England’s Reece Topley helps tear apart South Africa to level the series

England’s summer of mayhem show no signs of slowing down as they snatched four 10-ball wickets without a run early in South Africa’s innings, eventually claiming a 118-run win to level the series in a competition that accelerated as it went on.

Rain delayed the start of play by nearly four hours and the teams were eliminated before their allotted 29 overs. But there was certainly no shortage of action. England’s 201 total proved more than enough as Reece Topley’s two of 17 set the tone as they rounded up the tourists for 83.

Much of this game has defined convention. Jason Roy, Johnny Bairstow, Liam Livingstone, Sam Curran and David Willey all lost their wickets immediately after hitting a limit. Livingstone crushed Anrich Nortje’s 90mph screamers for three sixes and a four before going to midwicket. Curran hit Tabraiz Shamsi for a six and two fours before being caught from range.

This England team does not do rebuilds. When the wheels fall off, they don’t stop to put on a spare tire. They maintain the diet until they race down a canyon like Thelma and Louise.

For the seventh time in eight white ball matches, they lost all 10 wickets. That’s a large enough sample to suggest something just isn’t working. But this is a team that seems oblivious to past failures. Brutal defeats by India at Southampton, Birmingham and The Oval, and by South Africa at Durham, were yesterday’s news. Like those hitters who keep chasing after another hit, Jos Buttler’s proteges live in the moment.

England's Liam Livingstone watches a ball fly for six in his innings of 38 from 26 balls
England’s Liam Livingstone watches a ball fly for six in his 38-for-26 innings. Photography: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Willey cited a number of factors behind his team’s erraticism: the “ridiculous” schedule, an inexperienced bowling unit, rapid changes between formats, the acceleration of English wickets.

“It will take a bit of getting used to cricket at over 50,” Willey said. “Most of the boys were part of the World Cup winning team. We are finding our bearings.

Roy was caught in the middle of the wicket advancing down the track towards Nortje and Phil Salt dressed one in the same direction when Dwaine Pretorius entered the attack. The lanky South African all-rounder replaced a concussion in the series opener but now looks inked on the team roster after a best four-for-36 return from six overs.

His double strike from Joe Root, caught by Quinton de Kock from an upper edge for one, and Bairstow played with a marvelous nip-backer for 28, saw England reduced to 62 for four.

It was 72 for five when Moeen Ali hooked Maharaj to the deep back square and, when Shamsi had Buttler for the second game in a row – caught at third man court for 19 – the innings faltered at 101 for six.

Curran and Livingstone started throwing their hands at whatever they could reach while scores of 21 and 12 from Willey and Adil Rashid, respectively, took England’s tally past 200. At the time, it looked like he was missing about 30 points.

Fans huddle under umbrellas with the square under the covers
The patience of those who sat in the rain was rewarded. Photography: Matt West/Shutterstock

England batters have been sensitive to the moving white ball this summer, but their bowlers have made good use of the extra swing and seam, especially Topley who has once again been magnificent up front. He dispatched Janneman Malan and Rassie van der Dussen for a duck each in his second over to take his 17th and 18th wickets in eight games.

In the fourth on De Kock chipped Willey straight to cover and Aiden Markram was run down – somewhat acrobatically by Buttler – without facing a ball.

Heinrich Klaasen offered resistance but his 40-ball 33 ended when he was stunned by Ali on the 15th. At 66 for six, that all but ended South Africa’s chances of victory. Ali salvaged Nortje’s last wicket with 50 balls remaining but every bowler helped put South Africa out for 83. The decider is Sunday at Headingley.

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Willey and Curran each collected one wicket at an economy rate of less than three. Rashid underscored his value with three for 29 while snagging the tail. “It was just one of those days,” was Pretorius’ summary. Indeed, it was, but England won’t dwell on that. Buttler’s side moves too fast to notice.

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