Hard-fought contest goes the distance
Sunday, February 14
Start time 10am local (0800 GMT)
There was more "To me, to you" about the Johannesburg ODI than an episode of Chucklevision, as both teams traded the advantage back and forth. England appeared to have thrown the game away, going from 87 for 1 to 108 for 6, before dragging the contest back through Joe Root's masterful hundred; South Africa then stuttered throughout the chase, finally succumbing to 210 for 8 with 53 still required - only for Chris Morris to single-handedly haul them to the line (but not over it, as he was dismissed with the scores level).
Some of England's fielding would have embarrassed the Chuckle brothers, too, as they dropped potentially decisive catches off JP Duminy, AB de Villiers and Morris. That said, they showed plenty of character to stay in the game after posting what most felt was a significantly below-par score. Had they held their nerve, it would have been a remarkable victory for a side still learning about their capabilities in 50-over internationals.
Instead, Morris majored at the death and South Africa levelled the series at 2-2. That has set up the finale most neutrals would have wanted and keeps South Africa in with a chance of becoming the first team to come from 2-0 down to win a series of five matches or more since Pakistan in India in 2005. The momentum, if you believe in such things, appears to be theirs.
England had put themselves in that position, of course, when they fought back against Australia last year, only to be blown away in the decider at Old Trafford. Eoin Morgan will hope to see his players put in a more competitive performance in Cape Town, in pursuit of a third series win out of four; De Villiers' side, meanwhile, are aiming for their third in a row. On Valentine's Day, someone is going to be left broken-hearted.
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
South Africa: WWLLW
In the spotlight
As if cracking his maiden ODI fifty off 30 balls wasn't heroic enough, Chris Morris then went and donated his match fee to the breast cancer awareness charity for which the Wanderers had turned pink. Commanding a $1m price tag in the IPL auction might prompt most players to declare, "I'm kind of a big deal", but Morris isn't even sure of his place in the South Africa XI. His hitting was so clean you could eat your dinner off it but, as a bowling allrounder, Morris will want to finish the series with a few more wickets under his belt and perhaps avert the need for another match-winning performance with the bat.
While his team have continued to play with a free spirit, Eoin Morgan has thus far not managed to summon the genie from the bottle. England's captain has managed just 62 runs in four innings and, while his first two were briefly successful, foot-on-the-gas efforts, at the Wanderers he was in and out before the 20th over, just when a substantial middle-order score was needed, to follow a scratchy 8 from 24 balls in Centurion. Morgan piled up 967 runs at 43.95 in 2015, so won't be too concerned by a few failures - but he will want to end his fallow run as soon as possible and lead from the front in the decider.
After finding a winning XI for the second time, South Africa may be tempted to stick with it but the problems in the middle order could see changes. JP Duminy and Farhaan Behardien are under pressure from David Miller and Rilee Rossouw and at least one change could take place. The two allrounders, David Wiese and Chris Morris, should keep their spots, with Morne Morkel's international season likely over given his exclusion from the last match and the T20 squads.
South Africa (possible) 1 Hashim Amla, 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Faf du Plessis, 4 AB de Villiers (capt), 5 JP Duminy/David Miller, 6 Farhaan Behardien, 7 David Wiese, 8 Chris Morris, 9 Kagiso Rabada, 10 Kyle Abbott, 11 Imran Tahir
The sense from the England management is that the same group of players will be given the chance to atone for missing out in Johannesburg, which would mean James Taylor and Jonny Bairstow sitting on the sidelines throughout. Stuart Broad's ODI return went from promising (a wicket with his sixth ball) to demoralising (being hit for 15 from four balls by Morris with the game in the balance) and there might be a temptation to bring back David Willey.
England (possible) 1 Jason Roy, 2 Alex Hales, 3 Joe Root, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Jos Buttler (wk), 7 Moeen Ali, 8 Chris Woakes, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Stuart Broad/David Willey, 11 Reece Topley
Pitch and conditions
The decider will be played on a pitch where scores have been low over the last couple of games. Newlands has only hosted two ODIs since 2009 and South Africa lost them both. They were bowled out for 220 against India in January 2011 and for 195, chasing 219, against Pakistan in November 2013. A slow, perhaps sticky surface awaits, where pace off the ball could be important. Cooler temperatures are sweeping through the west coast with Sunday forecast at just 24 degrees and chances of morning drizzle.
Stats and trivia
- England have played six ODIs at Newlands and lost five of them, their only win coming against Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup.
- Between January 2004 and November 2009, South Africa won ten in a row there - the last of which was against England.
- South Africa and England will remain fourth and sixth respectively in the ICC rankings, whatever the result in Cape Town.
- Faf du Plessis needs 56 runs for 3000 in ODIs.
"We know what it feels like after the first two, being two-nil down is a horrible feeling and you don't really know where to go except to go out there and fight it out as much as you can. Hopefully we've got enough confidence and momentum on our side to take it into Sunday."
AB de Villiers gees up his side for what is effectively a third successive final
"It's a good test for them. You have to stand up and be a man. You've got knocked down; you have to get yourselves back up, dust yourselves down and go again."
Batting coach Graham Thorpe primes England for the decider after two loses
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick