Chris Morris, South Africa’s million dollar man, again starred with the bat as England began their preparations for the World T20 with an agonising final-ball defeat in Cape Town.
With just 25 days until Eoin Morgan’s team begin their campaign in India, they struggled badly against the leg-spin of Imran Tahir, who took 4 for 21 on a slow, worn surface.
Tahir’s performance helped restrict England to 134 for 8 and the hosts chased down their target in thrilling fashion by hitting 15 off Reece Topley’s final over.
Morris scored 14 of those to add another tour de force performance to the one that had seen him plunder 62 from 38 balls to win the pivotal fourth one-day international against England in Johannesburg seven days previously.
In all Morris, who earned a US$1m contract with Delhi in the recent Indian Premier League auction, struck 17 from seven deliveries to get South Africa over the line. But he might have departed for a duck had Topley held a chance at third man from Chris Jordan’s penultimate over.
Topley did have an opportunity to redeem himself even after seeing the second and third balls of his final over hit for a four and a six by Morris.
With South Africa needing two to win from the last delivery, the left-arm seamer missed the chance to take this match to a deciding Super Over when fumbling a chance to run out Kyle Abbott after Joe Root’s accurate throw from long off threatened to restrict the hosts to a single. It was an agonising way to end the game, especially for Topley. Morgan said: “It would be very unfair to blame Reece, we lost the game with the bat and it’s a huge credit to our bowling unit they came close to defending that total.”
Faf du Plessis, South Africa’s T20 captain, admitted: “We got out of jail big time, the million dollar man’s done it again.”
England had won their previous six T20s, an unbeaten run that stretched back 18 months. That record was put in peril, though, by a batting performance that tailed off badly after England had raced to 50 for 1 after six overs. Jason Roy, caught at midwicket off Kagiso Rabada, was the sole man to fall in that period.
Alex Hales had started well, hitting 19 from his first nine balls before eventually departing for 27 when he became Tahir’s first wicket to leave England on 52 for 2 in the seventh over.
The losses of Root, slashing David Wiese to point, and Ben Stokes, stumped off Tahir, reduced the tourists to 68 for 4. Tahir then found himself on a hat-trick in the 13th over when he dismissed Morgan and Moeen Ali in successive balls to leave England on 81 for 6. And despite Jos Buttler’s unbeaten 32 from 30 balls, they were unable to post a sizeable total.
Early inroads were made into South Africa’s top order as they lost Hashim Amla, caught at mid-on off Stokes, and AB de Villiers, top-edging Jordan to fine leg.
South Africa needed 59 from 46 balls when Adil Rashid had JP Duminy caught on the boundary by Root. That equation was 32 from 17 when Moeen dismissed Du Plessis and Rilee Rossouw.
The match was in the balance at that point but England were suddenly favourites when Jordan removed David Miller and Wiese in the penultimate over.
Yet Topley was made to pay for his drop as Morris seized the moment to grab victory from the jaws of defeat once again.