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.