England 226 for 5 (Bairstow 64 Morgan 57*, Buttler 57) beat South Africa 222 for 6 (Klaasen 66, Curran 2-33) by five wickets
After last-ball thrillers in East London and Durban, England sealed the T20 series in the final over in Centurion to deny South Africa a first series win since March 2019. In a high-scoring thriller, England chased down South Africa's second-highest score at this venue in fine style, with half-centuries from Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow keeping them on track and Eoin Morgan's unbeaten 57 providing the perfect finish.
The result means England leave South Africa with two out of the three trophies on offer and half of the third (the ODI cup was shared) and have provided high-class entertainment during a summer of rebuilding for the hosts. The run-rate in the series was the highest in any three-match rubber - 10.12. It's a nice record to be part of, but it won't mean much to South Africa, who started each of the three formats with a win, only to fade away as the fixtures rolled on.
England's early preparations for the T20 World Cup are on track with several of their players finding form. Morgan was the highest run-scorer overall with two half-centuries in three matches while Tom Curran's variations were used to good effect. He claimed the important wickets of top-scorer Heinrich Klaasen and Dwaine Pretorius at the death in this match to derail South Africa's push towards 240 and finished as England's highest wicket-taker of the series.
South Africa, under stand-in captain Quinton de Kock, will be pleased with the way he has taken to leadership and his opening partnership with Temba Bavuma but have work to do finding the right combination in the middle order. Dale Steyn's return bodes well for the T20 World Cup but he was left in the shade by Lungi Ngidi, who topped the wicket charts and whose slower ball has added greatly to his skill set. It did not do the trick at SuperSport Park but after spending much of the last three months recovering from injury, Ngidi will just be pleased to be on the park and performing.
The last five overs
South Africa scored 58 runs in the last five overs, so England's ask of 62 off the final five was not out of the question. Steyn ushered in the final passage of play by giving away only three runs off the first five balls of his final over. But the sixth one, a slower ball of the kind that foxed Ben Stokes, did not deceive Morgan, who heaved it over long-off for six. He tucked into Ngidi's next over, with two sixes in three balls and then Stokes pulled Andile Phehlukwayo's penultimate over apart, with successive maximums. The 17th and 18th overs cost South Africa 36 runs and ensured England scored more than half of what they required in the final five, to clear their path to victory.
Best of the summer
Buttler and Bairstow shared in the highest partnership of the match, 91 runs, and both put on their best performances of the summer to leave South Africa in a different state than when they arrived in. The pair have been under pressure in the longest format but came good with half-centuries each to keep England on track in the chase. Buttler latched on to anything too full, with the pick of his shots a six over long-on off Steyn, while Bairstow was ruthless against spin. He took 10 runs off Bjorn Fortuin's first two balls and 14 runs off the first three balls of Shamsi's second over, including a six straight down the ground. Much like what happened to South Africa when their set pair were dismissed, when Buttler and Bairstow were snuffed out, England wobbled. They lost 3 for 39 in the middle of the innings but had Morgan on-hand to put them back on track.
South Africa's top two set the tone strongly in all three matches in this series with stands of 92, 48 and 84 while England's pair did not manage a partnership more than 20 once. At SuperSport Park, de Kock and Bavuma showed intent from the first ball, when Bavuma cut Moeen Ali for four. That shot served him well throughout his innings and he initially looked to be taking a more aggressive approach than de Kock, until Chris Jordan came on in the fourth over. De Kock hit three successive sixes - the second brought up South Africa's fifty off 22 balls - to overtake Bavuma, but only temporarily. Bavuma took 10 runs off Adil Rashid's first two balls to edge ahead. If the game between them had continued, South Africa could have seen 250 in their sights but they were dismissed within four balls of each other, which stalled the innings.
England also started on an encouraging note, with 15 runs off the first seven balls they faced but then Jason Roy was brilliantly caught by Tabraiz Shamsi, whose time at the strength and conditioning camp seems to have paid off. That meant England's first-wicket stand was the lowest of the three matches.
The real cost of the wides
England's nine wides meant that they bowled an extra over-and-a-half but their transgressions cost them much more than that. A calculation of the runs scored off the extra ball bowled - the ball immediately after the wide - revealed that England conceded a further 31 runs, meaning the real cost of their wides was 40 runs. That included a Klaasen six off Stokes over deep mid-wicket, fours off Mark Wood down the ground and Jordan through backward point and a David Miller four through backward square leg off Jordan and six over deep mid-wicket off Curran. Ultimately, the wides were the difference between 180 and 220 but it still didn't stop England from winning.
Bavuma is not a player you would associate with fielding errors but he made one when he put down a straightforward chance off Pretorius, that would have seen Dawid Malan dismissed at the end of the 12th over. Bavuma was at extra cover when Malan, on 8, hit the ball firmly towards him and it burst through his hands. Little damage was done as Malan only added three more to his score before under-edging Shamsi to de Kock. Pretorius, though, went on to make a bigger mistake. In the penultimate over, two balls after Ngidi had Stokes caught on the boundary, Moeen top-edged, Pretorius ran in from short fine leg and made the ground he needed to take the catch but then put it down. England needed 16 from nine balls at that stage and another wicket might have made the difference but it was not to be.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent