We could interpret England’s collapse at East London on Wednesday in two ways: that it was important but of no consequence for a team that uses these games to tune themselves up, to try things out and equip themselves with options and lessons that will serve them well during tournaments which are the only matches that count.
Or that a team which has won only once in South Africa in this format in six attempts (and that in 2009 when Joe Denly made a golden duck opening the batting with the Duke of Dashers, Alastair Cook) retains an alarming tendency (viz the World T20 final against West Indies at Eden Gardens in 2016 and the group match against South Africa at Chittagong in 2014 when defeat dumped them out of the competition) to throw away winning positions with an injudicious stroke or rigid bowling plans. At Buffalo Park it was Eoin Morgan’s decision to back himself to clear the rope in the swirling wind to hit the six that would have tied the match with an over to spare that started the rot. But Jason Roy, too, and Denly were out in pretty ignominious fashion, leaving the all-rounders too little time to complete the job when coming in cold.
England will take the positives, trust their seamers will be quicker to adjust to the pitch than they were in East London, trust their excellent spinners continue to show their class and get the job done with their batting however much Beuran Hendricks and Lungi Ngidi try to diddle them with slower balls. One minor gripe from Wednesday. Why break up the Bairstow-Roy opening partnership? Jos Buttler is a generational white-ball talent but he would not be wasted at three. Jonny Bairstow batted with devastating power alongside David Warner in the IPL and has become one of the top five white-ball openers in the world game. As with the Test team and in such a way that has cost him his place, whenever there’s some tinkering to be done, Bairstow is usually the victim. It’s not on.
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