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South Africa challenge England’s ODI domination

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Guest writer Bruce Perkins gives his view of England’s ODI series against South Africa – let us know what you think.

The Three Royal London ODIs June 2018

South Africa’s Proteas were really looking forward to their tour of England to play three ODIs in the International Women’s Challenge in June. A glance at the World Rankings showed why. They boasted three bowlers in the top seven; England could manage only 9th and 12th. Lizelle Lee stood second in the batting ranks; Tammy Beaumont and Heather Knight were England’s best placed at 10th and 11th. All the Proteas needed was more high-level competition like this to turn them from eager hopefuls to leaders on the world stage.

The First ODI at Worcester

The first clash at New Road confirmed their optimism. A large crowd watched in disbelief as England’s batting crumbled in the face of hostile, accurate bowling. The ball seamed around disconcertingly to make even Sarah Taylor and Tamsin Beaumont look like uncertain debutants. The support bowlers followed up well, preventing the hosts from getting away from their early misfortunes.

It required Katherine Brunt (72*) at her most defiant to stretch England’s total to a measly 189-9 off the 50 overs, helped by tail-enders, Laura Marsh (15) and Sophie Ecclestone (12*).

England’s only hope now would be to exploit their greater all-round experience to deny the visitors. But no. Even after the Proteas lost Laura Wolvaardt and Sune Luus early on, Lizelle Lee showed her class in striking a magnificent 92*, with strong support from Dane van Niekerk (58) and Mignon du Preez (36*).

This was an unpleasant shock for England and their supporters: a lovely day on a lovely ground spoiled by an under-par performance that made pessimists worry about the remaining two encounters. The bowling was a concern. Mark Robinson had admitted that he was constantly on the look-out for top-class pace bowlers to supplement, then supplant the front-line pair of Brunt and Anya Shrubsole, who have shouldered the main burden of the attack for so many seasons. Not even they can be sure of running through a top order the way they used to so often.

Scores: England 189-9
​South Africa 193-3

​​​​​​The Second ODI at Hove

England put matters to rights at the earliest opportunity. On a favourite ground of theirs they turned the tables on the visitors to record a win as devastating as the earlier loss had been. Their two star batters, Beaumont and Taylor, combined in a partnership of 156 to ensure a total (331-6) that South Africa could hardly hope to emulate. Their batsmanship was of the highest order, combining powerful, elegant orthodoxy with 21st century laps and reverse sweeps. It was thrilling to watch. The middle order of Nat Sciver, Danni Wyatt and Brunt added willing support.

England’s weakness in bowling was revealed again as Lee and Wolvaardt put on a magnificent opening stand of 142, Lee going on to score a splendid 117. It threatened to decide the series at the earliest opportunity, but the Proteas subsided dramatically from 214-4 to lose six wickets for 48.

England can claim they stuck well to their task. Even so, only Brunt’s bowling figures (2-34 in 10 overs) read well. Sophie Ecclestone took some stick with her left-arm spin, but her three wickets and overall control showed her high promise. She had been preferred to her more experienced Lancashire team-mate, Alex Hartley, and her performance over the three-match series justified Robinson’s selection. But Sciver and Laura Marsh went for 6 and 7 runs per over respectively.

Still, English confidence was restored with this decisive victory and set the series up for an exciting climax at Canterbury.

Scores: England 331-6
South Africa 262

​​​​​​The Third ODI at Canterbury

Would England’s greater experience in close encounters help them win through, or would the Proteas fulfil their promise and walk off with a great victory over the World Cup winners? This time round, England were asked to take the field. Their task was to run through the visitors’ batting more promptly than they had managed so far. They did dismiss Lee cheaply this time, Anya Shrubsole winning an lbw appeal. A newcomer, Andrie Steyn, stayed around with Wolvaardt to push the score to 58, then Wolvaardt confirmed her high talent in a stand of 103 with her captain.

Van Niekerk went on to score a splendid 95, cut short of a deserved century by the most lethal form of dismissal England possess, a leg-side stumping by Sarah Taylor. Taylor has absolutely no right to be able to stand up to England’s quickest bowler, take a ball sliding down the leg-side (wide-ball called!), then delicately remove a bail a milli-second before the batter returns to base. A magician at work.

She has achieved this skill so many times that we run the risk of taking it for granted. But it remains one of the jewels in the crown of women’s cricket.

And it proved decisive. The Proteas went on to lose their last six wickets for sixteen runs. This was the second time that calamity had befallen them. But they had come to England to learn to adapt to hard competition, and its lessons would be invaluable for the next World Cup. Their inexperience at the top of the order meant that the run-rate never threatened to get out of control.

So England wouldn’t be faced with a score of around 300, as had seemed all too likely till Taylor’s conjuring trick. Ecclestone, the babe of the team, again led the way with the ball, conceding only 25 runs off her 10 overs. She has a control of length, line and flight that encourages the batter to hit the ball straight to fielders set there for the purpose.

Home spectators hoped their side would now repeat the heroics of Hove, not revert to the lapses of New Road. Amy Jones again flattered to deceive. She is an elegant, well-organised batter, but she mirrors the example of too many male England batsmen in losing concentration when set and playing an ill-considered stroke. She was selected ahead of Lauren Winfield to open the innings with Beaumont. Her scores of 19, 29 and 24 reveal the predicament she places the selectors in.

South Africa were handicapped by the non-availability of Raisibe Ntozakhe who had bowled so accurately at Worcester (0-21 off 10). But the crowd groaned when Ayabonga Khaka found a way through Taylor’s defences after she had scored only 5. This gave Heather Knight the chance to show her true worth. England’s captain had mustered 4 and 24 thus far and probably felt she owed her team a proper innings. With Tammy Beaumont commanding the other end, she shared centre stage with a major innings.

Beaumont picked up where she had left off at Hove, except that this time she had to work desperately hard in the opening stages, the ball deviating all over the place like a demented fly. She kept her nerve, and gradually normal service was restored. She scored with increasing fluency, delighting her home crowd with the accuracy and power of her stroke-play.

The pair added 154 runs to wrench the game and the series away from the visitors. Beaumont became the first English batter to score two consecutive tons twice; her place amongst the greats of the modern game seems assured. Robinson stated after the game that this second hundred was her greater achievement, bearing in mind the travails she had faced at the start.

After she left the scene to standing applause, Knight took the bowlers to the cleaners. With Sciver watching at the other end, she might have been mistaken for her Surrey partner, given the power and ruthlessness of her hitting – mainly over and through the cover field – to bring the target tumbling down at an unstoppable rate.

Scores: South Africa 227
England 232-3