It was a bonfire of bowling figures in Cape Town on Tuesday as, a year out from the World Cup, Dawid Malan’s unbeaten 99 from 47 balls took England to the top of the Twenty20 rankings with a nine-wicket victory.
South Africa looked to have given themselves a sniff of avoiding a 3-0 clean sweep when Rassie van der Dussen’s unbeaten 74, allied with a similarly explosive 52 not out from Faf du Plessis, stuck 191 for three on the board.
But in reply Malan and Jos Buttler, who made a 46-ball 67 not out, could not be contained. The pair’s unbroken stand of 167 in 90 balls – an international record for the second wicket – taking Eoin Morgan’s tourists home with some 14 balls to spare.
Malan, the man of the match once again after his 55 in Paarl on Sunday, was left with a wry smile at the end, having been unable to fully dig out a yorker on 98 with one required and thus missing out on what would have been a second T20 international century.
“I need to go back to maths class. But I didn’t know how it would go down if I turned down the single,” said Malan, a nod to the unbeaten 103 against New Zealand last year that drew criticism from Morgan for failing to run a bye off the last ball.
Malan’s 10th score north of 50 in 19 outings further cemented his status as No 1 in the T20 international batting rankings and quelled a recent, slightly curious debate about his preference to take an early sighter before pressing the accelerator.
Walking out under lights in the fourth over of the chase after Jason Roy was lbw to a 95mph missile from Anrich Nortje, the left-hander’s first three balls disappeared for two fours and a fine whipped six, and his half-century took only 26 balls.
There were a couple of scares along the way as Malan successfully overturned an lbw decision on 16 – Lungi Ngidi’s first delivery of the innings had pitched outside leg – and Quinton de Kock fluffed a run-out chance on 36.
This was a display of controlled yet savage aggression from the 33-year-old overall, passing the rope 11 times and clearing five more as South Africa’s lack of a sixth bowler – and the loss of Kagiso Rabada with an abductor injury – was exposed.
Buttler by contrast struggled for rhythm until the seamer Lutho Sipamla – in for Rabada, who will miss the one-day internationals – came on for the 11th over and was dispatched for two sixes and one scythed four en route to his 35-ball half-century.
England appeared set for a more modest target. After being asked to chase on a reused pitch, they reduced the hosts to 63 for three in the 10th over. Chris Jordan had become the country’s leading wicket-taker in T20 international cricket with his 66th victim – De Kock, for the third time this series – while Ben Stokes picked up two wickets, including Reeza Hendricks, with a smart 71mph slower ball.
The second half of the innings brought a new complexion to proceedings, Van der Dussen and Du Plessis slotting 10 fours and eight sixes between them in an unbroken stand of 127 from 63 balls.
The pair put on 84 in the last five overs, Van der Dussen in a more violent mood than previously witnessed and Du Plessis again targeting Tom Curran. There was no crowd again but whoops of “yeah baby” could still be heard from the local cameramen.
Jofra Archer signed off from the tour with none for 44. It included a 22-run fourth over – his most expensive to date in the format – that also included Stokes leaving the field with a gash to his right hand after colliding with the LED advertising hoardings.
Bar Adil Rashid’s typically immaculate none for 20, all bowlers struggled to contain. England’s fielding was sleepy – two run-out chances went begging – while a new system of messages from the team analyst Nathan Leamon on the balcony was spotted.
At various points Leamon held up coded signs such as “4E” or “2C”. These were described as a “live informational resource” by the team – not, it was stressed, direct orders – and had approval from the match referee, Andy Pycroft, and the ICC anti-corruption unit.
Previously deployed by Leamon while working with Multan Sultans in the Pakistan Super League, the system brought back memories of Bob Woolmer and Hansie Cronje being banned from relaying messages via an earpiece before the 1999 World Cup when the coach and the captain of South Africa respectively.
Here the approved message boards did little to stem the flow of runs but Malan and Buttler soon put England’s fielding display into context.