Their bowling lacked bite, their much-heralded top three contributed 26 runs between them, and their captain was scathing about what he saw as a “pretty average” performance. And yet England still won the first T20I by five wickets with four balls to spare – ominous signs for South Africa, as they stumble towards next year’s T20 World Cup.
In football, managers and pundits often suggest victories like England’s demonstrate that the best teams find a way to win without playing at their usual level, and that seems to fit with this side. “When you win games like that and you’ve a lot [of improvement] to make up in all three facets [of the game] you can be pleased,” said Eoin Morgan.
Since the start of the 2018-19 winter, England have won six and drawn one of their seven T20I series despite rarely – if ever – fielding their strongest XI. They are well on course for a seventh win in eight, and will hope to put the series to bed in Sunday afternoon’s game at Paarl to give them the chance to be creative in the final game.
For South Africa, there were positive signs in defeat but the same old problems remained. An over-reliance on Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis to score the bulk of the runs? Check. An attack which came up short at key moments? Check. An imbalanced playing XI which meant a back-up wicketkeeper was the sixth bowling option? Check.
The biggest positive will have been George Linde’s impressive debut, which saw him take 2 for 20 after whacking two boundaries at the death. Most pleasingly, he demonstrated his ability to bowl at both left- and right-handers, not only dismissing Jason Roy with his second ball but also keeping Dawid Malan tied down despite turning the ball into his pads.