The timing of this T20 series between England and South Africa just feels right. South Africa’s campaign in the Champions Trophy ended after they did what have done in the past and were scared of doing it again; to choke. They ran themselves out of the tournament after a disappointing performance in the group stage. England, on the other hand, suffered their most heartbreaking loss since the World T20 final in 2015. This time they were knocked out in the semi-finals.

Hence the three-match t20 series is a bit like that weekend gateway you plan with your mates to let go of that bad break-up. As England thrashed South Africa with a 9 wicket victory they are having a dream start to that much needed weekend. Only for Proteas, on the way to the campsite they have suffered a breakdown and as far England are concerned they are basking in the sunshine along the beach; just what the doctor ordered.

A change in format demands a change in players approach. The shortest one, sometimes the most taxing one is also the most unforgiving one. As a player, there is hardly any time to regroup and make a comeback once you’re under the hammer. Sometimes that is true for a team as well. South Africa lost a wicket of their first ball of the match when England’s David Willy found something that was missing all throughout the Champions Trophy; swing. His partner with the new ball Mark  Wood picked a wicket off his first ball as well. Not just off his first over, of his second over too! And the visitors were reeling at 32 for 3. Both the openers and a good looking David Miller, all back in the hut.

 Scratchy AB de Villiers

AB was in just in the second ball of the innings. Talk to the best batsmen the world and they will tell whenever there is assistance for the bowler, there is always plenty of scoring opportunities for the batsman. Hence De Villiers looked like searching for boundaries early even with some lateral movement on and he was even lucky to find a couple of them. In the same over of Mark Wood, he finds the fence on either side of the cover. He is now off to a good start batting on 13 of his 8 balls striking at a touch over 162. The next over he faces is Chris Jordan’s first over. In three consecutive deliveries, De Villiers was beaten off a slower ball, cramped of a quicker delivery, then again failed to connect to another slower ball. Jordan could have bowled almost anything else but he went for the popular choice; slower ball. This time AB spotted it early, hit it over mid off and picked up his third boundary. In the next over with the loss of David Miller, Farhaan Behardien joined him on the crease. In the next 14 balls, he faced he played out 7 dot balls and scored 7 singles. This is after he had got off to start and he was facing a leg spinner on debut and a left arm spinner who was hardly turning the ball.

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In Dawson’s second over AB went through another set of three deliveries were completely looked out of touch. The first one hit firmly just dying at the fingertips of the cover fielder, the second was pushed with hard hands back to the bowler that just landed in front of Dawson and the final one as he misjudged the length completely and missed the ball while trying to play the cut. After batting for 10 overs, De Villiers now starting to soak in the deliveries and was batting on 27 off 29 balls. The strike rate had dropped to 93. While looking to heave the debutant over mid on AB got a leading edge that just fell out of reach of the cover fielder. The struggle was real. After he had got his 3rd boundary just in his 15th delivery he had to wait for 30 more deliveries to get his fourth. That too off a full toss off the final ball from the young leg-spinner Crane, which was in fairness, the only bad ball he had bowled in his quota of overs. When he got that boundary, there was shy of relief. More than relief there was frustration.

A full house at Rose Bowl, waiting patiently under the scorching sun were almost giving up on their hopes of some AB magic until finally a moment of brilliance arrived. On the final ball of the 17th over AB shuffled across and swept a delivery from Mark Wood over the fine-leg fence. With that, he brought up his slowest t20 fifty. The only other boundary and probably his best shot of the innings came in the final over when he shuffled to the on-side again, this time taking the ball on the full and smashed it over deep square-leg. De Villiers finished with an unbeaten 65 off 58 ball. Eventually more than a run a ball, yes, but it was undoubtedly the most non-De Villiers knock ever. In the post match interview AB Said that he can not exactly explain why he found it so difficult to score. Yes, the English bowlers were on the money, both the Hampshire spin twins hardly gave anything away, even then this was most non-De Villiers knock ever. And not him or nor anyone who watched it can conclude why one the world’s most fluent stroke-maker had such a difficult time at the crease.

