England levelled the T20 International series with victory by two runs on a wild night in Durban that ended in another last-ball thriller.
With South Africa needing 15 to win off the final over, Tom Curran produced three fine yorkers at just the right moment to snatch victory, Bjorn Fortune scooping the final ball to Adil Rashid at short fine leg.
England will travel to Johannesburg with the series at 1-1 with one to play in this quickfire piece of World Cup prep. Once again they were let down a little by some self-inflicted oddity in the batting order, then put on the back foot by a wonderful innings from Quinton de Kock. Finally they were bailed out by fine comeback bowling, and by the nerve of their outfielders at the death.
Mainly the game seemed to turn on a combination-punch exchange between Moeen Ali and the elegantly explosive De Kock that took in the end of England’s innings and the start of South Africa’s.
Moeen can be laconic at times. In Durban he was brief but devastating with the bat, defibrilating England’s innings from a standing start. An hour into this second match England had stalled a little at 15-5 off 15 overs batting first. Joe Denly had lasted two balls in his specialist all-purpose filler role.
Enter the man they said couldn’t start against pace. At Kingsmead Moeen set off like a bullet train. His second delivery, a cutter from Andile Phehlukwayo, was clumped over long-on. Beuran Hendricks was lifted over deep square leg then pinged over long-off. Lungi Ngidi, the destroyer of East London, went for four, six, four, Moeen swinging in an easy short arc before he was caught going for another six. His 39 off 11 balls had the third highest T20 strike rate in any innings of over 10 balls, a flicker of the easy, high-class hitting Moeen showed in the Blast last summer.
Ben Stokes hit with brio at the back of the innings to finish on 47 off 30, his highest T20 score. England’s total of 204 was the third highest on this ground.
They looked like favourites. But it didn’t take De Kock long to start reeling them in. First he produced a counter-balance to Moeen’s barrage; and by the time he was out for 65 off 22 balls, one of the most extraordinary innings you could hope to see in this form.
Still running hot, Moeen took the new ball in the chase. His first over went for five. At which point De Kock switched to his most elegantly murderous mode. Moeen’s third over went for 20 as De Kock lifted, and cuffed and monstered him for three huge sixes.
Next De Kock took the long handle to Curran. He went to his fifty off 17 balls, the fastest by a South African. On 69 without loss after six, then 102 off 10, they were hurtling toward England’s score. De Kock was finally out mis-hitting a near waist-high full toss from Mark Wood to the midwicket fence. T20 isn’t always an elegant game, but this was the most beautiful display of batting violence.
Earlier South Africa had won the toss and bowled on a powder blue evening. England picked an unchanged XI, as Dawid Malan continued his long walk to maybe getting a game somewhere on tour. Jos Buttler opened again, still dining out on those slightly over-valued IPL half-centuries.
Early on Ngidi nipped one away and Buttler nicked it. He now has 78 in his last five innings as England’s T20 opener. No matter though. Recent history suggests England will just keep playing him there until the opportunity to be proved right presents itself.
At other end Jason Roy lifted Bjorn Fortuin’s fifth ball over mid-off for six like a man clearing his throat. England were 55-1 at the end of the sixth over. That adrenal finish set up the game.
Enter De Kock, half an hour of violence, and a dismissal that left South Africa needing 113 off 12 overs. Mark Wood bowled quickly to remove Temba Bavuma. South Africa needed 82 off 45 as England turned the screw, Chris Jordan bowling with skill and pace as the chase began to bite.
The lower order was left chasing 45 off 18, but Wood’s final over went for 19. South Africa needed 15 off the last. Curran got away with one slower ball but saw his second clubbed for a huge six by Dwaine Pretorius. Curran struck back, producing fine yorkers to get rid of Pretorius, then dismiss the desperate Fortuin. England stay alive, just.