Tahir’s tally of 63 including two wickets playing for a World XI.

  • England have never won a T20 in Durban, although they haven’t visited since the 2007 ICC World T20, when they lost group matches to New Zealand and India, the latter featuring Yuvraj Singh’s six sixes off a Stuart Broad over en route to a record 50 off just 12 balls.

Quotes

“We don’t want a situation where we go to Centruion 1-1. We’ve probably got the upper hand on the English side at this point in time so it will be important that we use the advantage that we have and not to allow them to get back into the series.”
Temba Bavuma on the importance of momentum

“It’s another challenge for us, we’ll have to try and come back with another counter plan to him or try and target somebody else.”
Eoin Morgan on negating the threat posed by Lungi Ngidi’s bowling

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