If we’re honest, then generally speaking the outcome of an international T20 tacked on to the end of a tour would be worthy of limited comment and response, sometimes we don’t even get round to writing anything about them, which may say more about us than anything else. It’s the disposable Christmas present of international cricket, that one you look at, smile politely, toy with for a few minutes then put back in the bag never to be seen again.
With the World T20 approaching though, there’s more interest than normal, not least because of how these matches are to all intents and purposes part of the warm up for the competition. It does have to be said that South African pitches bear no relation whatever to the conditions in India, but as an exercise in seeing how this new, exciting (®ECB) England team perform, then it has merit.
And how did they perform? Well, for a side whose bowling has been decidedly average in the one dayers, this was a marked improvement. To nearly defend 134 on a pitch where all the forecasts (for what they’re worth) had suggested 180 was the target was a pretty good effort. But the reason that pretty good effort was required was down to another batting performance where England lost wickets while trying to be aggressive and stumbled to a modest score. This is a difficult one, because if England are going to play this way, then there will be days when it all goes wrong, and the worst thing that can happen is for them to be criticised accordingly, while celebrating the days it goes right. It’s the old “score at ten an over, but don’t take any risks” exhortation. What can be said is that going hell for leather in all circumstances is not that much of an improvement in terms of consistently winning matches than being overly circumspect in all circumstances. The very best teams adapt to conditions in a way that at this stage England don’t seem able to. Given the choice of two limited tactical approaches, this is by far the better, but it would be nice to know that they had a Plan B from time to time.
As an aside, Kevin Pietersen got runs again, and is in his third T20 final of the winter. There may be no way back, but it doesn’t mean he has to stop embarrassing the ECB.
It does mean that when all goes well they are a thrilling side to watch, and they did at least get some kind of score to defend, thanks to Buttler in particular doing just that kind of adapting. Unfortunately, we’re still not really sure what kind of side England are, or what they’re capable of achieving. Imran Tahir taking 4-21 is not a terribly promising sign for next month though, even if many of the dismissals were remarkably careless in nature.
What England did do rather well was squeeze in both the field and with the ball. Chris Jordan has had a fairly miserable time of it so far on this tour in white ball cricket, but here he was outstanding, taking England to a position where they really should have won the game. That they didn’t, well poor Reece Topley. Having dropped Chris Morris first ball, he then had the over from hell, with balls two and three going for four and six; then missing a straightforward run out that would have tied the game and taken the sides into a super over. The best thing that can be said is that these things do sometimes happen, and better now than in a knockout match in the World Cup.
For South Africa? It’s hard to say. They bowled well but made incredibly hard work of what ought to have been a straightforward target. As ever, it’s a question of whether that was down to England playing well or them badly. But it’s unlikely they’ll have learnt too much from this one.
It was quite good fun though.