By Neil Leverett

  • South Africa romp home to seven-wicket victory in first of three-series ODIs against England at Newlands, Cape Town
  • Tourists buckle under pressure in first game as World champions
  • Quinton de Kock reinvigorates Proteas, hitting ton on first outing as skipper
NEWLANDS, CAPE TOWN – As England crash to defeat in their debut outing as World champions, what did we learn from the first ODI against South Africa at Newlands?

 

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Tourists buckle under champions’ tag

As England rolled into Newlands for the first One Day International in Cape Town, all eyes were on the world champions in their first outing since winning the Cricket World Cup last summer. However, with the tourists expected to put on another show of the spectacular, England’s Test series momentum was brought to a grinding halt with an emphatic seven-wicket defeat.

Handing Tom Banton his debut for his country, Eoin Morgan‘s batting order looked to be in even finer fettle alongside the skipper himself, Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root, however England struggled with the moniker of best in the world for the first time, as their power hitters failed to get the most from a lively, yet pace-less deck in the shadow of the ever-ominous Table Mountain.

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Starting solidly enough, a 50 partnership between Roy and Bairstow was brought to end by JJ Smuts, as England then collapsed to 83/4, losing Root and Morgan for just one run. Chris Woakes and Joe Denly‘s chivalrous stand just fell short of a hundred to give the tourists hope, but having seen Banton fall cheaply also, England’s big guns had misfired.

Their bowlers then laboured in the field after Reeza Hendricks‘ early dismissal at 25/1, and as the scene of their dramatic second Test win only weeks ago, the tale was a very different one for the touring party to swallow this time around.

Of course, holding the mantle of being the best side in cricket was always going to be quite the burden to carry, but simply put, England floundered under their newly-crowned status. Mistakes and set-backs can happen for sure – England came from 1-0 down to win most recently – but after a rather frail showing in Cape Town, captain Morgan will be determined to turn things around in Durban on Friday.

 

Balance issues rear ugly head

Much of the preamble in the build up to Newlands was who exactly England would select from the rich array of bounty to face the Proteas, but with careful consideration to retain the same harmonious balance that had placed the tourists at the top of the cricketing food chain.

In defeat, it would be easy to conclude that the loss was merely ‘one of the those things’, but now on such the pedestal in the sporting hierarchy, England’s problems in keeping the equilibrium in their oft-troubled middle order, once more craned their neck.

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Opting to draft in Lancashire spinner Matt Parkinson over Adil Rashid had caught many off guard, but the former’s inclusion weakened the batting order and in barely causing a sweat in the Proteas’ innings, it was an experiment that went wrong.

Banton’s selection also whilst exciting for both home and touring fans failed to grip, and without the talismanic presence of the rested Ben Stokes, Morgan’s eleven looked a tad rudderless.

With Jos Buttler absent also, the lack of experience down the order was painfully obvious and with the second ODI just days away, does England’s failure here promote Moeen Ali back into the selectors’ thinking for Kingsmead?

 

Proteas reinvigorated under de Kock

For Quinton de Kock, it was something of a dream first outing as South Africa captain, not only beating the world champions, but hitting 107 to guide his charges to victory in Cape Town.

But his ton was merely the tip of the iceberg for the 27-year-old Johannesburg native, as de Kock’s installation as skipper injected the Proteas with a sense of belief, shorn by Faf du Plessis‘ rather ponderous guidance during their failures in the past year.

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Even at the level of sheer fortune, de Kock finally won a coin toss – something his predecessor had struggled to come on the favourable side of in the recent Test series – and his early psychological strike on England extended into their innings, with the skipper electing to take a leaf out of Morgan’s playbook in opting to chase down a total to win.

As the hosts cantered home to a first ODI win with 2.4 overs to spare, the swashbuckling Temba Bavuma falling two short of a century was but a small disappointment, but the bigger picture for South Africa was one of huge positivity. Now however, de Kock and his men must shoot for consistency and grab the world champions by the neck.

 

Shamsi revelation for hosts

A shining example of the belief returned to the Proteas was the showing of left-arm unorthodox spinner Tabraiz Shamsi, who on just his fifth ODI appearance, ripped out the English spine taking 3-38.

No stranger to his opponents as a former Northants’ and Hampshire squad player, Shamsi tormented the tourists’ middle-order, removing Morgan, Banton and clean bowling Sam Curran later on.

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Belying his in-experience, the 29-year-old looked more akin to an Asian spinner on a subcontinent pitch than a man who had been on the periphery of the Proteas’ squad since his debut in 2016 against Australia.

Shamsi made the Newlands pitch talk and having seen how he made one of the best batting units toil – not least seeing Morgan misjudge his rather awkward line and length in holing out – England might be shifting rather nervously as they face him down for the remainder of the tour.

 

Denly earns England reprieve

On a rare and dismal day for England’s ODI side, there was however a silver lining in the form of Denly, who after coming under pressure for his place after a run of uninspiring displays in all forms of the game – with reports of him being dropped for the upcoming tour of Sri Lanka – the Kent middle-order batsman displayed his full wares and still vital stance as anchor.

Hitting a disciplined 87 from 103 balls, Denly was denied a century as the overs ran out at the tail end of the England innings, but his composed stand saw the tourists past the 200 mark with a heavier defeat staring Morgan’s men square in the face, without his efforts.

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He, together with Woakes – a growing figure of confidence with the bat – were unfortunate not to make a century partnership as they attempted to steer England toward a defensible total, as Denly looked imperious at the crease and had the need for late runs not been of such urgency, Denly would have surely notched his maiden one-day ton – after being caught on the fence by Reeza Hendricks off the bowling of his namesake Beuran.

It should still be remember that this was the Canterbury man’s only 14th cap in ODIs – after coming in from the cold following a 2009 debut – but playing at number five in Cape Town, Denly has seemingly forged a reprieve. The goal now will be to build on his innings, and shepherd England on a return to winning ways.

 

The second ODI between South Africa and England takes place on Friday at Kingsmead in Durban.

 

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