England in SA: Supporting cast turn showstoppers in South Africa's near-glory vigil

Aryan Surana

Aryan Surana

Author| Nov 29, 9:27 PM

Photo Courtesy: CSA Twitter
Photo Courtesy: CSA Twitter

South Africa's elbow grease to post a figure of note on the scoreboard had reached a crescendo. On the final ball of the penultimate, George Linde spanked Chris Jordan's half-volley flat and hard along the carpet to Ben Stokes at mid-on. Generally the tidiest of all customers, Stokes let the cherry burst through his fingers, mayhap due to some awkward bounce. Linde screamed his throat hoarse to partner Rassie van der Dussen, having gauged the prospect of a readily available brace. With Stokes even slipping once in his back-pedalling quest to retrieve the misfield, Linde's feet itched for a third run. No prize for guessing, Stokes' bullet at the non-striker's end proved the adventure a fool's errand. 

Stokes had fumbled, recovered, lost balance, found it and then given chase to hammer the sixth nail in South Africa's coffin. Their eventual card of 146/6 gave the impression that ala Stokes, England might hardly break a sweat in procuring an unassailable 2-nil lead. Although the series was tucked into the pocket in retrospect, it wasn't a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination. 

In what looked an unhappy marriage of swashbuckling batsmen and a pudding of a pitch, South Africa kept throwing tantrums at England like a bitter spouse. As many as four times in the first three overs did they came lasciviously close to knocking the opening domino. For all of his hawk-eye vision and stupendously fast hands, Jason Roy was a cat on hot bricks against Linde's spin web. An encore of Newlands and another golden duck lied in store but his funky square-cut found nothing but air. 

Jos Buttler took on the arm of the pocket dynamite that is Temba Bavuma and escaped a direct hit by a hair's breadth. Anrich Nortje, his stoke ired at the unwarranted exclusion in the curtain-raiser, dinged Roy on the boot with a missile projected at 152 clicks an hour only for technology to save his nose. Kagiso Rabada then spilt an absolute dolly at mid-on to deny his compatriot Ngidi the prized scalp of Buttler. England were well and truly living on the knife's edge when South Africa pulled out the jackhammer. 

Gone are the days when Roy's willow used to bear a passing resemblance to a railway sleeper. A lump sum of 24 is the maximum he has managed in the last ten trips to the crease with three noughts in there adding insult to injury. Ngidi subtracted him from the equation while Tabraiz Shamsi relayed the baton forward. Let alone being spoken off in the same breath as Kuldeep Yadav, the cricketing fraternity considers him nothing more than a trapeze artist performing in the circus of franchise leagues. If and when he rocks the headlines its more for his celebratory gimmicks or neon green shoes than his art and guile with the leather in tow. Today, the skill came to the fore. 

Having already mowed Ngidi for three consecutive boundaries, devastation against the seemingly innocuous Shamsi was now a bee in Buttler's bonnet. He danced down the deck with gusto only to witness the chinaman drag his length back as the ball mocked the almighty heave and cannoned into the leg stump. A giant roar echoed through the pastures of Eurolux Boland. The game was pretty much alive and kicking. 

The decibels were raised again in the next over as England's hero from Cape Town, Jonny Bairstow chose the wrong delivery to sweep and yanked a skier to mid-wicket. Stokes got down on his haunches to pummel Shamsi into the grass banks but the tweaker wasted little time in fighting redemption, with a top-edged hoick landing in the cosy comforts of Quinton de Kock's mitts. Career-best returns of 19/3 saw Shamsi grant South Africa a puncher's chance to draw level, but it isn't for nothing that Dawid Malan is ranked numero uno in the T20I sphere. 

England's adopted son from the serene shores of South Africa refused to hurl in the towel and applied the binding glue at a juncture when Shamsi was exploiting with a hint of mischief their bugbear of spin. 29 sought of 18, Malan hoisted a couple to the fence and a gun-barrel sizzler into the sightscreen before falling prey to Reeza Hendricks' boundary-juggling effort, as good a harbinger of the new normal as virtual education itself. The stuff went right down the wire but Malan's propulsion worth 55 had ensured that the asking rate was merely a puppet to be cajoled. 

"Dawid batted really well. Captain at the back also came in and finished it off. Just need to stay positive and keep learning I guess. When I came out I thought 150 could be a good score here. Maybe if one or two small things went our way we could've won the game. Shamsi was disappointed after his last game. To come out and make a statement, I'm really happy for him. The group are still learning. Every game you play in South Africa is different, with the pitches.", skipper de Kock weighed in on a tough day at the office. 

Battered and bruised, South Africa's warriors will curl into their beds tonight with a bittersweet feeling of 'so near, yet so far.' Though Linkin Park's chartbuster might provide a soothing balm - I tried so hard, and got so far; but in the end, it doesn't even matter.

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