England hammered by South Africa in heaviest-ever ODI defeat to leave World Cup defence hanging by thread
In reply, they capitulated to 170 in 22 overs, losing by 229 runs with 168 balls left, the heaviest defeat in their ODI history.
It was their third loss in their opening four group games, leaving no margin for error in their final five against Sri Lanka, India, Australia, Netherlands and Pakistan.
The sheen of invincibility that surrounded the 2019 champions is now a distant blur.
England must play perfect cricket from hereon in, but they have rarely looked more imperfect than they do at present.
“It was incredibly disappointing,” admitted captain Jos Buttler. “We came here with high hopes and looking to play our best cricket but were well short of that.
“The boys fought hard and there was a lot of effort, and if we could have restricted them to 340 or 350 it would have been a good chase. We probably have to win every game from here.”
Buttler’s decision to bowl first will be hotly debated, the man himself admitting it was “potentially” a mistake. England’s greatest strength is their batting, but their recent record chasing is poor and South Africa went into the match on the back of a shock defeat to Netherlands, hence an opportunity was missed to put their bowlers under pressure in the oven-like heat.
The make-up of the side will also be questioned: England made three changes, throwing in David Willey and Gus Atkinson, which meant Adil Rashid batting as high as No 8. There was no debating Ben Stokes’s return, at the expense of Liam Livingstone, but pre-match suggestions that Stokes might provide some kind of messianic influence proved sadly awry; the hobbling hero was no better than the rest.
South Africa’s innings – and the shape of the contest – was still in the balance when their fifth wicket fell at 243 in the 37th over, Reece Topley having returned from a suspected broken finger sustained early in the piece to remove Aiden Markram (standing in as captain for the ill Temba Bavuma) and David Miller in successive overs.
Was the World Cup about to witness its first close game in a disappointing tournament? Er, not quite.
Heinrich Klaasen and Marco Jansen, the long-levered sixth-wicket pair, sped the game away with a stand of 151 in 77 balls, South Africa plundering 143 from the final 10 overs, including 84 from the last five.
Klaasen crashed 109 from 67 balls with 12 fours and four sixes – the only blot on his copybook a classless celebration of his hundred in Mark Wood’s face – and Jansen struck a career-best 75 not out from 42 balls with three fours and six sixes.
Throw in 85 from Reesa Hendricks, an 11th-hour replacement for Bavuma, 60 from Rassie van der Dussen and 42 from Markram, that great cricketing palindrome, and it was little surprise that the bowling figures were best viewed from behind a particularly large sofa – Wood (0-76 from seven overs) the most expensive, with only Rashid (battling a stomach complaint to take 2-62) and Topley (3-88) standing out.
England’s reply was a shocker. In no time they were 68-6 (66-6 would have been more appropriate) and they would have been even more soundly thumped but for a ninth-wicket stand of 70 between Wood and Atkinson, who threw caution to the wind in five-and-a-half overs of mayhem. Topley, whose fingers had been stung by a drive from van der Dussen, was unable to bat, not that it made a scrap of difference.