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South Africa Beats England in Final ODI, Clinch Series 3-2

... The Guardian:

South Africa, inspired by their captain, AB de Villiers, and aided by a wanton England batting lineup, won the final one-day-international of a captivating quintet of matches by five wickets with six overs to spare. Thus they won the series 3-2.

It was quite a comeback, not quite in the Lazarus league, but winning from 2-0 down in a five-match series has only happened twice before in the hurly burly of ODI cricket. The last time was when Bangladesh beat Zimbabwe a decade ago.De Villiers was delighted by the turnaround. “Record or not, in my eyes that was something special. I asked the guys to keep believing, and they did.”

The captain himself set a superb example, hitting a magnificent century, a leisurely one by his standards since it took 94 balls, which calmly navigated his side from the choppy waters of 22 for three. He was fortunate that the target was only 237, which meant there was no time pressure on the South Africans after Reece Topley had snatched three wickets in a potent opening spell. First Hashim Amla kept De Villiers company in a partnership of 125 and towards the end David Wiese, rather more vigorously, was his accomplice.

Eoin Morgan juggled his fielders anxiously; occasionally he juggled his bowlers – though he loves to bowl his spinners in tandem in long spells – in an attempt to rescue the situation, but after Topley’s initial burst he was increasingly dependent upon the South African batsmen making mistakes. The blunt truth was that England, despite an excellent century by Alex Hales – his second in this format – had squandered their chances of posting an exacting target.

Hales, after four half-centuries in this series, reached those cherished three figures without mishap this time, thereby joining an august band of Englishmen who have exceeded 50 in five consecutive innings in ODI cricket (Geoffrey Boycott, Graham Gooch, Alec Stewart and Jonathan Trott). He batted with great composure, positive in outlook, measured in execution – unlike the rest of them. Afterwards he was made the man of the series and now there is no debate about his worth to the England side – in this format.

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So profligate were some of his colleagues that Hales was more likely to finish short of a hundred from a lack of partners rather than an onset of the nervous 90s. There was much scatty batting from England. The determination to play with no fear does not give the excuse to play with no brains.

This game had most of the properties of a final. The South Africans are supposed to wobble in these circumstances, but in fact England can be suspect on these occasions. Last summer with the ODI series level at 2-2 against Australia they were bundled out for 138 at Old Trafford and defeated by eight wickets.

In a final, more tension abounds; as a consequence runs are generally harder to come by and a mammoth total is not so essential. Viv Richards, whose record in finals was brilliant, would rein himself in a fraction on these occasions. For this was his stage. De Villiers did something similar on Sunday .

Hales apart there was not much evidence of England’s batsmen reining themselves in. Some, like Jason Roy, who was befuddled by a regulation leg-break from Imran Tahir, and Jos Buttler, stuck on the crease against Kagiso Rabada, were just beaten. Others self-destructed.

At least Joe Root had been there a while when he swept at a straight ball from Tahir without hitting it. However, Morgan did not have that excuse when he ran down the pitch to the first ball he received from Wiese, swishing and then edging it to a grateful keeper. Morgan, the batsman, is an oddity. The worse form he is in, the more shots he tries to play as he desperately searches for the magic elixir. Among players of true quality it is usually the other way round.

Ben Stokes suggested permanence until he was bowled around his legs by Rabada, having taken an exaggerated step to the off-side. Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid kept blazing away leaving Hales a calm, yet perplexed onlooker at the non-striker’s end. Eventually Hales drove Chris Morris to the boundary to reach three figures. Soon after a hook shot against Rabada sped into the hands of Rilee Rossouw on the square-leg boundary, but Hales’ innings was beyond reproach.

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