After months of speculation over how they would perform in home conditions when faced with the expectations of lifting the trophy, England put on a masterclass of ODI cricket to register an emphatic win over the South Africans in the opening encounter of ICC 2019 World Cup played at The Oval in London. The star of the show was Ben Stokes who made key contributions with the bat, ball and also took one of the most stunning catches in recent times.
What was most impressive about England's batting was the balance they were able to strike between playing positively and avoiding unnecessary risks. After losing Jonny Bairstow in the very first over, Joe Root and Jason Roy built a great partnership of over a hundred runs to put their team on course for a big score. But the quick fall of both these batsmen put the hosts under pressure.
But then the captain Eoin Morgan and all-round talisman Ben Stokes showed their quality by not only steadying the innings but also keeping the momentum going. The aggressive shots played by both were good, calculated strokes and not wild slogs. Their 100+ run partnership set England on course for a near-350 runs score. But then South African bowlers struck back using slower balls and other tricks. This meant that England kept losing wickets towards the end. But Stokes held one end strongly and guided his team to a score of over 300 despite falling short of a hundred.
Trouble early for Proteas
When South Africa came out to bat, they started well but then a blow to the head for Hashim Amla forced him to retire hurt and that broke the momentum of the innings. What followed then was a vindication of England's decision to bring Jofra Archer in their squad. The Barbados-born bowler delivered a brilliant spell where he knocked over both Proteas captain Faf du Plessis and no. 3 batsman Aiden Markram.
The new man Rassie van der Dussen, who made his debut earlier this year, continued to impress and started building a threatening partnership with Quinton de Kock. However, both batsmen were struggling against Adil Rashid and his googlies but soon they got a measure of the bowling and started to dominate a bit.
Then de Kock committed the same error that he has been guilty of several times – playing a reckless shot and giving an easy catch in the deep. His dismissal was followed by a collapse as nobody except van der Dussen showed any fight. Wickets kept tumbling and eventually van der Dussen also got out after reaching his half-century. The match was already won by England and even though Amla came out to bat again, he only delayed the inevitable.
The bowling from England was perfect and ticked all boxes. Chris Woakes did the job expected of him to bowl a good spell upfront with the new ball. The spinners, especially, Rashid caused major problems in the middle overs. Plunkett picked up the key wicket of de Kock while Archer started the decline of England with his two quick wickets at the top. Stokes followed up his batting heroics with two scalps plus a blinder in the deep taken by him while airborne and his right hand extended well over his head.
Overall, it was a complete performance for England with many players contributing – four batsmen getting to 50 and all bowlers being of use. For Proteas the campaign may have begun badly but they have eight more matches and plenty of time to improve. While their bowling wasn't that bad, the batsmen would need to pull up their socks. However, if Dale Steyn returns to the fold, that may make their bowling even more capable. But the batsmen will still be required to do better.