A stunning innings from Jonny Bairstow of 86 from 48 balls helped England to victory in the first game of their tour of South Africa.
Bairstow’s T20i career best helped England chase down 180 with four balls and five wickets to spare after Sam Curran’s three for 28 put the skids on South Africa. Fittingly, Curran was with him at the end.
Here’s what we learned from the First T20i at Newlands…
Balancing the attack
This just did not quite look like England’s best bowling attack. Jofra Archer and Adil Rashid are absolute locks, and Chris Jordan is not far off that status due to his experience and death prowess.
If England are sticking with the same top six, that leaves two more places. On this occasion, they went with Tom and Sam Curran ahead of Moeen Ali and Mark Wood. South Africa also left out a high pace option win Anrich Nortje.
In truth, that always felt a Curran too many, and so it proved. Sam, as discussed later, had a good evening but, as he arrived in such good IPL form – and is a serious six-hitter – he wasn’t the contentious selection. Tom got the nod over Wood, who England seem to enjoy leaving out, despite his rare talents.
Curran Sr. started well, with his first over costing just three, before du Plessis got stuck into him. Two sixes, two fours and two twos saw his second over pounded for 24, which set England way back.
It set Curran way back, too. He returned for two overs at the death. He picked up a wicket, George Linde, with his final ball, but by then he had already gone for 55 – more than ever before. South Africa whacked him for boundaries with ease.
And what about the all-rounders?
They picked Tom Curran because they thought the pitch might grip a little, which it did. Should that have brought Moeen into the equation? As it was, his sole contribution was presenting his great mate Rashid with his 50th cap.
On that happy occasion, Rashid could not quite summon his 50th wicket. But his was a very solid four-over shift, costing just 27 and conceding only one boundary, a slog-swept six from Rassie van der Dussen in his final over. Moeen’s bowling is not in the same class as Rashid’s, but he might have provided a handy option here (without Joe Root, there isn’t proper back up spin). When they return to Cape Town for the third match, which is on the same pitch, Moeen should be in the mix.
Moeen missed out to Sam Curran, who had a terrific time of it, taking his best T20i figures. He picked up Temba Bavuma in his first over, returned to dismiss top-scorer du Plessis, and also got the dangerous Heinrich Klaasen as he was getting ready to tee off. All three were with shorter balls, and a reminder that Curran is a very different bowler across the formats. In T20, he is developing all sorts of clever variations.
And then we come to the king of England’s all-rounders, Ben Stokes. It is curious to wonder what his role is right now. He didn’t bowl terribly well in the warm-ups and didn’t bowl at all here. Is he a genuine bowling option? A gap-plugger? Or even just a batsman in this format? Trouble with that is that in 23 innings in the format, he had never reached 50.
When he got a bat, he did very well in the company of Jonny Bairstow, tucking into Klaasen’s spin, before holing out to Tabraiz Shamsi, bringing South Africa back into the game.
Credit to South Africa
South Africa have not had the simplest buildups to this game, their first since the pandemic. They have had two positive Covid tests, preventing their training and limiting their use of the hotel the teams are sharing. It seems fair to assume David Miller was one of those with Covid, as he would seem a certainty for selection.
But they were straight among it on their return to action. With the bat, Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis looked in fine form. And then, with the ball, George Linde made quite an impression on debut.
Top three troubles
All of England’s top three, the men in the prized positions, exhibited their flaws.
Jason Roy has troubles starting against spin, when he can be leaden, and duly fell second ball to George Linde. Jos Buttler can, occasionally, lose his shape going big early, and duly fell to Lungi Ngidi’s first legal delivery. An over later, Dawid Malan swept Linde to square leg and had failed to capitalise on one of his slow starts, making 19 off 20.
That left England 34 for three at the end of the powerplay – a long way back. All three are too good to struggle regularly, but they have so many competitors for their positions including in the XI. Speaking of which…
Jonny, too good
The idea that Jonny Bairstow is at his best when he has a point to prove is now infamous. And, yes, as soon as he was asked to fulfil a new role, he excelled – just as he did when opening in ODIs and batting first drop in Tests.
Bairstow looked on it from his very first ball, when he guided a stunning four through third man. From there, he got brutal, taking down Tabraiz Shamsi with twin sixes, then picking a series of boundaries off Beuran Hendricks, whose last over went for 28.
He was joined first by Stokes (in a stand of 85), then by Eoin Morgan (partnership 40) to guide England home. Bairstow would rather be opening – wouldn’t everyone – but No4 is a decent position for him. He spent a lot of time in the middle order as a younger man, and is a wonderful whacker of spin. Along with Buttler, he is England’s best all-round white-ball batsman.