Jonny Bairstow in brutal form as England do just enough to take thrilling first T20 against South Africa

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·4-min read
Jonny Bairstow in brutal form as England do just enough to take thrilling first T20 against South Africa
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Flat track, short boundaries, and endlessly aggressive batting: England launched 20 sixes then held off an almighty onslaught from South Africa’s Tristan Stubbs to take victory in a dizzying opening T20 at Bristol.

On a night of breathtaking batting, England’s second-highest T20 total (234) looked, as Stubbs launched 72 from 28 balls, like it might not be enough. But cool-headed death bowling, particularly from Chris Jordan, took them to victory. The margin was 41 runs, but for periods of the chase it felt much closer than that.

The chief instigators of the carnage in England’s innings were Jonny Bairstow, who made 90 off 53 balls, his highest T20I score, and Moeen Ali, who made England’s fastest T20 fifty, from just 16 balls. They hit 14 sixes between them, while Dawid Malan managed four in his 43, and Jos Buttler only faced seven balls but still whacked two to set things in train.

England were brutal, but South Africa had a horrible evening in the field. Bairstow was given two simple lives and a tougher one, while there were misfields, no-balls from front and back-foot and plenty of wides. The five-man attack was unbalanced, with the four overs shared by Tabraiz Shamsi and emergency part-timer Stubbs going for 69. Keshav Maharaj and Kagiso Rabada kept things comparatively tight, while Lungi Ngidi finished with the most expensive five-wicket haul in T20 internationals.

Fortunately, they were much better with the bat, with Reeza Hendricks starting well, then 21-year-old Stubbs launching a 19-ball half-century to announce himself on the international stage.

For the eighth match in a row, Buttler lost the toss, with England asked to set a target. By the time they had finished doing so, the result was just about beyond doubt. When Reece Topley’s excellent form continued with two wickets in his opening over, that sense was heightened. It was much closer than they would have imagined then.

England rebalanced their side with the return of Jonny Bairstow. He came in at No4, with Sam Curran’s cameo in last Friday’s ODI earning him a spot in a bowling-heavy line-up ahead of Harry Brook and Phil Salt.

Buttler got the party started, smashing two sixes and two fours in his seven balls, only to be dismissed by a brilliant catch running back from mid-off by South Africa’s captain, David Miller. It was just about the last strong piece of fielding from South Africa.

At the other end, Jason Roy struggled, limping to eight off 15 balls before skying Ngidi to backward point. That paired Malan and Bairstow, who shared 71 in 45 balls, taking on Shamsi. Malan targeted the short boundary ruthlessly but, after six then four off Andile Phehlukwayo, he was caught behind. That was as good as Phehlukwayo’s night got.

After more torture for Shamsi, then Stubbs (who was first to have Bairstow dropped, on 57, but ended conceding 20 from his only over), Phehlukwayo returned for his final over, the 17th. It went for 33, including five sixes (two for Bairstow, three for Moeen), and two wides. It also featured a dreadful drop of Bairstow, by now on 73, at long-on.

Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali put on 106 in just 37 balls (AFP via Getty Images)
Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali put on 106 in just 37 balls (AFP via Getty Images)

After 17.3 overs, England had moved to 218 for three, and had taken 98 runs from the previous 27 balls. All of which made the final 15 balls – 16 runs, three wickets – a success for South Africa. It just came too late. Moeen and Liam Livingstone were both caught behind, which left Bairstow with 10 required for his first international T20, and two balls remaining in the innings. He was finally taken in the deep.

South Africa’s chase got off to a dreadful start, with the loss of Quinton de Kock and Rilee Rossouw, but Hendricks was soon flaying boundaries. By the time he reached a 28-ball fifty, Heinrich Klaasen – perhaps the most at fault in the field – had been dismissed by Adil Rashid, caught at long-on.

Unlike Miller, Buttler had the bowling options to juggle his way through. Moeen was brought on to bowl at Miller, but dismissed Hendricks, caught in the deep.

Moeen’s second over went for 20, including three sweetly-struck sixes from the youngster Stubbs, who then gave Jordan, Rashid and Topley some treatment, too. After Rashid picked up Miller, 21 was taken from Richard Gleeson’s third over, and South Africa needed 64 from four overs.

Sam Curran found a 10-run 17th, then Jordan’s 18th cost just three. The reward was the wicket of Stubbs for Gleeson at the start of the 19th, then two more in the over. Only when Stubbs went could England could finally breathe.

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