Amla and AB save Proteas
HASHIM Amla and AB de Villiers pulled South Africa out of a nosedive to engineer a seven-wicket victory in the fifth and final ODI last night, squaring the series at 2-2 and restoring their pride.
Set a target of just 183 to win, South Africa crashed to 14 for three before the two took control; Amla ending on 97 with nine fours and a six and De Villiers on 75 - his highest score in this tour by some distance.
It should have been a stroll, but Graeme Smith went to another disappointing shot, chasing a wide delivery from Jade Dernbach. And in a bizarre move, Faf du Plessis came in at number three. Not only was it a departure from South Africa's system of keeping left-right combinations at the crease, but he has been struggling for runs, scoring only one in his previous two innings. When Elgar was caught behind after playing and missing three in a row, England sniffed an unlikely upset. They ended with a bloody nose.
With their backs to the wall after two poor performances, De Villiers knew he had to come up with something different: he opted to sow confusion and keep England on the hop. South Africa sacrificed pace, dropping Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Ryan McLaren to accommodate Morne Morkel and bolster the batting with Justin Ontong. So spin became the vital element.
His decision to open the bowling with left-armer Robin Peterson brought immediate reward. There was no turn but Peterson got one to skid through and nailed Ian Bell plumb lbw. He ended the best bowler, with three wickets.
Thereafter, De Villiers kept rotating the bowlers rapidly in two or sometimes just one-over spells, never letting the batsmen settle. They were helped by Alastair Cook's equally strange decision to promote the struggling Ravi Bopara to number three, in place of Jonathan Trott, whose hand was broken by Dale Steyn in the fourth ODI at Lord's.
But Jonny Bairstow, who impressed against South Africa in the third test, nevertheless started building a partnership with Cook, putting on 55 until he felt he had the measure of Morkel. Having just pulled a four, he then tried to flick to leg - straight to Ontong on the square-leg boundary.
De Villiers brought up Amla at mid-on and Eoin Morgan, another danger man, responded by chipping Duminy's fourth delivery straight down his throat.
Cook knew he had to play a captain's innings, but, incredibly, he was undone by a low full-toss from Du Plessis, off only his second ball of the series. Cook, who had just reached 50 off 69 balls, walked off wondering what on earth had happened. Mind you, he had been dropped on 33 by Peterson off his own bowling, so he had been warned. But they were then five down with 99 runs on the board. Despite the efforts of Craig Kieswetter and Chris Woakes, it was never going to be enough