South Africa 177 for 8 (Bavuma 43) beat England 176 for 9 (Roy 70, Morgan 52, Ngidi 3-30) by 1 run
A dramatic late collapse saw England throw away a winning position to lose the first T20I of the three-match series in South Africa by one run.
Needing seven off seven balls after Eoin Morgan's late acceleration looked like it had secured a win, building on the platform set by Jason Roy's powerful, 38-ball 70, England managed to score only five while losing four wickets, as Lungi Ngidi dismissed Tom Curran and Moeen Ali before Adil Rashid was run out coming back for a second to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
South Africa's total of 177 after being inserted was the highest T20I score at East London, but owed as much to England's profligacy with the ball as to their efforts with the bat. Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock led a bright start as the hosts reached 105 for 1 at the halfway mark, but Dale Steyn (five off two balls) was the only other man to score at a strike rate above 120 as Rashid and Chris Jordan dragged things back.
England were ahead for the majority of the run chase, with Roy imperious and Morgan gradually moving through the gears, but their muddled middle-order strategy saw Joe Denly, Ben Stokes and Moeen used in suboptimal roles, and South Africa's seamers took the pace off to good effect to seal an improbable come-from-behind win.
Moeen in the Powerplay
Morgan made a surprise call to open the bowling with Moeen's offspin, given that only 13 percent of his overs since the start of 2018 had come in the Powerplay in all T20 cricket. But the move could be explained by de Kock's relative weakness against spinners in the first six overs: while South Africa's skipper has been imperious against seamers with the field up (149.0 strike rate since Jan 2017), he has struggled against spin (119.2 SR) and against offspin in particular (112.2 SR).
As all hell broke loose at the other end, with Curran and Mark Wood - who started his spell with consecutive high full tosses - both profligate, Moeen successfully tied de Kock down, conceding five runs from the five balls he had bowled at him before he holed out to long-on running in at the start of the fifth over.
Ultimately, Moeen and Rashid's eight overs of spin cost only 45 runs, prompting the question as to why Denly's legbreaks went unused.
England seamers struggle
As much as South Africa's batsmen impressed, the main reason they were able to put such a competitive total on the board was the fact that England were so slow to adapt to the slowness of the pitch. It became apparent quickly that anything quick would fly onto the bat, while spin and pace-off deliveries were both effective. But England persisted in bowling pace-on, with Curran especially culpable despite his wide repertoire of slower balls.
They did themselves few favours in the field, too: Denly had a torrid time, allowing one clip off the pads straight through his legs for four and dropping Bavuma, while Jason Roy shelled a high catch offered up by Jon-Jon Smuts. South Africa's lack of batting depth and an impressive finish from Wood and Chris Jordan meant they could only post 72 for 7 in the final ten overs of their innings, but their total of 177 was higher than it should have been.
Spin to Roy
South Africa looked to expose Jason Roy's relative weakness against spin in the opening game of last year's World Cup by opening the bowling with Imran Tahir, and it was no surprise when de Kock turned to Smuts' left-arm spin in the fourth over of the run chase: Roy had averaged just 20.83 against spin in T20 over the last three years going into this game, while also scoring at a slower rate than against pace.
But Smuts gave the ball enough air for Roy to target a short straight boundary - his favoured method against slow bowlers - and after David Miller palmed the second ball of the over for six, Roy dumped him for four, six, four to take 22 runs off the over and get England motoring.
De Kock's shuffling
Steyn made an early impression in his first international appearance for 11 months: he was struck for two exquisite boundaries by Jos Buttler, who continued as England's opener, but then dismissed him with the second ball of his second over as Buttler looked to chip one over the covers.
Steyn's bright start meant he was given three overs in the Powerplay, in which he showcased some dipping slower balls, but Roy's onslaught meant that de Kock decided to bring him back for his last in the 13th over. Tabraiz Shamsi, who largely succeeded in subduing Roy and Eoin Morgan, was also bowled out by the end of the 14th as the skipper chased a breakthrough, by which point Beuran Hendricks and Dwaine Pretorius remained unused.
Pace-off causes England crumble
When Hendricks did belatedly arrive, Roy belted his first ball - an 85mph length ball - for four through midwicket, and instantly responded by taking the pace off. His second, a very wide slower-ball bouncer, accounted for Roy and Andile Phehlukwayo removed Denly with a similar move, banging a cutter in halfway down which was heaved out to deep midwicket.
Ngidi copied the set template, his back-of-a-length offcutter being skied up to deep midwicket by Stokes, but either side of that Morgan tucked into Hendricks, smiting two boundaries in the 17th over and hitting four, four, six as Hendricks tried to hit the blockhole in the 19th to take the equation down to seven off seven.
From there it should have been a cakewalk, but Ngidi held his nerve to concede only five runs from the final over, with Curran holing out to deep midwicket, Moeen bowled by a pinpoint yorker, and Rashid unable to manipulate the ball past Steyn at short midwicket off the final ball.