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Root leads England to record victory

England’s greatest Twenty20 run chase stunned neutrals and South Africans alike and invigorated a side that looked at halfway to be heading for an early flight home, even if Joe Root, the man of the match, tried to remain matter-of-fact afterwards.

“We tried not to be too greedy,” Root said, “and to play smart cricket and take it deep. It sets it up nicely for the group stages.” It was as if he had managed to shepherd Sheffield Collegiate home in a league match. Everyone else in the camp was rather more delirious.

At halfway after South Africa had piled up 229 for four, England appeared down and out, their bowlers a tad disgruntled. But their batsmen had other ideas. Jason Roy and Alex Hales blazed brilliantly from the start, England lost their first wicket from their 15th ball but by then they had 48 runs on the board. Already one or two of England’s battered bowlers were finally given reason to smile since the great Dale Steyn had been shredded just as spectacularly as they had been earlier in the evening.

England complete remarkable two-wicket win over South Africa in World T20 – as it happened
Joe Root hit 83 from 44 balls as England pulled off an astonishing run chase – the biggest in World Twenty20 history – reaching their 230 target with two balls to spare after South Africa had made 229 for four
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Hales mustered 17 from seven balls, Jason Roy, resplendently casual, hit 43 from 16. With Ben Stokes joining in briefly, England were 100 for three in the eighth over. Forget the monumental nature of the victory target; suddenly the chase had acquired routine proportions.

The players would not have been aware that the biggest ever successful chase in this format – also against the South Africa – was 236 by West Indies in the thin air of Johannesburg though rather than wind‑assisted it was inevitably Chris Gayle-inspired. But that was not a World T20 match.

Instead Root, with handy assistance from Jos Buttler in a supporting role, guided England to their distant haven with a brilliant 83 from 44 balls, including four sixes, which never used to be his speciality. Root is a marvel. At his best he does not try to hit the ball too hard even in this format; in fact, that is the only time he seems to struggle.

He was prepared to wait on the back foot to guide the ball over third man for six or to pull it over midwicket against JP Duminy’s low-slung off-breaks. One on-drive against Kyle Abbott was classical except that true Yorkshiremen of old only used to on-drive for two or three.

Root was caught on the boundary with 11 runs needed from 10 balls. That soon became a requirement of one run from the last over but in this crazy match there was a touch more drama.

England lost two wickets; there was another excruciating maiden delivery and then Moeen Ali hit the ball back over Kyle Abbott’s head and an incredible game was over.

“I felt we’d have had to play out of our skin to chase it down, and we did just that,” England’s captain, Eoin Morgan, said. “We have a lot of talent within our group and the best way for us to play is the way we did tonight.”

The South Africans could not claim the handicap of the dew since it was not so prevalent as when England played West Indies. However, Morgan had no hesitation in bowling first. Even without the dew there were soon plenty of English sweaty palms in the field.

On a nightmare night for quick bowlers the limitations of England’s pace attack were also exposed by the South African batsmen long before AB de Villiers even reached the crease.

South Africa raced to 83 without loss in six overs and that was after David Willey had managed to concede only two runs from the first over of the innings. Reece Topley’s first delivery offered an ominous sign of things to come. The ball was 18 inches wide of off-stump and Quinton de Kock decided that it was in the slot. It was next sighted in the stands at deep extra cover.

De Kock now had the flavour and he gambolled down the pitch in Willey’s next over as if he was facing a left-arm spinner. So Morgan was compelled to indulge in a not so cheerful merry-go-round in his pursuit of a wicket and a seamer who could exert some kind of control. This search was not enhanced when Topley dropped Hashim Amla on nine when driving the hastily introduced Moeen Ali. Now Amla shredded Chris Jordan’s first over. After five balls, two of which were cunning slower ones, Amla had taken 22 runs to every part of a ground, which now seemed the size of a postage stamp.

Only the spinners offered any semblance of control to Morgan as Duminy joined the run riot in the final overs. With hindsight – and it seems preposterous to suggest this – perhaps Faf du Plessis, playing the canny captain, was too conservative in eking out 17 from 17 balls.

So England had prevailed spectacularly in “Indian” conditions despite their unfamiliarity. However, this pitch has few similarities with many of the others. It possesses grass and pace unlike those in Nagpur and Dharamsala. Run-scoring is unlikely to be so easy in Delhi, England’s next stop.

So a brilliant day for the tournament finally came to a close; a tense Antipodean contest in Dharamsala avoided the rain and kept us gripped; in Mumbai England’s batsmen, despite being unknown to Indian Premier League lovers in a packed stadium, lit up an unforgettable night.

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