Hales 99, Buttler blows put England 2-0 up
England 263 for 5 (Hales 99, Buttler 48*) beat South Africa 262 for 7 (de Villiers 73, Topley 4-50) by five wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
St George's Park, the oldest of South Africa's international venues, stayed true to its nature by overseeing a one-day international with an old-fashioned flavour on an inhibiting surface. A keenly-fought affair, in which both innings seemed locked together throughout, had the makings of a last-over nail-biter. Instead, thanks to Jos Buttler's sudden lift of tempo, it fell England's way by five wickets with 20 balls to spare.
Inhibitions? Not when you have just won your first IPL contract and are nearly £400,000 richer. Buttler gave the impression he would have played just as freely on the cobbled streets of his native Somerset as he logged an unbeaten 48 from 28 balls.
Three successive fours off Kyle Abbott, the first of them streaky (where was South Africa's slip?) then three sixes in a row off Imran Tahir in the following over sent England scooting to victory. South Africa's pace bowling had gone up a notch since their defeat in Bloemfontein but they now trail 2-0 in the five-match series.
It was Alex Hales' 99 from 124 balls that placed England for victory, although there was work to be done when he was fifth out with 59 needed from 52 balls - caught down the leg side pulling at Abbott with visions of a hundred. Front-foot pushes and crafted singles had supplanted what has become the common avalanche of sixes but the incoming Buttler recognised only a day of dreamy blue skies.
Hales has played more exciting innings, he has played fine innings in more draining conditions, but this was one of his most judicious ODI affairs. The Test series did not advertise the emergence of a rounder game, but his selectivity did here. With the exception of AB de Villiers, whose 73 from 91 balls was a notable return to form, he managed the conditions better than anybody.
Abbott, fit again after hamstring trouble, put in a combative shift, a bowler of great physicality, nipping one through to gate to bowl Jason Roy for 14 - Norton anti-virus would insist on a patch to stem that weakness. Root was at his most conservative, labouring 64 balls over 38 before he tried to advance to Abbott and deflected a rising ball into his stumps.
Eoin Morgan came in at No 4 - shrewdly, no promotion for Buttler on this occasion with grafting to be done - and kept England in touch with the rate with judicious sixes against Imran Tahir and Farhaan Behardien before Morkel defeated his blow-down-the-ground shot with a wide cutter.
Stokes' fate was an eventful duck. Tahir nearly had him twice in an over, sweep and reverse sweep both failing in turn with a review needed to spare him on the second occasion. In the next over he deflected Morkel into his stumps. The pressure was on England, but not, it became evident, on Buttler.
Financially, Chris Morris was even better served than Buttler by the IPL auction - he was sitting on a cool million dollars after a bidding frenzy that eventually saw him move to Delhi Daredevils. No matter: he had to watch from the outer. South Africa, seemingly of different persuasion, dropped both him and his Bloemfontein new-ball partner Marchant de Lange.
The match did not turn solely on Buttler's late merrymaking - Chris Jordan also played a crucial part in South Africa's innings. De Villiers came into the match with three successive ducks to end the Test series and 8 in the opening ODI, but he did the hard yards, his form flooded back and he signalled his intentions as South Africa reached the last 10 overs by lashing Jordan over midwicket for six.
But Jordan is a multi-faceted cricketer, dangerous with the bat, outperformed by few at slip and in the deep, and when de Villiers failed to middle another mighty hit over the leg side off Ben Stokes in the following over, Jordan was equal to the challenge.
It was a hugely difficult catch, a white ball falling out of a blue sky, a swirling breeze strong enough to fleck the sea and shake the branches of the trees outside the ground holding the ball just within range: Jordan's range anyway as he dashed back full tilt to take the ball over his shoulder at mid-on with remarkable poise.
De Villiers had built his own stage in the early part of South Africa's innings but the final onslaught which could have carried the game away from England never materialised. Only 64 came from the last 10 - respectable but not a game changer.
By the 20th over, South Africa had been three down for 98, Hashim Amla bowled when Reece Topley's semblance of inswing developed into something straighter, Quinton de Kock's bountiful run of form ended when Stokes had him lbw with a fullish delivery, and du Plessis' confident innings fell just short of a half-century when Adil Rashid found drift and turn to have him caught at slip.
Rashid and Moeen Ali throttled the mid-innings, both stints completed by the 37th over. That left a lot of onus on Jordan, and he could have done without Buttler spilling a very acceptable catch, one-handed to his left, when JP Duminy tried to run him to third man on 37. Five overs for 33 did not flatter him, but the catch released him from his troubles and Topley, maintaining a full length, squeezed South Africa to a chaseable total.
A slow pitch was to get slower still. The breeze was lifting. The match was in the balance. Hales got a break on 17 when he scrunched a full toss from Tahir into no-man's land and played with great responsibility. Then came Buttler, the liveliest breeze of all.
David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps