South Africa (119-3) beat England (118-7) by seven wickets
Alex Hales was not at fault in his dismissal, except perhaps for being over-enthusiastic in his running, but overall England’s shot-selection was little better than inept. The highest partnership was for their eighth wicket. Only when the 33-year-old Graeme Swann came in to bat was any serious acceleration achieved.
The Riverside pitch was rather too cloying to be ideal for strokeplay, after it had been used in the morning for the 20-over game between England Women and West Indies Women, but that did not stop Kallis and J. P. Duminy staging the highest fourth-wicket stand against England in this format.
And it was all too similar to the pitches that England are about to face at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo and at Pallekele on the outskirts of Kandy.
South Africa’s captaincy was very astute. AB de Villiers never allowed England’s batsmen to settle into a partnership because he kept injecting the pace of Dale Steyn for one over, or the spin of Johan Botha and Robin Peterson. Steyn is ending this tour as he began it in the Oval Test, easily the best bowler on either side.
But for Botha and Peterson to take four prime wickets between them was pretty inexcusable, even if England’s batsmen do not have the experience of playing many T20 internationals, or of playing in the Indian Premier League, except for Ravi Bopara and Eoin Morgan very briefly. And slow turners in Asia are the last place for a shortage of batting nous.
The rules, however, are not going to be bent to bring Kevin Pietersen back for the World Twenty20, even if the stables are rapidly cleansed and England’s management wanted him back.
A replacement can be brought in only if a player originally named in a squad is injured, or if other circumstances dictate; and the England and Wales Cricket Board confirmed yesterday that England’s replacements, who have been identified and placed on standby, all come from their 30-man provisional squad, which did not contain Pietersen.
The biggest individual problem is Bopara and the fact that he has scored 28 runs in his eight innings — not all for England — since his month’s leave of absence for personal reasons. This was the fourth time in a row that South Africa’s pace bowlers have had him caught pushing, almost fatalistically, outside offstump.
If Bopara stays in the side — and his reverse-swing medium-pace might keep him in a bit longer — he has to drop down the order.
If he is dropped altogether, Luke Wright is the main alternative, and a fine destroyer of quick bowling, but not renowned for starting an innings against spin pyrotechnically.
In addition to the two games that England have left in this series against South Africa in which to arrest their batting malaise, they have two practice games lined up in Colombo. Unfortunately, neither of them is against a minnow, against whom runs might be had relatively easily, but Australia and Pakistan.
If only England were batting with the same sense and resourcefulness that they are bowling, they would not be outsiders for the World Twenty20 title.
Steve Finn and Jade Dernbach gave South Africa a scare: after the six overs of powerplay England were 40 for one, South Africa 40 for three.
Bounce accounted for Peter Levi and straightness for Faf du Plessis, one of the few men in England who can claim to be more out of nick than Bopara. De Villiers essayed a too extravagant drive and suddenly England had an outside chance.
Kallis snuffed it out. With patience, skill and J. P. Duminy he built the partnership that England never had — and never looked like assembling. Some thought had gone into their shot-selection, and they took South Africa to victory with their stand of 90.
Twenty-over cricket was designed to be full of big hitting, and to produce close finishes, in front of a full house of spectators. The first match of this series had none of those qualities. What mattered more perhaps is that England in this dress-rehearsal did not hint at hidden depths or reserves.
England Women extended their record sequence to 18 victories in a row when they overwhelmed West Indies Women by eight wickets. West Indies Women could score only 71 for eight in their 20 overs.