Sorry Roy

Jason Roy, as he walked into bat wasn’t just carrying the burden of the low scores in white ball cricket for England. In his last six outings in white ball cricket for England Roy had managed 1,8,4,1,13,4. But had managed to find some form with his match-winning 92 for Surrey in the Royal London Cup earlier this week. On top of it all, England were chasing just a mere 143. This was Roy’s best chance to just bat through. All he had to do was to spend some time in the middle and try to gain back all that he has lost in the last month.

The fifth ball he faced he went down on one knee and slog swept the left-arm spinner JJ Smuts over square leg. Maybe it’s about that one short. When a batsman gets that from the middle of the bat, he just becomes a different entity altogether. Roy was on a bit of roll when collected 19 off Parnel’s second over. That included a six over log-on to well pitched up delivery. The next one Parnel dropped it short, Roy was waiting; as he just kissed that ball over short fine-leg for 4. He followed that up with one more most spectacular shots of the evening. An on-drive. A wristy, well balanced and placed to perfection, on- drive. He ended the little exhibition with boundary on the off side. As Roy waited on the ball and guided it pass the extra cover. He even took a single off the final ball. Batting on 28 off 13 balls, this was Roy’s best chance to make the most of the weekend gate-away.

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His next ball was the first ball of Andile Phehlukwayo’s spell. Full and straight it was. Roy who could have played just about any shot to that out of nowhere brought out the reverse. He missed it and was plumb in front.  And that ended the lovely little cameo for Roy. Watching Jason Roy bat just reminds me of a young Rohit Sharma trying to find his feet in ODI cricket. Sometimes when a batsman is vastly talented and has too many shots in his armory, he tends to play them unnecessarily. And this almost goes un-noticed because until the time they get dismissed they look to be phenomenal touch. Hence Roy has to realize with the free spirit with which he wants to bat, it is imperative that he put a higher price on his wicket. Sorry, Roy! Maybe next time.

Sublime Bairstow

The dismissal of Jason Roy brought in Jonny Bairstow. Irrespective of the number of chances he gets to play  Bairstow remains one of the most popular players among the English Crowd. During the ODI home series against SA Bairstow was wearing the blip as well and was taking a stroll just outside the boundary line and the crowd cheered and applauded every single time he went past them. As Bairstow walked into bat, this was a walk of man is supreme form. Long strides, not a sign of worry on his face, calm and focused. Bairstow played a powerful cut shot and got off the mark with a boundary. He quietly followed that up with a single.

Throughout the course of his innings, he repeated that pattern a number of times. Five times to exact. When he got a boundary and followed it up with a single. Bairstow’s excellent form with the bat was evident from the way he attacked both the wrist spinners differently. Tahir bowls a lot of his balls from the front of his hands hence gets it skid on to the stumps. To that Bairstow replied with a slog sweep. On the other Tabrez Shamsi, the chinaman who was bowling from over the wicket had bowled a few googlies earlier. Hence the safest shot against Shamsi was to go over Long off and Bairstow nailed that a maximum as well.

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After scoring 46 off just 26 balls, Bairstow was down on his knees and looked a bit glum. The heat was taking a toll on him. He rehydrated and was us up. His next scoring shot was a nudge towards square-leg where he sprinted back for the second run. Bairstow reached his half-century in style when he went inside out and got a boundary. With just five required to victory. Andile Phehlukwayo banged one short, Bairstow was taken by surprise. But he was in such good knick that he was watching the ball till the last moment and managed to guide it over the first slip for a four. Quite fittingly it was Bairstow who dropped the next one and ran through for a single that took England over the line.

For a man in ominous touch Bairstow never really forced a single shot. Every shot was played on the merit of the ball. And that was probably one of most sublime half t20 half centuries ever.

Written by Babasish Nanda

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