South Africa 163 for 6 (de Kock 65, Miller 43, Archer 3-40) beat England 156 for 6 (Brook 53, Maharaj 2-25, Rabada 2-32) by 7 runs

Is it too early to say it? That it looks like South Africa’s time has come.

They beat defending champions England in a thrilling encounter, overcoming several scares in Saint Lucia to remain unbeaten in T20 World Cup 2024, and have one foot in the semi-finals.

South Africa didn’t seem to have enough runs, having scored 63 in the powerplay but only another 100 in the next 14 overs. They seemed to have got their selection slightly wrong on a slower-than-expected pitch by picking only one specialist spinner, who they had bowled out by the 13th over of England’s chase. And their quicks did not appear to have fully bought into pace-off, giving away 52 runs in three overs between the 15th and 17th over to leave England needing only 25 runs off the last 18 balls.

But then, Kagiso Rabada had Liam Livingstone caught at deep backward square off a full toss – and celebrated in his face – and he only gave away four runs in his final over. Marco Jansen sent down a phenomenal penultimate over, bowling into the pitch and taking pace off, and conceded only seven runs, leaving Anrich Nortje with 13 to defend off the last over. His first ball was hit down the ground by Harry Brook, in search of six, but Aiden Markam ran back from mid-on and took the catch over his shoulder. That was the moment the game was won but Nortje still had five deliveries and he kept it together, bowling full, and restricting England to six runs in the 20th over.

The drama aside, England may not too be unhappy after the close defeat. Their spinners Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid were impressive, taking 2 for 45 in 7 overs; Reece Topley conceded only 23 in his four overs; and Harry Brook brought up his first T20 World Cup fifty. The shot selection from the top order may come under scrutiny but with a positive net run-rate and a game against the USA to come, England will still fancy their chances of reaching the semi-finals.

De Kock wins match-ups and gets a life

England’s planning against Quinton de Kock was spot on as they chose to open the bowling with Reece Topley and Moeen Ali, both of whom have had the better of de Kock in the past. Topley had dismissed him four times in six meetings, and Moeen six times in 15, but neither got the early breakthrough in this game. Instead, de Kock opened the boundary count with a four and a six down the ground off Moeen and then punished Jofra Archer with a series of pick-up shots over the leg-side. Archer’s opening over cost 21 and de Kock scored 17 of them, including successive sixes. De Kock went on to bring up fifty off 22 balls, equalling Aaron Jones for the fastest half-century of the tournament, but could have been out two overs later, on 58, when he slog-swept an Adil Rashid googly to deep backward square. Mark Wood had to reach forward to take the catch, which appeared clean until TV umpire Joel Wilson determined the ball had burst through his fingers and hit the ground.

Buttler brilliant in the field

De Kock added just seven more runs before Archer got his revenge. He banged in a short, slower ball, de Kock edged and Jos Buttler leapt one-handed to his left and hung on to a humdinger. And that was the entree. Buttler’s main course came when Heinrich Klaasen, on 8, responded late to the non-striker David Miller’s call for a run, after a short ball from Wood had deflected off the wicketkeeper’s pad towards short fine leg. Klaasen was slow between the wickets and Buttler pounced, showing incredible awareness and aim to throw the stumps down at the non-striker’s end with Klaasen well short.

The sublime, ridiculous and the sublime

England can catch? Hold my beer, said South Africa, as Reeza Hendricks grabbed on to the first chance they were given. Phil Salt was tempted into an aerial drive off Rabada but did not hit it as well as he hoped and Hendricks leapt two-handed to his left to hold on to a spectacular catch. Rabada should have had a second when Bairstow slashed him to deep third, but Klaasen was unable to hold on.

The drop only cost South Africa six runs due to another wonder catch. Keshav Maharaj tossed the ball up, Bairstow cut and Nortje flung himself to his right at backward point to grab a stunner. And Klaasen was able to redeem himself when Buttler tried to take Maharaj on and was caught at deep mid-wicket. None of those catches, however, compares with what Markram did in the final over when Harry Brook, set on 53, tried to hit Nortje down the ground. He ran back from mid-on and took the catch over his right shoulder; it was the final turning point in the game.

Rabada, Baartman miss their lengths

England needed 77 runs off the last six overs and with Keshav Maharaj bowled out, it was up to the seamers to defend starting with South Africa’s most experienced, Rabada. Tasked with the 15th over, Rabada bowled pace-on and conceded six first up when Liam Livingstone hit him over square leg. He ended up giving away 18 runs in the over to take some pressure off England. But it was Baartman’s third over, the 17th, which was the most disappointing from a South African perspective. He tried to find a yorker length but sent down four full tosses in a row, which Livingstone hit through cover, twice, for four and then over square leg. His fourth delivery was toe-ended without damage but a fifth full toss to end the over gave Brook another four and set the game up for a thrilling finish.