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ICC World Cup 2019: Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer shine as England overwhelm South Africa

England made a confident start to their ICC World Cup campaign as they crushed South Africa by 104 runs in the tournament opener at The Oval on Thursday.

cricket Updated: May 31, 2019 07:48 IST
ICC World Cup 2019,Ben Stokes,England
England's Jofra Archer celebrates after taking the wicket of South Africa's Aiden Markram.(Action Images via Reuters)

Of all the nicknames Ben Stokes has garnered over his life, ‘The Claw’ sounds most sinister. Adam Voges can explain it. 2015 Ashes, Day 1 of the fourth Test in Nottingham. An edge that could have evaded a long slip cordon was plucked out of thin air by Stokes’s outstretched arm, bringing an end to Voges’ brief stay and rounding off ‘a freak of day’, according to Stuart Broad. Google #OhMyBroad and you will know what Stokes had pulled off that day.

And only he could have bettered it. The setting was perfect --- at a World Cup where England are favourites to win, against one of the best teams of the tournament, Stokes pulled off another stunner, probably better than 2015 some might say, to send back Andile Phehlukwayo. Pedaling back near the deep midwicket boundary, Stokes was all precision in his jump, clinging on to the catch one-handed. “I had a bit of a panic on, I was a little further in that I should have been, but I’ve the nickname, “The Claw”, and luckily it stuck,” said Stokes later.

That was Stokes’s moment of the match, even after scoring a 79-ball 89 that propelled England to a more than handy 311. A 350 plus score was there for the taking. As was a century for Stokes. None of it would be missed though. This was a match where everything happened in moderate proportions. Shirt-front pitches, two new balls, pressing fielding restrictions, cap on bouncers and bats thick as clubs have bullied bowlers into submission and reduced most one-day matches into farcical run feasts.

But an asking rate between six and seven can be such a tease. Under a fickle London sky and in front of cheery if not slightly inebriated home fans, England did just that, teasing South Africa with a difficult but not insurmountable 312-run chase before tightening the screws on them to seal a 104-run victory. Barring the win margin, the first match of the World Cup was a good advert for one-day cricket. Jofra Archer showed why he is hot property, taking the wickets of Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen. Amla was declared physically fit to return after Archer gave him a dizzy head with a 90m/hr bouncer. But his dismissal, off another bouncer but slower from Liam Plunkett, showed Amla was probably never there mentally.

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That was that for South Africa, a surprisingly quicker end than expected. England would take it though. A losing start would have meant bad press, especially after the heavy punches landed on Pakistan. First up, England got right the one thing they have doing throughout their summer --- batting. By opting to field, South Africa had showed prudence. Any movement in the first hour --- not much anyway --- could have been exploited by pacers. If nothing, it’s always better to bat knowing the asking rate. Right now, England’s current batting form can dissuade any team from taking a chance and bat first. A bowler down, South Africa played to their strength. And they did well.

At no point did it look England were running away with the game despite two partnerships above 100 runs. The collective heart of the Oval skipped a beat though when Imran Tahir spun Jonny Bairstow out with the second ball of the match. Then ensued a cat and mouse game where England consolidated and South Africa broke through again and again. If England finished with 311, it was because South Africa kept taking wickets at regular intervals. The last five overs yielded 46 runs at the cost of two wickets. That is more or less acceptable by current standards.

ALSO READ: ICC World Cup 2019: ‘Hashim Amla looks fine’ - Faf du Plessis on the batter’s bouncer injury

By the time Jason Roy departed after batting England out of a precarious period during a 106-run stand with Joe Root, more than 31 overs were still left. One more wicket in the form of Root, who sliced Kagiso Rabada to JP Duminy at backward point, and England were sent back to the drawing board with two new batsmen at the crease in the space of four deliveries. England still had the wherewithal to recover and launch a stunning counterattack, something Pakistan had witnessed from close in the series before the World Cup. South Africa though played their bowling cards very well. With Dale Steyn declared unfit, they fell back on a Plan B that involved the use of seven bowlers, including five overs between JP Duminy and Aiden Markram that went for 30 runs.

Only three bowlers --- Tahir, Rabada and Lungi Ngidi --- could complete their full quota as Dwaine Pretorius and Phehlukwayo were given the duty of stemming the run flow. Where du Plessis succeeded was in keeping the batsmen guessing with his bowling combinations. Ngidi started with Tahir, not Rabada. By the first 10 overs, he had given the ball to Tahir, Ngidi, Rabada and Pretorius.

England still persevered, purely because it’s difficult to keep Eoin Morgan and Stokes silent for long. If Morgan couldn’t pierce the field, he cleared his leg to go over the infield. Stokes too tempered his innings beautifully, not taking the aerial route as much as he tried to nudge and milk the gaps when he didn’t get the boundaries. Till a wild reverse pull went straight to Amla at backward point, Stokes looked primed for a century. Having resorted to the reverse shot before, Stokes had given off vibes that he takes that route just to put off the bowler. Du Plessis fed on that to remove Stokes but he had done his job by then.

First Published: May 30, 2019 23:33 IST