South Africa v England, 1st ODI, Bloemfontein February 3, 2016

Buttler-powered 399 puts England 1-0 up


England 399 for 9 (Buttler 107, Hales 57, Stokes 57, Root 52) beat South Africa 250 for 5 (de Kock 138*, du Plessis 55, Moeen 3-43) by 39 runs (DLS method)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Farmers in Bloemfontein have been praying for rain, so when livelihoods are at stake it is wise not to be too despondent when it comes, but before the storm broke - and gave England a rain-affected victory in the first ODI of this five-match series - Jos Buttler and Quinton de Kock harvested two excellent centuries worthy of grateful looks to the heavens.

Buttler's last ODI innings was the fastest hundred in England's history, against Pakistan in Dubai more than two months ago. An enforced rest has done him no harm. Back in an England shirt, he made a hundred once more, not quite as fast but still eye-wateringly impressive, as England set a formidable 400 to win.

Buttler is the poster boy of an England ODI side playing an attacking brand of cricket that, in the extent of its ambition, surpasses anything previously envisaged. Three days before the IPL auction, his 105 from 76 balls (remarkably, the slowest of his four ODI hundreds) could not have advertised his talent more persuasively. He will surely attract great rivalry from the franchises.

De Kock was a $20,000 ingénue when he first played in the IPL in 2013. His progress is now apparent. The boy with the baby face is now a baby-faced assassin. He is on a roll. Scores of 103, 33 and 109 were at the heart of South Africa's ODI series win in India and he added a century in his Test comeback at Centurion for good measure.

When rain intervened, his unbeaten 138 off 96 balls had out-Buttlered Buttler. South Africa, at 250 for 5 in the 34th over, were deemed to have lost by 39 runs, but with de Kock at the crease it felt closer, adding to the suspicion that the rain tables have yet to adjust to exhilarating recent trends where domineering batting on good pitches has become the norm. AB de Villiers suggested South Africa were "spot on" but, had de Kock fallen, they would have been clocked off.

The stats were stacked in England's favour. Their 399 for 9 was their second-highest ODI score, outdone only by their 408 for 9 against New Zealand at Edgbaston last June - that also powered by a Buttler hundred.

Mangaung Oval has a reputation as a batsman-friendly ground, but South Africa had only once chased so many to win: the famous 438 for 9 against Australia in Johannesburg, 10 years ago now. No side had previously made more than 351 to win here, nor chased a total of 300-plus under lights. And this spotless pitch was not quite a batsman's benefit: as the England innings progressed, there were occasional signs of grip and reverse swing to give the bowlers hope.

Buttler sat out the Test series against South Africa as England opted for Jonny Bairstow. But in limited-overs cricket his batting Manhattans promise to be so dominant that Boris Johnson could gladly adopt them as a plan for London's skyline, selling them in advance to the Russians and the Chinese. They are not garish innings, full of flashing neon lights, but assembled with a gentle brutality that few can rival.

He fell eight overs from the end, driving Farhaan Behardien to de Villiers at cover. Of his five sixes, a politely dismissive step-across to cow corner against Marchant de Lange took some beating, as did another stooping six over midwicket off the jerky offspin of JP Duminy, a venomous flick that carried inconceivable force.

No South Africa bowler curbed him for long. Behardien did demolish his stumps on 54 but it was a free hit, and the same player almost intervened in the field when Buttler was 68, flinging himself to his left at deep square leg to try to hold a blow off the legspinner Imran Tahir, but spilling it on landing. They were brief moments of hope as de Lange went even faster off the bat than he did on to it and the fifth-bowler combination of Duminy and Behardien went for 93.

By the time that Buttler perished, at 317 for 5, England had a sniff of 400, only to come up one run short as the No. 11 Reece Topley failed to make contact with the last two deliveries - a reminder of normality.

Chris Morris responded most vigorously for South Africa, his four new-ball overs spilling 29 but finding some swing from a full length late in the innings to reap 3 for 74. But then he only bowled five deliveries at Buttler.

England launched their innings with immediate élan, recognising rare vulnerability in South Africa's pace attack. Jason Roy is the catalyst, committed in his relatively young career to an aggressive start. He had to pass a late fitness test after back spasms, but he had 43 of England's 56 by the sixth over. South Africa started poorly. England never looked back.

Alex Hales, after an unproductive Test series, was encouraged ahead, one of three England players to support Buttler's hundred with a half-century. When Hales departed to a miscued hook, Buttler was promoted to No. 4 with the score an inviting 130 for 2 in the 18th over. Just think, there was a time when England would have looked askance at their laptops and saved Buttler for the slog. He told Sky TV he was nervous, driven by adrenalin.

Joe Root chivvied away alongside him for a half-century before Morris summoned an excellent swinging yorker. Even the muscular figure of Ben Stokes then adopted an understudy role, quickening after Buttler's dismissal to make 57 from 38 balls, his innings silenced by a pre-meditated scoop shot to have his stumps rattled by a low full toss.

In response, de Kock carried the fight virtually single-handedly. Anything too straight was wristily flipped through the leg side, often making use a stiff breeze. The spinners felt the pressure as did Chris Jordan, whose last ODI spell against New Zealand last June went for 97 and who leaked 56 in 5.3 overs before rain put him out of his misery.

South Africa's chase was all the more remarkable considering that their two star turns, Hashim Amla and de Villiers, scrambled only 14 runs between them. Amla dragged on to David Willey, a lack of footwork evident, and after Faf du Plessis had helped de Kock marshal the chase with a half-century, de Villiers came to the crease with three successive ducks to his name, the residue from South Africa's Test series defeat.

