Boldness was the decree and bold was the execution. England, indeed, played as if bold was their middle name at the Wanderers last night, as if this was what they had always done.
This was just as well because they ran into a South Africa bristling with equal intent last night and the tourists' highest Twenty20 score of 202 for six, to which they were thrillingly led by Eoin Morgan, was just enough to win their opening international match of a long winter. When rain intervened after 13 overs of South Africa's meaningful reply, the tourists were one run ahead under the Duckworth-Lewis system. It was the sort of result that can make tours.
Morgan was quite stunning, striking five sixes, all as a clean as whistles, and his innings was the highest in Twenty20 for England. In a brutal response, South Africa bludgeoned their way to 107 after 10 overs and until the crucial loss of their opening pair seemed in control.
England must have assumed, if anything can be assumed in Twenty20 cricket which matches life for being a lottery, that they had sufficient runs. Morgan's 85 took only 44 balls and only once before in Twenty20 internationals had a side made 200 or more and lost. The nagging doubt must have been that the victors who did the chasing on that occasion were South Africa.
That this performance came only three days after England had made their lowest Twenty20 score of 89, against South Africa A, was perhaps typical. Their captain Paul Collingwood who shared a fourth-wicket partnership of 98 with in 55 balls with Morgan, said: "We know we have to be more consistent. But this was a completely different wicket, the ball came on to the bat and some of the shots Morgan played were exceptional. We knew on this ground that defending the total wouldn't be easy and with rain about it became a game within a game."
It would perhaps be a stretch to describe what was on display as wonderful strokeplay. There were elements of that, especially in Morgan's peerless timing which brought him five sixes, but often it was simply brutal, muscular hitting. The crowd – and the Wanderers was barely half full – loved it.
As their winter campaign began in earnest – the phoney war at the start of tours is always an excruciating time – England's collective hearts must have sank. To the first ball of the first match, Joe Denly was lbw. If he was unfortunate to receive a full length ball on leg stump and straightening, it was also the right decision.
Such has been England's ineptitude at Twenty20 recently that an ensuing collapse seemed a likely proposition. Remarkably, what happened was far from collapse. The original impetus was supplied by Jonathan Trott who showed no semblance of nerves or apprehension in his first international match in the land of his birth.
He made 33, including 18 in an over from the vaunted Dale Steyn, with four successive fours, until he was run out incorrectly estimating his chances of making a sharp single. Still time for a typical wobble, then, but Morgan and Collingwood took the innings by its scruff.
No England batsman of recent vintage, save perhaps Kevin Pietersen, who was watching from the dressing room balcony, can have played with such freedom, confidence and sheer cheek as Morgan. His sixes, whether driven straight or pulled high, tended to be huge.
One ball went out of the ground – and the Wanderers is not of the postage stamp variety – and hit the roof on the adjacent block of flats. Collingwood was barely less effective although his four sixes were neither so high nor so handsome.
England's progress was briefly arrested with Collingwood's dismissal but Morgan injected fresh impetus in a last ditch flurry including an extraordinary six to the finest of fine legs, flicked as he turned round with his back to the bowler.
South Africa were not about to perish wondering and Graham Smith and Loots Bosman simply came out slugging. England reeled temporarily as chances came there none. When both were out blazing away and Jimmy Anderson bowled an over with wonderful control, conceding only six runs with the match at stake, the balance had shifted.
England v South Africa: Wanderers scoreboard
England beat South Africa by one run (D/L method)
J Denly lbw b Langeveldt 0
A Cook lbw b McLaren 11
J Trott run out (McLaren) 33
*P Collingwood c Botha b McLaren 57
E Morgan not out 85
L Wright c de Villiers b Steyn 2
†M Prior c Morkel b McLaren 0
T Bresnan not out 3
Extras (lb 5, w 6) 11
Total (6 wkts, 20 overs) 202
Fall: 1-0, 2-25, 3-61, 4-159, 5-167, 6-169.
Did Not Bat: G P Swann, S I Mahmood, J M Anderson.
Bowling: C Langeveldt 4-0-39-1, R McLaren 4-0-33-3, D Steyn 4-0-40-1, A Morkel 2-0-32-0, R van der Merwe 2-0-17-0, J Botha 4-0-36-0.
*G Smith c Morgan b Wright 41
L Bosman c Collingwood b Swann 58
J Duminy lbw b Mahmood 6
A de Villiers not out 10
A Morkel not out 9
Extras (w 3) 3
Total (3 wkts, 13 overs) 127
Fall: 1-97, 2-101, 3-112.
To Bat: †M V Boucher, R McLaren, R E van der Merwe, J Botha, D W Steyn, C K Langeveldt.
Bowling: J Anderson 3-0-24-0, T Bresnan 2-0-25-0, S Mahmood 3-0-31-1, L Wright 2-0-17-1, G Swann 3-0-30-1.
Umpires: M Erasmus, B G Jerling & J D Cloete.
England's score of 202-6 in Johannesburg yesterday was the second highest total achieved by an opposing team against the South Africans at the Wanderers venue. Only West Indies have done better, setting 205 in a home win in September 2007.