Batting let's SA down after canny bowling performance in World Cup opener

England's captain Eoin Morgan (R) stumps South Africa's Dwaine Pretorius (L) off the bowling of England's Ben Stokes for five during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between England and South Africa at The Oval in London on May 30, 2019.
England's captain Eoin Morgan (R) stumps South Africa's Dwaine Pretorius (L) off the bowling of England's Ben Stokes for five during the 2019 Cricket World Cup group stage match between England and South Africa at The Oval in London on May 30, 2019.
Image: Glyn KIRK / AFP

Canny bowling and half-centuries by Quinton de Kock and Rassie van der Dussen weren’t enough to get South Africa over the line in their World Cup opener against England at the Oval on Thursday.

England were held to a gettable 311/8, but South Africa shambled to a reply of 207 in 39.5 overs to go down by 104 runs.

The home side’s total was their lowest in the first innings of an ODI in the four they have played since July last year.

It was also the first time four of their players had scored half-centuries in the same World Cup match.

So, even accounting for Jason Roy’s 54, Joe Root’s 51, Eoin Morgan’s 57 and Ben Stokes’ 79-ball 89, England won’t consider their innings an unqualified success.

That was no accident. South Africa knew what they were in for, and countered the threat with canny tactics.

Of the seven bowlers Faf du Plessis used, only the first three — Imran Tahir, Lungi Ngidi and Kagiso Rabada — bowled all 10 of their overs.

The rest were a mixed bag of part-timers — JP Duminy and Aiden Markram — and genuine articles — Dwaine Pretorius and Andile Phehlukwayo — who went for 5.8 runs to the over collectively.

None of the seamers were overly concerned with hitting top gear. Instead, they bowled well within themselves and used variation to great effect.

Sometimes it didn’t work — Phehlukwayo’s knuckleball failed him three times in one over, each time sailing for wides — but it was unquestionably the right thing to do.

Effectively, South Africa starved England’s fire of fuel by refusing to bowl to their strengths.

That was clear from the outset, when Imran Tahir took the new ball and had Jonny Bairstow caught behind with a sniping leg break.

But Roy and Root reeled in fears that the extra moisture in the pitch because of an earlier than usual start at this stage of an English summer would lead to collapses with a stand that endured into the 19th and yielded 106 runs.

It was ended by master schemer Phehlukwayo, who induced a top edge swipe that flew to deep mid-off.

The breakthrough was a significant relief for the South Africans, but all it achieved was to bring Morgan to the crease to share 106 with Root.

Morgan, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes and Stokes were dealt with for the addition of 83 runs as South Africa turned the screws.

Stokes kept England in it by being willing to venture out of his comfort zone and not try to hit everything out of the park: less than half his runs came in boundaries.

South Africa’s reply was rocked when Hashim Amla left the field in the fourth over having edged a bouncer from express bowler Jofra Archer into the grille of his helmet.

Amla returned in the 32nd, but by then his team had been reduced to 167/6. Liam Punkett had him caught behind for 13 in the 39th.

South Africa’s only stand of substance was the 85 that De Kock and Van der Dussen shared for the third wicket.

De Kock’s 68 came off 74 balls with six fours and two sixes, while Van Dussen faced 61 balls and hit four fours and a six in his 50.

The overpowering Archer also had Aiden Markram taken at slip and Du Plessis at fine leg to finish with 3-27

South Africa will look to put some points on the table on Sunday when they return to the same ground to play Bangladesh.

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