Buttler: De Kock innings 'the difference' in narrow South Africa win

England captain pinpoints powerplay assault as key factor in close contest

England captain Jos Buttler described Quinton de Kock's innings of 65 from 38 balls as "probably the difference" between the sides after South Africa closed out a seven-run win in St Lucia to extend their winning run at the T20 World Cup 2024 to six games.
De Kock struck four sixes on the way to a 22-ball half-century, helping South Africa finish the powerplay on 63 without loss. With the surface notably slower than during the four preceding evening games at the Daren Sammy Stadium, South Africa could only post 163 for 6 at the end of 20 overs but they had enough in the bank to hold England at arm's length.
"I'd say in the powerplay, actually," Buttler said, when asked at the post-match presentation where England had lost the game. "Quinton de Kock came out with a lot of intensity in that powerplay, and we couldn't quite match that. I think we were probably 20 behind them after six overs. The wicket slowed up and we brought it back really well, we were quite happy chasing 160 [164]. But yeah, they bowled well in the powerplay and Quinton de Kock's innings was probably the difference."
England, by contrast, lost Phil Salt on the way to 41 for 1 from the first six overs of their chase, with Jonny Bairstow falling shortly after. When Buttler was dismissed for 17 off 20 and Moeen Ali holed out two overs later - both dismissed by Keshav Maharaj - England were 61 for 4 with 103 still required from 9.4 overs.
A stand of 78 in 42 balls between Harry Brook and Liam Livingstone edged them back into contention, the pair taking 21 off Ottneil Baartman's 17th over to bring the equation down to 25 needed from the last three. But Kagiso Rabada, Marco Jansen and Anrich Nortje held their nerve to close out victory.
"I think it's still a good wicket," Buttler said. "A little bit slower than we probably expected, but as I said, we were quite happy chasing 160. We came back really well with the ball after how well Quinny played in the powerplay. I thought Brook and Livingstone had a fantastic partnership there to take us so close and at one stage [we were] looking like favourites but it's never quite as simple as that in T20 cricket and credit to South Africa for closing it out.
"I thought we were really good [with the ball]. As I said, the powerplay was the best time to bat, and I think Quinny recognised that and took some calculated risks. But yeah, the bowling performance, to come back and restrict a really powerful line-up to what I thought was a par score was a great effort."
Defeat means England will have to beat USA in their final Group 2 game to retain hopes of reaching the semi-finals and defending their trophy, with the potential for net run rate to again be the decider.
The equation for South Africa is more straightforward, with victory over West Indies on Sunday guaranteeing them a semi-final spot. Aiden Markram's side have now won six games in a row, a run which has seen them prevail in several close finishes, and the captain praised their "fighting spirit" after holding off England's charge at the end.
"Yeah, we've had a few of those so far this comp," Markram said. "But specifically today's, probably getting to those last three overs and it looks like the odds will be heavily against you, and for the bowlers to hang in there, have really good plans and ultimately get the execution right, shows a lot of skill. But I think it comes from deeper and that fighting spirit, like you mentioned, helped us a lot."
On his bowlers' approach between overs 15 and 17, during which Brook and Livingstone defied the conditions to add 52, Markram was philosophical.
"It's always a tricky one, you want to see the bowlers' best skills. You want to give him the freedom to bowl his best ball first before changing to conditions. It was a bit nerve-wracking there in those overs. The plans were okay but the execution let us down, but that's okay, that's part of the game. You do have to give credit to Liam and to Brooky, they put us under the pump, and ultimately in the last few overs it was good to see the bowlers respond."
Markram also pinpointed the start de Kock gave his side, given the way conditions changed, adding that he felt South Africa were "getting closer to the really complete game" with their latest performance.
"I thought Quinny and Reeza [Hendricks] took on the powerplay beautifully for us but then it definitely got slower," he said. "I probably wanted another 10-20 runs, being greedy, especially on the back of that really good start. We needed to try and squeeze in the middle, try and save as many runs as we could in the field and build pressure that way. As a whole, we are probably getting closer to the really complete game of cricket. Not quite there just yet, but we are definitely on the right track."