Jonny Bairstow scored 86* off 48 deliveries to guide England to a five-wicket victory over South Africa.
Bairstow came in with his team in trouble at 34/3 but played the most brutally beautiful innings to help his side recover. His innings featured nine fours and four sixes. The Proteas just never had an answer to his innovation and skill.
The Proteas have more questions than answers in a T20I context. For a start, their middle order lacks x-factor. AB de Villiers can’t return to international cricket soon enough.
But the biggest headache is their bowling. Two of the frontline bowlers – Beuran Hendricks and Tabriaz Shamsi – leaked runs. Indeed it was Hendricks’ final over – which cost 28 – that ultimately handed the game to England.
Why Anrich Nortje – who excelled at the IPL – was omitted is beyond explanation. The selectors completely botched that decision and it seriously compromised their potency.
The batting innings was good without being exceptional. The Proteas’ innings got off to a poor start when Temba Bavuma knicked off trying to scoop Sam Curran to fine leg in the first over. One struggles to understand why he took such a high-risk option so early in the innings.
He has started his T20I career well, and it is likely the selectors will back him for the series, but he must know that there are strong contenders for his position.
Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis rebuilt the innings in emphatic style, the latter taking Tom Curran for 23 off an over. They raced to 83, but De Kock, looking to release pressure created by Adil Rashid and Chris Jordan, spliced one to extra cover.
Du Plessis pressed on, but found it increasingly hard to score freely due to a slowing pitch and the England bowlers’ skilled exploitation thereof. He succumbed to a brilliant Sam Curran set up, whereafter Rassie van der Dussen and Heinrich Klaasen struggled to get any fluidity in their partnership.
It would be remiss not to credit England’s bowlers for their brilliance following the Powerplay, but the Proteas’ middle order doesn’t inspire confidence. They lacked the skill to counter the England bowlers and consequently the score was around 15-20 runs short of what would have been a winning one.
The Proteas sprung a surprise, opening the bowling with debutant spinner George Linde. The experiment paid off immediately, Linde brushing Jason Roy’s edge with the third delivery of the innings. And when Lungi Ngidi dismissed Jos Butler with his first legal delivery of the innings, and Linde dismissed the world’s top ranked T20I player, Dawid Malan, England were struggling at 34-3.
But the tourists’ batting line-up is loaded and Bairstow and Ben Stokes set about rebuilding the innings. They shared a 85-run partnership to bring England back into the contest.
However, Stokes pulled a Shamsi half tracker straight to long on. Stokes would have had nightmares about the nature of that dismissal for weeks had they not won.
Bairstow though continued to carve the ball to all parts of Newlands. He was particularly brutal on Hendricks, who conceded 28 off his fourth over. That made England, needing 23 off 18 balls after his over, favourites.
A world-class unit like England were never going to lose from there and it was fitting that Bairstow finished it with a huge six.