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Root the hero as England smash WT20 record

Wisden India logo Wisden India 18-03-2016

In January 2015, South Africa rattled up 231 in a Twenty20 International at the Wanderers, only to see West Indies chase it down with four balls to spare. That nightmarish experience was repeated on the world stage as England, galvanised by Joe Root’s magnificent 44-ball 83, hunted down 230 at Wankhede Stadium on Friday (March 18) with two balls to spare in a World T20 2016 Group 1 game.

Jason Roy’s 16-ball 43 set the tone, and Root’s innings left South Africa in a stupor after three of their batsmen – Quinton de Kock, Hashim Amla and JP Duminy – had scored electric half-centuries.

England’s reply began in Stick-Cricket fashion. The Durban-born Roy uncorked four fours, including a gorgeous straight drive, in Kagiso Rabada’s opening over, which also included five wides. Dale Steyn fared even worse. Kyle Abbott let a clip off the pads from Alex Hales burst through his fingers, and after two more fours, Roy finished the 23-run over with a straight four and clipped six.

Abbott then came on to trap Hales leg before for 17, but when Roy pulled a short one for six, England had managed 55 from just 17 balls. In Abbott’s next over, Roy scooped him for six, but the reprise fell tamely into de Kock’s gloves.

Stokes swung Rabada over long-on for six, but then picked out Morris at backward square-leg as England finished the Power Play on 89 for 3. Imran Tahir and Duminy stemmed the boundary flow, with Duminy getting Eoin Morgan to chop one on, but with Root launching one over midwicket for six, England were well on course at 118 for 3 midway through the innings.

Both Root and Jos Buttler punished Chris Morris when he dragged it down too short outside off, and Buttler then pulled Duminy for six as South Africa began to look rattled. Steyn’s comeback over went for 12, and the 50 partnership between the two came up in just 23 balls.

Root then played an astonishing reverse-ramp shot off Morris to reach his half-century from 29 balls, as the asking rate finally dipped below ten an over. But the outstanding Tahir wasn’t done with his evening’s work. Buttler (21 off 14 balls) was beaten in flight and stumped as Tahir finished with 1 for 28 from his spell.

But Root would have the final say, clipping Abbott for four and then lofting an immaculate straight six. When Morris then erred in line both sides of the wicket, he glanced and carved fours. A top-edged pull over de Kock was fortuitous, but by then South Africa had reached deflation point.

Root fell to a Rabada full toss with 11 needed, but Moeen Ali and Chris Jordan calmly stroked fours to level the scores before Jordan departed trying to finish with a flourish, and David Willey was run out, before Ali bunted one down the ground to complete a famous victory.

There was no inkling of the carnage to come when Willey conceded just two in the opening over of the match. But in the next four, South Africa smashed and stroked 70. De Kock started it all, targetting the cover region for six, four and four in Reece Topley’s first over, and Willey’s second featured a straight six, an on-drive and cut for fours, and a monstrous whack over cover.

After Amla had welcomed Moeen with two fours through cover, Topley dropped a chance to his left at mid-off. It was Jordan that would pay, as Amla picked off four fours and a six over fine leg. With Stokes conceding offside fours to both men, 83 came from the Power Play overs.

De Kock, who raced to a 21-ball 50, then fell heaving Moeen to deep midwicket, as the spinners established a semblance of control. AB de Villiers slugged Adil Rashid for two sixes, but skied the third attempt to point. Amla, however, carried on serenely, pulling Moeen for six to reach a 25-ball half-century.

Having conceded 125 by halfway, England were indebted to the two spinners for three subsequent overs that cost just 14. Moeen trapped Amla in front for 58, and between the two, they gave away just 69 in their quota of overs, while taking three wickets.

Having gone 21 balls without a boundary, South Africa then took on Root’s offspin. Hales overrun the ball at long-on, and Duminy then tickled one down to fine leg. Stokes too conceded a couple of fours as South Africa went into the last five well poised on 166 for 3.

Faf du Plessis, who struggled to muscle the ball away, hoicked Willey to deep midwicket, but that brought David Miller to the crease. He struck two sixes and two fours in a 12-ball 28, even as Duminy sent two Topley deliveries soaring over cover to reach a 26-ball half-century.

On most days, it would have been enough, but England – who would have faced elimination with a defeat – found several batting heroes to reopen old South African scars. It wasn’t the highest successful run chase in T20Is, but the best in World T20s, beating South Africa’s mark when they crossed West Indies’ 205 for 6 in the first match of the 2007 edition of the tournament.

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