England sneak home amid rain
Eoin Morgan underlined his status as one of the most exciting batsmen in world cricket as England triumphed in the opening Twenty20 international against South Africa at the Wanderers.
The left-hander played the most entertaining and important innings on an evening which ended with both sides sheltering from the rain and England winners by one run under the Duckworth-Lewis method.
Morgan’s unbeaten 85, which spanned just 45 balls, lit up England’s formidable 202 for six, but South Africa raced to 127 for three before the heavens opened in Johannesburg and denied the spectators what promised to be a thrilling conclusion to a pulsating match.
That will matter little to England, who head to Centurion for the final match of the series on Sunday holding a 1-0 lead, and, in Morgan, possess a player who now deserves to be ranked among the best.
Morgan was unquestionably the central figure tonight, unfurling his extraordinary range of shots on a wonderfully true pitch to propel England to their highest total in Twenty20s.
Paul Collingwood’s brutal 57, which spanned only 32 deliveries, appeared pedestrian by comparison, while Jonathan Trott’s stylish 33 had long since been forgotten as Morgan’s assault on the South Africa attack reached a crescendo.
The left-hander, who made a name for himself during the recent Champions Trophy in South Africa, hit seven fours and five sixes during an innings which contained immense power, astute placement and a remarkable one-day intelligence.
One of the many highlights was a scarcely believable sweep in the final over off pace bowler Charl Langeveldt, Morgan getting down on one knee to divert a perfectly adequate delivery for six almost in line with the wicketkeeper.
South Africa’s response was spearheaded by Loots Bosman and Graeme Smith, who hit 58 off 31 balls and 41 off 23 respectively to spark panic in the England ranks.
But three wickets in as many overs helped the tourists regain some control, before Collingwood made his most important contribution as captain.
With the rain beginning to get heavier and South Africa marginally ahead under the Duckworth-Lewis calculations, he recalled strike bowler James Anderson for the 13th over of the innings.
Anderson bowled superbly to concede just six off the over, leaving South Africa behind the target when the umpires were forced to take the players off. They never returned as a storm enveloped the stadium.
If Morgan supplied the majority of the fireworks for England, Trott was responsible for supplying the early momentum to the innings, Denly and Alastair Cook having fallen lbw inside the first four overs.
He hit four fours in a row off Dale Steyn courtesy of authentic strokes, before he was run out chasing a single to Smith at backward point, but Collingwood signalled his intent by advancing down the pitch to swing Albie Morkel over deep backward square-leg for six.
Collingwood outscored Morgan during a riotous stand of 98 off just 55 deliveries, the skipper peppering his favoured boundary between long-on and deep midwicket as South Africa searched for answers.
But it was Morgan’s innings for which this match will be remembered. Having advanced down the track to loft Johan Botha over extra-cover, he hoisted Steyn - arguably the quickest bowler in the world - over deep square-leg and out of the ground.
There was also time for the famed reverse-sweep, and the 23-year-old demonstrated considerable common sense as Collingwood - taken at deep point off Ryan McLaren - Luke Wright and Matt Prior perished in the space of 14 balls.
McLaren’s figures were dented by the irrepressible Morgan as he leaked 17 runs in the penultimate over of the innings, and England’s new-found hero capped a memorable contribution by hitting Langeveldt for successive sixes, the first of which was that inimitable sweep, which defied belief as well as the coaching manual.
Aware that they had little time to waste, South Africa set about overhauling a formidable target with relish.
Bosman was the chief aggressor during an opening stand of 97 with Smith, blazing his way to a 26-ball half-century which left the spectators in as much danger as England's bowling figures.
Tim Bresnan, James Anderson and Graeme Swann were dispatched for sixes, while Smith hit Sajid Mahmood for two maximums and a four in an over costing 19 as South Africa made light work of an asking rate of 10 an over.
Although Luke Wright also came in for punishment, he made the all-important breakthrough by having Smith taken at deep point by Morgan, and Collingwood held a steepler to account for Bosman off Swann in the next over.
Mahmood’s admirably full length did for JP Duminy, and Anderson’s accurate over tilted the balance of power in England’s favour at the crucial time.