Electric Archer, Steady Stokes, Tahir Twist: Five Things We Learned From England vs South Africa
Here are the five key takeaways from the Cricket World Cup 2019 opener.
Jofra Archer did the early damage with the ball, the fast bowler taking three for 27 in seven overs.
England thrashed South Africa by 104 runs in the opening match of the World Cup on Thursday setting the tone for the tournament in which they arrive as the firm favourites to lift their first world title.
With the convincing win, England have made a statement that all the pre-tournament talk anointing them as the team to beat was not just chatter as they hit the ground running in a dominant display that showed up the poor show by the Proteas.
Here are the five key takeaways from the match:
Electric Archer is the X-Factor
Jofra Archer wasted little time in proving that England's decision to fast-track the electrifying pace bowler was a wise move. Archer, born in Barbados to a British father, only qualified to play for England in March but the 24-year-old is such a dynamic force that he was appearing in the World Cup after just three previous one-day international appearances.
Initially, some England stars expressed frustration that Archer was being given what they perceived as preferential treatment. But raw pace was the one element that had been missing from England's attack and it showed on Thursday.
Archer made a huge impact with the ball, picking up the three key wickets - Aiden Markram, Faf du Plessis and Rassie van der Dussen – in the middle order. He also struck an early blow to South Africa's run-chase when he hit Hashim Amla on the helmet and forced him to retire hurt.
Roaring with delight, Archer had dismantled the South African top order and underlined why his presence has strengthened the belief that hosts England are the tournament favourites.
Archer was given a standing ovation by the Oval crowd after taking his third wicket, dismissing Rassie van der Dussen with his latest lethal bouncer to complete a devastating spell.
Stokes Back in Groove
Ben Stokes showed England can rely on the temperamental all-rounder as his measured 89 played a key role in their victory. Stokes had struggled to hit the heights he showed before being acquitted of affray last year following an incident outside a Bristol nightclub.
The controversial 27-year-old all-rounder returned from the Indian Premier League out of form with both bat and ball. But he showed a glimpse of his magic touch during the recent one-day series against Pakistan when his unbeaten 71 steered England to a win at Trent Bridge.
Building on that morale-boosting effort, Stokes played the leading role as England combated a tricky pitch to make a winning start to their bid for a first World Cup triumph. Hitting nine fours in his 79-ball innings, Stokes put on a mature century partnership with Eoin Morgan to keep England on track.
Stokes' cathartic day also included two wickets and one of the most astonishing catches in World Cup history. Diving backwards to dismiss Andile Phehlukwayo with a one-handed catch on the boundary, Stokes' sensational effort was immediately labelled "the catch of the century" by the BBC's Phil Tufnell.
England No One-Trick Pony
As important as the victory was, what would please the England fans is the manner in which it was achieved. On a slow track that offered something for the slower bowlers, losing the toss and going down a wicket in the first over itself, the strong England batting lineup quickly adjusted and pressed into Plan B.
It was a calm, mature performance from a team more characterised for their aggression and passion. "The pitch was slow. It never allowed you to get away and strike the ball like we would do for Plan A,” Eoin Morgan said.
Although Stokes and Archer were the standout performers, others made big contributions to the win as well with three other England batsmen getting to a 50 on a tricky surface, with captain Eoin Morgan (57), Jason Roy (54) and Root (51) all out soon after reaching the landmark.
Tahir Twist Surprises England
South Africa captain Faf du Plessis sprang an early surprise when he asked leg spinner Imran Tahir to bowl the first over of the match.
With fast bowler Dale Steyn sidelined by a shoulder injury, Du Plessis gambled that making Tahir the first spinner to bowl the first ball of a World Cup would unsettle England. At 40, Tahir is the oldest player in this edition of the World Cup, but he has enjoyed a superb spell in the past five years and he rose to the challenge issued by De Plessis as he dismissed England opener Jonny Bairstow with the second ball of the match.
Bairstow's edge behind to wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock gave South Africa a dream start but they were unable to capitalise.
Team Selection Headache
The South Africans dearly missed the services of fast bowler Dale Steyn, who is yet to recover from a shoulder injury which is why his availability for the Proteas is still under cloud. In his absence, skipper Faf Du Plessis lacked a clear wicket-taking option apart from Tahir and had to rely on mainly JP Duminy and Dwaine Pretorius to restrict the left-handers in the England side.
“When we have Dale and all our resources, we back our bowling to restrict teams under 300," Faf du Plessis said at the post-match presentation ceremony.
Questions were also raised over the decision to drop batsman David Miller, who has a good record against England, and play Markram in the side instead. With the middle order failing to get going, perhaps Miller could have added the much-needed steel to the side Thursday.
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