Chris Morris produced the Midas touch for the second time in the space of three matches to earn South Africa a last-ball victory by three wickets over England in the opening T20 International match at Newlands on Friday evening. The Proteas went into the last over needing 15 runs for victory –or 14 for a Super Over – with Morris and Kyle Abbott, the pair who had produced the batting heroics in the closing stages of the fourth ODI, together at the crease. Abbott did the right thing by getting a single off the first ball to clear the way for Morris who went 4, 6, dot, 2 and 2 again to seal the deal.
Abbott should have been run out off the last ball and one had to feel sorry for Reece Topley, who has been consistently England’s best bowler in both limited overs formats, who made a mess of the return to the bowler’s wicket before Abbott slid into his ground on his stomach. It brought an end to a winning run for England of six successive T20 International matches while the Proteas recorded their 50th T20 International triumph in 83 matches. They have now beaten England in six out of 10 matches in this format.
The South African victory was set up by Imran Tahir who got rid of the dangerous Alex Hales with a catch by JP Duminy at backward square leg that included a potentially disastrous collision between Duminy and Kagiso Rabada. Duminy somehow managed to hold on to the catch and fortunately neither player was seriously injured. Imran then mowed down the England middle-order, getting rid of Ben Stokes, Eoin Morgan and Moeen Ali, the latter two with successive deliveries to match his career best of 4/21 against the Netherlands. It was only a matter of a millimetre that stopped him getting his hat trick with a delivery that completed deceived Chris Jordan.
Had he taken what would have been the third instance of a South African taking five wickets in this format, there is no knowing to what level he would have taken his famous celebrations. Even with a modest total of 134 England looked like pulling off a remarkable rearguard action as the Proteas lost wickets regularly and struggled to score more than six to the over. They looked to have won the match through the 36 runs Hales and Jason Roy scored in their first three overs after they had been put into bat, as they also scored only 98 runs in their last 17 overs.
But in the end it was that man Morris who once again had the final say. A remarkable statistic of a match in this format was that no bowler went for more than Morris’ 32 runs. The Proteas went into the match without Quinton De Kock who is being rested for this series because of a minor knee injury that has been troubling him for some time. One thing their selection did show is that they have a near perfect fielding combination with plenty of men who are fast about the field and have strong throwing arms.
In the end that may have made the difference in such a close finish. Imran was named Man of the Match. Once again Newlands attracted a crowd of more than 19 000, taking their aggregate in seven days of international cricket this season to almost 125 000.