England fail to fire with either bat or ball as much-improved South Africa level T20 series in Cardiff

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England suffered a disappointing defeat in Cardiff as South Africa leveled the T20 Series  (AFP via Getty Images)
England suffered a disappointing defeat in Cardiff as South Africa leveled the T20 Series (AFP via Getty Images)

After what captain Jos Buttler described as a “complete” team performance on Wednesday in Bristol, England fired with neither ball nor bat as South Africa levelled the series in Cardiff.

After South Africa won by 58 runs, a decider, as England chase their only white-ball series win of the home summer, awaits in Southampton on Sunday.

Both teams were unchanged, which was more of a surprise from South Africa’s point of view than England’s. On another ground with peculiar dimensions – short straight boundaries, long square – South Africa went again with their five-man attack. And Buttler won the toss, having lost eight in a row, and opted to field first.

If England were a little off the pace in all departments, South Africa were much improved – especially in the field while defending. Tabraiz Shamsi had taken a pounding at Bristol, but he picked up three vital wickets in his four overs, which also cost just 27, epitomising the turnaround. The fielding was just so much better, too.

In truth, by the time their bowlers were called into action, South Africa’s batters had put them in charge with a commanding performance. They posted a total of 207 for three, which could have been even more gruesome for England if Chris Jordan had not found another excellent over late in the innings. His final over went for just four, and the last 10 balls delivered just nine runs.

That helped stem the flow, but South Africa already had plenty. The finish denied Rilee Rossouw a maiden T20i century.

But Rossouw, back in the side after a brilliant Vitality Blast campaign with Somerset in which he scored seven fifties, provided the backbone of South Africa’s innings. He scored an unbeaten 96 from 55 balls, but tired towards the end of a career-best knock that saw him hit on the head trying to scoop Richard Gleeson. He smashed 10 fours and five sixes, and was the senior man in partnerships of 73 with Reeza Hendricks and 46 with Tristan Stubbs, who could only manage 15 from 12 balls after his fireworks on Wednesday.

South Africa made a fast start, with 32 from the first three overs before Moeen Ali’s introduction saw Quinton de Kock hole out to mid-on. That paired Hendricks and Rossouw, who had England on the run. Hendricks made a 29-ball fifty, one ball slower than his one in Bristol, but was brilliantly caught by Jonny Bairstow in the following over. Bairstow’s feet were inches from the longest boundary when he took his running catch, just as England needed a moment of inspiration.

Rossouw forged ahead, first with Heinrich Klaasen, then Stubbs. There was touch and finesse, but also pure power from a man who has been out of the South African setup while a Kolpak exile. On this evidence, his return is very welcome, and South Africa have some welcome problems in their top order, with skipper Temba Bavuma, Aidan Markram and Rassie van der Dussen, not to mention the starlet Dewald Brevis, all currently out of the side. It will not be Rossouw’s place they take immediately.

Rilee Rossouw hit 96 as South Africa leveled the series (Getty Images)
Rilee Rossouw hit 96 as South Africa leveled the series (Getty Images)

The chase never truly got going. Again, Buttler fizzed, with two enormous sixes down the ground off Andile Phehlukwayo, but fell searching for another. Dawid Malan was tempted out by Keshav Maharaj.

That brought focus on Jason Roy, who struggled on Wednesday, and again here. In two matches, he has 28 runs from 37 balls, and this summer, he has 59 from 80 in T20 internationals. His place is under threat on Sunday after he became Shamsi’s first wicket, caught down the ground.

Moeen had been sent out to join Roy, as England looked to pair left- and right-handers. He looked in sweet touch, pulling four from his first ball and playing much more fluently than his partner, and it took a brilliant catch from Maharaj, running round from long-off, to get him. A couple of balls later Sam Curran, another promoted, fell in similar fashion.

There were some sweet boundaries from Bairstow – including a “Natmeg” and Liam Livingstone, but already there was too much to do. They fell looking to slog the seamers, who mopped up a long tail.

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