Eng­land catch fire

As­ton­ish­ing field­ing by Stokes and Archer’s lethal bowl­ing bam­boo­zle South Africa as tour­na­ment opens with a bang

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - Scyld Berry CRICKET JOUR­NAL­IST OF THE YEAR at the Oval

Eng­land lost a wicket to the sec­ond ball of their World Cup cam­paign but never their nerve. A new, re­silient Eng­land came through the fire to de­feat South Africa by 104 runs and will be all the stronger for it. They can even start to en­joy this tour­na­ment af­ter mak­ing such an au­thor­i­ta­tive open­ing state­ment.

The ic­ing on top of this sat­is­fy­ing cake was the catch by Ben Stokes. No bound­ary catch could be more sen­sa­tional than the one when Stokes ran to his left and, find­ing the ball too high for him to reach with both hands, leapt and went for it with his right. Stokes tum­bled and rolled sev­eral yards to­wards the bound­ary, such was the force be­hind Andile Phehluk­wayo’s slog-sweep.

Field­ing has sel­dom ex­cited peo­ple in Eng­land but Stokes’ catch was so spec­tac­u­lar that any­one who saw it would be an­i­mated to try it, on a cricket ground, in a gym or park, or at any rate in the imag­i­na­tion. If field­ing comes to be en­joyed in Eng­land as never be­fore, that will be a legacy in it­self from this World Cup.

Stokes also stretched him­self to make his high­est one-day in­ter­na­tional score – 89 off 79 balls – since the Bris­tol night­club in­ci­dent in Septem­ber 2017, steer­ing Eng­land to a total that might have been be­low ex­pec­ta­tions but was above par on a spongy pitch made soft by re­cent rain. It was easy-paced for bat­ting, but hard to hit the ball other than in the air.

Stokes was not alone in ris­ing to this oc­ca­sion. Ja­son Roy looked an al­most com­plete bats­man as he saw off the ini­tial threat of Im­ran Tahir, af­ter South Africa’s wrist-spin­ner had dis­missed Jonny Bairstow with his sec­ond ball, not just the pu­n­isher of pace that Roy has al­ways been. There was such con­trol in Roy’s bat­ting, even though Eng­land will not play at his home ground again, that it bodes well for Eng­land in the rest of this tour­na­ment.

When Eng­land bowled, the chances of Stu­art Broad tak­ing the new red ball in a Test for Eng­land this sum­mer plum­meted. No­body, surely, ex­cept Jofra Archer should be shar­ing it with James An­der­son in the Ashes. Archer was ev­ery­thing a fast bowler should be – fast,

‘Archer’s bowl­ing dis­play an­nounced him as pos­si­bly a once-in-gen­er­a­tion fast bowler’

bouncy, tight of line, and equipped with a threat­en­ing bouncer which took two wick­ets as well as hit­ting Hashim Amla’s hel­met so hard that he had to be with­drawn from Archer’s fir­ing line, only to re­turn when the game was al­most up.

Archer was eas­ily the quick­est bowler on ei­ther side – and it would have taken a young Dale Steyn to match him, not the in­jured 35-yearold edi­tion. Archer’s four-over spell against Pakistan at the Oval had an­nounced him as a World Cup cer­tainty, but his five-over open­ing spell against South Africa – by the end of which Eng­land were psy­cho­log­i­cally on top – an­nounced him as some­thing more, quite pos­si­bly a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion fast bowler. Not that Archer should be clas­si­fied as that alone, for a back-foot cover drive in his three-ball in­nings was that of an all-rounder.

Eoin Mor­gan shone, too. Eng­land’s cap­tain did not risk his cracked fin­ger by field­ing in the slips but, af­ter Roy and Joe Root were out in the space of four balls, he de­duced this was not the nor­mally hard Oval sur­face for blast­ing and blaz­ing. Af­ter los­ing the toss, and the right to bowl first, Mor­gan also out­ma­noeu­vred his op­po­site num­ber, Faf du Plessis.

The new South Africa have a bowl­ing at­tack that is mul­tira­cial and mul­ti­fac­eted: as Eng­land’s in­nings wore on, they switched adroitly to slower balls that “sat” in the pitch and bounced ab­nor­mally if the ball landed on its seam. But Du Plessis was guilty of the tra­di­tional fail­ing of South African cap­tains in be­ing too de­fen­sive: he was ex­cel­lent at con­tain­ment, and was ready to field at long-off or long-on at both ends, and took an ex­cep­tional, if not Stokes-class catch.

How­ever, he did not strike when the iron was hot and Eng­land were nervy: a gully to go with two slips for Roy and Root when cover-driv­ing on the up was too risky, could have bro­ken Eng­land’s back.

The even­tual three-fig­ure mar­gin did not re­veal how nip-and-tuck the match was – when Jonny Bairstow was dis­missed by Tahir’s leg-break to the crowd’s shock, when Eng­land kept los­ing bats­men well set, when they en­tered the last eight overs of their in­nings with­out Jos But­tler left to plunder them, and when South Africa reached 129 of­fi­cially for the loss of two wick­ets.

No­body made a hun­dred but at least two cen­tury stands were recorded for Eng­land, 106 by Roy and Root, the same again by Mor­gan and Stokes.

Oth­er­wise, South Africa’s field­ing – a tra­di­tional dis­ci­pline for them – helped to keep the lid on, but they were to be out­played in that depart­ment, too.

Archer’s bounce was too steep for Ai­den Markram’s cover-drive and du Plessis’ hook, a swirling tope­dge well caught at long-leg. Three wick­ets in the first 10 overs usu­ally leads to vic­tory and Archer by him­self took two and made Amla re­tire hurt.

Quin­ton de Kock took the at­tack to Eng­land, only to shovel to fine leg a ball al­ways go­ing down leg side; JP Du­miny, who should not have played ahead of David Miller, gave his wicket away; and Eng­land’s out-cricket did the rest.

Not a per­fect per­for­mance, but an al­most per­fect re­sponse to the ten­sion of an open­ing game and that ini­tial shock.

Eng­land’s Ben Stokes takes a sen­sa­tional catch close to the bound­ary

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