A wind had sprung up, strong enough for the batsman weathervane on the scoreboard to be playing switch hits, and a storm seemed to be brewing. South Africa were keenly aware that they had to lift the rate around the 20-over mark, at which time the match could be settled by rain recalculations. Three balls before the match became valid, de Villiers' role in it ended, courtesy of Stokes' brilliant chase and thrust of a right hand at long-on to intercept a flat drive. If the wind had not blown the boundary back a yard it would have been tight.

De Kock's milestone, off 67 balls, came up with computerised precision: his ninth ODI hundred logged at 187 for 3, one ball short of halfway. But compared to Buttler his support was lacking. Duminy, outwitted by Topley's slower ball, chipped back a simple return catch and Rilee Rossouw gave Moeen a third wicket when he toe-ended to long-off. By the time the rain fell, de Kock was feeling short of company. His consolation was the Man-of-the-Match award and Buttler, gentle guy that he is, would not have complained.

David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on February 5, 2016, 11:21 GMT

    @D.S.A ON FEBRUARY 5, 2016, 3:06 GMT - Thank you for admitting the validity of my points

  • Cricinfouser on February 5, 2016, 9:59 GMT

    @simplythebest pretty sure that anything stokes can catch, Ab could also (just go YouTube Ab catches). And Ab did play a rash shot because it was against the wind. QDK played very smartly using the wind for the big shots and grounding the ball against the wind. Barring that it was an excellent catch from Stokes (and also an almost blinder from Behardien!) glad to see the fielding is picking up after the atrocious test fielding by both sides

  • Clad on February 5, 2016, 7:20 GMT

    What I don't get is all the talk of AB playing a 'rash shot'?? The fact is that it was simply a blinding catch from Stokes. If that had been any other fielder (bar Jordan possibly), that would have been a boundary and everyone would have been saying how great AB was to start motoring. I doubt AB himself would have taken that catch, so praise where it is due and no more excuses.

  • rob on February 5, 2016, 6:42 GMT

    @ Pras & Jose: I think we have to accept that it's likely that teams will score more heavily these days than they did 10-20 years ago. Big bats, smaller grounds, more shots, less swing, flatter pitches. It's a recipe for runs. That's why I'm not going to jump up and down about this pitch. It can happen these days and high scoring matches can be just as exciting as low scoring ones but I agree that it's always better when a few wickets fall in the process. In this particular game we did see some wickets and the Saffers were 5 down so I can't see anything at all wrong with that. .. Jose, I'll back you till the sun goes out about the players finding a way on pitches that don't suite them. These guys are the best in the world at this game. They shouldn't expect to spend their careers in the comfort zone. It's the hard yards that really impress.

  • Prasanna on February 5, 2016, 4:43 GMT

    @Dunger.Bob and @Jose..P, No doubt this is excellent batting from England, but I never liked the case of bat dominating the ball. Why can't we just go back to the 1999 era where 213 was found to be more than handful in a certain semi-final ? When the game was played with a single ball, it was more even, what with reverse swing, spin and all those things favoring bowlers. And what are we watching these days ?? Let T20 be the one for all these slog-fests. If at all the ODIs have to be more balanced, high-time we scrap the 2-ball theory and lift all those fielding restrictions. But unfortunately our voices won't travel beyond this forum.

  • Devinderpal Singh on February 5, 2016, 3:06 GMT

    @jg2704: Not for the first time, you obviously don't get it, so regarding this topic, I'll leave you to it.

  • Jose on February 5, 2016, 2:47 GMT

    @DUNGER.BOB ON FEBRUARY 4, 2016, 22:48 GMT:

    Thanks for the clarification. I had read about it earlier. Hearing from you, I take it with the seriousness it deserves.

    I had read a few times, you craving for contests which are more evenly matched between bat and ball. I share the same desire. Perhaps, we have little control over the market forces. Other games competing with cricket, which itself is shaped by shift in the viewer behavior & preferences.

    One thing, I am still hanging on to. Great cricketers (both bowlers & batsmen), from everywhere, develop and display skills to transcend such constraints. So, we may yet see some good CONTESTS.

  • rob on February 4, 2016, 22:48 GMT

    @ Jose...P: Greetings mate. Good points you raise, but that's not unusual. With the pitches in Oz every man and his parrot has a theory, so here is mine. I think a lot of the blame rests squarely on the fact that most of our major grounds now use 'drop-in' pitches. That's an unfortunate necessity these days because the real power now lies with the AFL (Aus. Rules Football League), not CA, and they don't like rock hard pitch squares in the middle of their grounds. So, at the end of each cricket season, the pitches literally get dug out and replaced with ordinary turf so the footy players won't get gravel rash. .. Now, this is where it gets slightly weird. The problem with the drop-ins is that they are too good. Too perfect. They hold together too well and deteriorate very little over the course of a game. The cooks (for want of a better word) are aware of this and have been trying to introduce an element of random decay but no luck so far. They still roll out the oven as roads.

  • John on February 4, 2016, 19:34 GMT

    @D.S.A ON FEBRUARY 4, 2016, 17:08 GMT - Of course a top form AB combined with a top form QDK would have chased it down. It doesn't matter whether you'd have backed him or not - whose to say he wouldn't have played that aggressively anyway? I wouldn't have backed him so who is right me or you? It's all supposition Too many ifs there

  • Charles on February 4, 2016, 18:25 GMT

    Was AB really playing a big shot because of the impending rain and D/L or is the reality that SA had to go at 8.50 an over to stay in the game so he had to tout from the 1st ball ???