As International Cricket returned to the historic county town of Taunton after 16 years, it brought with it an inspired South African side that had looked lackluster in their trip to England so far. After a hammering defeat in the 1st T20, AB De Villiers and his troops scripted a tremendous fight back as they defeated England in a cliff-hanger of a contest.
When Jonny Bairstow had scampered through for a single that had registered one of most dominating T20 victories for England at Southampton, former English skipper and Sky Sports Broadcaster Nasser Hussain said: “This tour can easily go pear-shaped for South Africa”. True. South Africa’s batting was mundane, their bowling was lifeless and on the field, they looked uninspired.
In just a couple of days all that has changed. The three-run margin suggests it was last a ball finish. It was in- deed. With the series on the line and the game getting tighter, South Africa could have had their wheels coming off. Instead, their intensity on the field and some brilliance with the ball somehow managed to stop the English juggernaut.
After having lost the toss and put into bat on a batting paradise in a small ground, South Africa was under pressure to post a big score. After getting off to a decent start, AB De Villiers demoted himself to number four. From a scratch sixty the other day AB transformed himself into his carnage avatar straight away. He looted 19 of a Liam Plunkett’s over that included three fours a thundering six over covers. Batting on 46 with a strike-rate over 200 he looked dangerous. Just then England’s David Willy got rid of him. South Africa who could have easily posted a target of 200 or more finished on a 174. On a belter against England’s fearless batting line up, the total looked below par.
A fired up Morris
It was in the second innings of the match that we saw tremendous energy from the Proteas. Jason Roy for a change didn’t throw his wicket away after getting a start and went on to score a half-century. Roy along with Jonny Bairstow who is in the form of his life had put on a century run stand and England were cruising at 125 for 1 with just another 50 required from seven overs.
The only South African bowler who had looked sharp so far was Chris Morris. Morris was brought into this match to strengthen their bowling unit. He was charging in every single ball. In the 14th over, he dismissed Bairstow with a fuller length delivery that slightly came in and he was caught on mid-on. With Morris bowling well and the debutant Liam Livingstone making his way into the middle, South Africa sniffed an opportunity to get back into the game. AB had a slip, gully and enough men saving singles.
Morris was fired up. He was fast, accurate and wasn’t shy about letting Livingstone know that he was the new kid on the block.
Morris’s energy seemed to be rubbing off on the entire team. In the first ball of his final over when Livingstone pushed the ball to backward point, a shy at the non-striker’s end hit Jason Roy who was trying to reach for the return crease. South African’s appealed for obstruction and the third umpire Tim Robinson adjudged him out. Let’s not even get into the spirit of cricket argument here, that is for another day. The sheer hostility Morris brought to this game and the energy with which his captain and his fielders responded was the reason that it created that moment of insecurity on the part of Jason Roy. Morris finished with figures of 2 for 18 and bowled 16 dot balls.
Calm and composed Phehlukwayo
However, the long gun, English batting line up threw in next the local lad Jos Butler in. England needing 40 off the last 4 with Eoin Morgan and longish tail still waiting in the dugout meant they had the upper hand. AB had captained aggressively and hence had finished the overs of strike bowlers Morkel and Morris. “I told them to expect big moments.” That was AB’s message to his young bowlers before the game. And when it mattered the most the debutant Dane Paterson bowled the 19th over, he bowled consecutive wides. After bowling the second one, his captain standing at mid-off still had a smile and words of encouragement to offer. Paterson ended up dismissing Eoin Morgan in that over.
Andile Phehlukwayo who had previously dismissed Butler with a yorker in the 18th over was trusted to defend 12 of the final over. Sometimes when you throw in people in these challenging circumstances, the very thought that the other person thinks I can do the job, gives the person a lot of confidence. Phehlukwayo held his nerve and delivered the Yorker that ensured one of the most celebrated T20 victories for his side.
The full house at Taunton couldn’t have asked for a better theater. A team that was down and out a couple of days ago got resurrected. In the Post match presentation, AB said “ It was about the energy and showing the South African never-say-die attitude. We love the game back home and to see us come out on top means a lot”. That is all it was. A victory of such zestfulness for South Africa has not only brought this t20 series alive but also just might boost their confidence for the remainder of their tour.
Written by Babasish Nanda