MUMBAI: “Their top six is a very strong top six and I think pace with the ball is one of their strengths,” was England skipper Jos Buttler’s assessment when asked to analyse South Africa‘s strength in the media conference on Friday, a day before their World Cup clash at the Wankhede Stadium here.
On Saturday, Buttler got a taste of both. After seeing South Africa power their way to 399 for 7, England got blown away on the same pitch by their pace as the defending champions were humbled by 229 runs to lose their third game out of four in this competition. It was England’s worst defeat in their ODI history in terms of runs.
Their total of 170 for 9 was possible only because of some late carnage inflicted by Mark Wood 43* (17 balls, 2×4, 5×6) and Gus Atkinson 35 (21 balls, 7×4) as they added an entertaining 70-run stand for the ninth wicket in 5.3 overs. Reece Topley could not bat because of a finger injury.

Marco Jansen, after bludgeoning an unbeaten 42-ball 75 (9×4, 3×6), then removed Dawid Malan (6) and Joe Root (2) cheaply down the leg-side, by using the bounce in the pitch. Kagiso Rabada athletically pouched the returning Ben Stokes off his own bowling and when skipper Buttler perished caught behind to Gerald Coetzee, the stadium started emptying out as the contest was almost over.
The margin of defeat sent England’s net run rate on a downward spiral to -1.248 and qualification for semis now seems as far as London is from Mumbai. No side has been as brutal as South Africa while batting first in this World Cup. Their scores of 428-5 (vs Sri Lanka, New Delhi); 311-7 vs Australia, Lucknow are a pointer to that.

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On Saturday, as Buttler won the toss and asked South Africa to bat first, (he admitted later that it was a mistake) he got a good view from behind the stumps as to why this team has the ability to go all the way. Brisk and breezy fifties from Rassie van der Dussen 60 (61 balls, 8×4) and Reeza Hendricks 85 (75 balls, 9×4, 3×6), a last-minute replacement for the ill Temba Bavuma, a platform from where they could launch despite Quinton de Kock falling second ball to Reece Topley.
After a quiet spell of six overs, a finger injury to Topley hampered him from getting any movement and England realised that a leather hunt is on the cards.
Hendricks, who was heartbroken after being omitted from the 2019 World Cup for an ageing Hashim Amla, made the most of the opportunity on his World Cup debut.

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Batting with his domestic teammate Van der Dussen, with whom he often competed for the same batting spot, Hendricks punched through the line beautifully and pulled efficiently. The straight six off the pacy Mark Wood was a good indicator of why the man who slammed a ton on ODI debut (2018 vs SL, Pallekele) is rated highly back home.
Leg-spinner Adil Rashid and part-timer Root suffered at his hands as Hendricks’ quick footwork allowed him to manufacture hitting lengths. An ill Rashid, in between, trips to the change room to relieve himself, dismissed both Van der Dussen and Hendricks. That was just temporary relief for England as player-of-the-match Heinrich Klaasen, battling heat exhaustion and cramps, belted 109 in 67 balls (12×4, 4×6) and added 151 in just 77 balls with Jansen. England’s last five overs went for 84 and the last 10 cost 143.
They take on Sri Lanka next in Bengaluru on Thursday while South Africa stay back in Mumbai for their clash against Bangladesh, who they lost to in 2019, on Tuesday.
Time for revenge.

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