By Anand Vasu in Chittagong
Battling England falls three runs short, has one more game to play before its winter of discontent gets over
De Villiers is one of those rare all-round batsmen in world cricket today with no obvious weakness. He can, and does, use his feet against the spinners, plays the pull shot as well as anyone in the business, drives down the ground and through cover with unmistakable class and then, if needed, innovates.
Every shot in the de Villiers armoury was on display at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Chittagong on Saturday (March 29), and the only things that stopped a rampant South African batting line-up were two stoppages for play when a light tower went out.
But, while de Villiers provided the sledgehammer blows, it was Hashim Amla who carved England’s bowlers at the top, flicking, sweeping, dabbing and lofting his way to a maiden T20 International half-century. Amla, who made 56 from only 37 balls, picked out the midwicket fielder, and his dismissal was followed swiftly by Quinton de Kock’s exit. However, South Africa’s openers had put 98 on the board by the time they were dismissed, and set things up perfectly for de Villiers, leading the team in the absence of Faf du Plessis, who was serving a one-match suspension for slow over rates.
De Villiers began with a brace of fours off James Tredwell, who was expertly placed through point and then drilled back down the ground. Stuart Broad, returning to the attack to bowl the 16th over, was treated similarly, a pull and a hook booming off de Villiers’s bat to let the bowler know that short-pitched stuff was not going to cut it.
But it was the 18th over, bowled by one-time death specialist Jade Dernbach, that really lifted South Africa. De Villiers went down on one knee to loft the ball back over the bowler’s head for an astonishing six, and followed that up by picking a slower ball and depositing it into the stands at long-on. The over cost 26 and de Villiers had reached his half-century off only 23 balls, faster than any South African at this level.
De Villiers finished with a bang, clattering a six and a four in Tim Bresnan’s final over, taking South Africa to an imposing 196 for 5. Dernbach, who went for 44 from three overs, took his career economy rate to 8.71, and acquired the dubious distinction of becoming the most expensive bowler for anyone who has sent down at least 50 overs, to go with his unwanted One-Day International stat of being the most expensive for any bowler who has bowled at least 1000 deliveries.
For England to chase down 197, it needed absolutely everything to work in its favour. And, early in the piece, it did appear as though the cricketing gods were smiling on it when Alex Hales slapped Albie Morkel straight to point, but even as the batsman began to trudge off, umpire Rod Tucker called a no-ball, indicating that the bowler had overstepped.
Michael Lumb and Hales then set to work, knowing that there was no need to pace themselves, as all-out attack was the only option. It worked for a time but, with 46 on the board, Lumb drove a low full toss to cover, where David Miller took a sharp catch.
Hales picked up from where he had left off against Sri Lanka, muscling the ball through the field both sides of the wicket, but the pressure of having to attack even good deliveries caught up with him. Hales (38) took on Wayne Parnell and could not go the distance, being caught in the deep at cover.
When Moeen Ali got a fine bottom edge off the next ball, and de Kock snapped up the chance, Parnell was on a hat-trick and England in deep strife. Eoin Morgan kept hopes up with a run-a-ball 14, but shaped to cut an Imran Tahir legbreak that was too straight for the shot, and feathered an edge to the keeper. With four wickets down, including those of the brightest T20 hitters, and 85 still needed from 47 balls, England needed a miracle. South Africa simply needed to ensure that it did not do anything silly.
Ravi Bopara refused to give up, clearing the infield often enough to get to the final over with 22 needed from six Dale Steyn deliveries. Bopara (31) tried to launch Steyn over long-on, but hit the ball high rather than far and Miller settled under the swirler. Tim Bresnan made three clean connections, but that only flattered the result as England got to 193 for 7, and ended up three runs short.