Lungi Ngidi stalls England charge to win thrilling first T20 international

Barney Ronay at Buffalo Park
The Guardian
<span>Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Adil Rashid must have wondered exactly what had happened in between.

Two hours earlier, as the shadows lengthened over East London, the leg-spinner had produced a wonderful spell of accurate, controlled variation to reel in South Africa’s batsmen.

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Quinton de Kock and Temba Bavuma had set off at a sprint batting first, as England’s seam bowlers over-pitched and found themselves driven into the low, green stands of Buffalo Park. The introduction of Rashid at 77 for one off seven overs brought the first shiver of control.

Related: South Africa set England 178 to win first T20 international – live!

Bavuma was caught sweeping. Jon-Jon Smuts seemed to be batting with the aid of a ouija board against the leg-spinner. Together Rashid and Moeen Ali sent down a combined 8‑0‑45‑2. And at the end of their innings South Africa’s total of 177 looked imposing but a little short.

By the time Rashid arrived rather unexpectedly at the crease, with Buffalo Park by now beneath the lights, three wickets had gone down in five balls and England needed three off one to win.

Lungi Ngidi had just splattered Moeen Ali’s stumps and was bowling beautifully. The crowd, pensive in mid-afternoon, was in a state of gleeful uproar. Rashid could only tap the final ball to midwicket, and was run out going for a doomed second. Defeat will be tough to swallow for England. But it came by the finest of margins in a brilliant game of cricket.

East London had been a beautiful spectacle at the start of play, the grassy banks filled with picnicking families, the vast postbox-red KFC bucket looming magisterially at cow corner, and a strip of ocean peaking through the flags by the scoreboard.

England won the toss and bowled. Joe Denly filled the No 6 spot, with Dawid Malan continuing his brave, ceaseless quest for a chance to actually play a game on this tour.

Moeen bowled a tight first over, a plan England may well go back to given his early control here. From the other end Tom Curran was driven with brutal power by De Kock, then flipped with the wind for a dreamy six over long-off. Mark Wood took over from Curran and began with a waist-high full-toss bottom-edged to the boundary. The free-hit was pulled for six, making it 11 from Wood’s first legal delivery.

At 48 for no wicket after four overs England got the break they needed, De Kock skying Moeen to midwicket. But halfway through the innings South Africa were ominously poised at 105 for one.

When in doubt, send for Ben Stokes, who produced a tight, hostile spell as overs 10-15 went for only 30 runs. Finally there was some expert death-bowling as Wood’s penultimate over went for three and Chris Jordan opened up over No 20 by bowling first Dwaine Pretorius, then Beuran Hendricks.

<span class="element-image__caption">Beuran Hendricks of bowled first ball by Chris Jordan, who produced a fine display of death bowling.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images</span>
Beuran Hendricks of bowled first ball by Chris Jordan, who produced a fine display of death bowling. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

South Africa’s 177 for eight looked a little insufficient. It began to look entirely inadequate as Jason Roy produced a clean-hitting masterclass to carve his way to 50 off 21 balls, the second-quickest half century in England T20 internationals.

There was talk before this game that he would make way at the top of England’s order, with Jos Buttler pencilled in to open. But Roy came to East London with 69 and 67 in his previous two T20I innings. Plus he is the kind of player who simply doesn’t notice form, the most wickedly uncomplicated of white ball slayers.

Here he seemed to have regained his balance at the crease, staying in that mode where he waits, waits a little bit more, and just lets those fast-twitch hands do the work.

Roy eventually departed toeing a Hendricks slower ball to short fine leg. His 70 came off 38 balls, and at that stage England needed 44 off 31 to win. At which point they unravelled, undone in part by Ngidi’s range of slower balls.

Eoin Morgan took 14 off three balls in the penultimate over before hitting the last delivery up in the air. A fine innings of 52 off 34 balls ended with a moment that probably cost England the game. “It was in the slot to check it down the ground,” Morgan sighed at the end. “I hit it way too well.”

Enter Rashid and that final note of drama. England are well capable of coming back from this defeat, and will look for a marked improvement in their ground-fielding and catching. But South Africa, and Ngidi in particular, deserved their moment here.

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