CAPE TOWN: Jonny Bairstow of England bludgeoned a superb unbeaten 86 out of 48 balls as the visitors chased down 180 to defeat South Africa in the first Twenty20 International at Newlands on Friday by five wickets with four balls to spare on a slow wicket.
Put into bat, before claiming early wickets to have England in trouble in their reply, South Africa posted a respectable 179 for six in their 20 overs.
But Bairstow led the fightback as he sat deep in his crease, batting in an unfamiliar number four spot, and smashed nine fours and four sixes with the kind of sublime timing few other batsmen find on the day.
The win would satisfy Captain Eoin Morgan, who said he didn’t know his best XI in the shortest format this week but should already have answered some questions ahead of the second fixture on Sunday in the three-match series in Paarl.
The innings of South Africa were anchored by their veteran former captain Faf du Plessis (58 out of 40 balls), who was extremely brutal on Tom Curran (1-55), smashing the England seamer for 24 runs in his second over that led to the most costly figures in international Twenty20 cricket for the bowlers.
When he had du Plessis caught on the border by Chris Jordan, Brother Sam Curran (3-28) exacted some family vengeance and was the pick of the visitors attack with his career-best numbers, and smart change of pace and willingness to surprise with the short ball on a slow wicket.
Useful runs for the home side were also provided by Captain Quinton de Kock (30 from 23 balls) and Rassie van der Dussen (37 from 28 balls).
In their reaction, England were in early trouble, losing Jason Roy (0) second ball to debutant George Linde as South Africa took off the ball at the beginning of the innings.
The visitors slumped to 34-3 in the sixth when Jos Buttler (7) and Dawid Malan (19) dropped. But Bairstow and Ben Stokes (37 out of 27 balls) rallied, bringing the fourth wicket on 85 in 8.4 overs to pull England back into the game.
England still needed 51 from the final four overs, but the game turned heavily in their favour when Beuran Hendricks conceded 28 runs in his last over.
The Hendricks declined to accuse De Kock. I guess it wasn’t just the one over there. It was Jonny and Ben’s style of playing. We have not played poorly. They’ve been doing pretty well.
When du Plessis leaped and lost a one-handed chance on the boundary, Bairstow survived one chance. Bairstow, on the other hand, was fully fluent, crunching boundaries over the leg-side or easing them away from the bat’s face on the off-side.
After being a frequent opener in white-ball cricket, Man-of-the-match Bairstow said he didn’t care where he batted. “It’s something that you have to enjoy. In different ways, you learn to craft your innings.