A night of success and sadness in Sharjah ended with the team that won going out and the team that lost going through, but for England progress to the T20 World Cup semi-finals came at a cruel cost. The loss of this match at least for them was incidental, but that of Jason Roy is much more serious.
There is only so much misfortune that a title-chasing team can survive and it may transpire that England limped across that line as Roy was carried from the field 25 balls into their run chase with an apparently serious muscle injury. “It’s difficult to assume anything,” Eoin Morgan said of his prognosis. “Obviously we’re all hopeful that he comes through in some manner or there’s some remedy to get him through one if not two games, but we have to do what’s best for Jason, and then the team.”
Already without two superstars and certain starters in Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer when they arrived in the United Arab Emirates, England lost Sam Curran before the tournament began, Tymal Mills on the first of their two visits to Sharjah, now Roy in their second, and their preparations for the most important games of the tournament must include significantly remodelling their team.
South Africa had batted excellently, albeit against some ordinary bowling and occasionally sub-par fielding, to reach 189 for two and give themselves a chance of progressing. This being the last game of the group, the completion of their innings prompted some intensive net run rate calculations and an England reply of multiple targets. In the end a leg-bye off Tabraiz Shamsi in the 11th over took them to 87, enough to secure a place in the semi-finals; a Moeen Ali six off the same bowler took them to 110, which guaranteed first place in the group; and finally Liam Livingstone struck a succession of brutal blows to knock South Africa out.
Kagiso Rabada started his third over, and England’s 16th, knowing his team were seven runs from elimination, with England in effect four down, given Roy’s injury. Had what happened at the start of the 20th over occurred just a little earlier a different, miraculous story might have unfolded. Instead what followed was a hat-trick of a very different kind.
Rabada’s first ball was thrashed over midwicket and out of the stadium by Livingstone, a six measured at 112m and declared the biggest of the tournament. His second cannot have been far short – it was hard to tell as it, too, was swallowed by the darkness beyond the stadium’s roof. The third was hammered down the ground for six more.
Confirmation that South Africa’s battle had been lost had been swift and savage, and suddenly, for the first time since Roy’s injury slammed the brakes on an excellent start, they were at real risk of losing the match.
Rabada’s next over, the last of the innings, kept that particular threat at bay. England required 14 to win but Chris Woakes, Morgan and Chris Jordan fell to the first three balls, and an ultimately disappointing World Cup campaign ended for South Africa with a celebration.
Australia’s emphatic victory over West Indies in Abu Dhabi had left them with no choice but to go for broke here. After Morgan won the toss and inevitably chose to field, their first task was to do what no other side in this group had managed: avoid haemorrhaging powerplay wickets against England, and accelerate through the innings rather than being forced on to the defensive. When Reeza Hendricks became the third right-handed opener to be dismissed during Moeen Ali’s second over of an innings in this competition – a niche statistic, to be sure, but interesting particularly because Moeen’s purpose when bowling in the powerplay is to target left-handers – the game seemed to have set down a familiar path.
But that brought Rassie van der Dussen to the crease, and he had a different direction in mind. He and Quinton de Kock added 71 for the second wicket, but it was after Aiden Markram arrived that the innings truly caught fire. Markram scored a 25-ball 52, and he and Van der Dussen, who ended with 90 off 60, scored 103 runs off the last 52 balls.
Morgan suggested South Africa’s score was “reasonable, around par”, and remarkably, despite everything, England nearly chased it down. “When your premium batsman goes down and you [still] go into the last over needing 14 you’re in a pretty good position,” he said. “There’s still certainly belief there.”
Their belief may survive, but the key question now is whether their title chances have been hobbled along with their opener.