Jonny Bairstow blasts England to victory in first T20 against South Africa | England in South Africa 2020-21

Jonny Bairstow’s long-established knack of responding to a challenge came to the fore once again as his unbeaten 86 powered England to a five-wicket victory in their opening Twenty20 against South Africa.

When the Yorkshireman launched Lungi Ngidi into the building site at an empty Newlands it saw a target of 180 knocked off with four balls to spare, putting the tourists 1-0 up before Sunday’s second instalment in Paarl.

Eoin Morgan had said that results on tour are secondary to players getting settled in their roles before next year’s World Cup. And thus what will please him most about Bairstow’s 48-ball masterclass, beyond the nine fours and four sixes, was that it came from his new berth at No 4.

It helped overcome a troubling start to the chase too, with England 34 for three in the sixth over before Bairstow allied with Ben Stokes for an incendiary stand of 85 that saw the latter clear the rope three times en route to a 27-ball 37.

“It’s one of my favourite grounds,” said Bairstow, a nod to the record-breaking 399-run partnership he and Stokes compiled during the 2016 Newlands Test. “With the sun going down behind Table Mountain, it was just a shame we didn’t have a crowd in to enjoy a really good game.”

Asked about his demotion from opener, he replied: “I just want to be contributing to England, whether that’s opening or No 4. I think you’ve two choices: you can be disgruntled or use the experiences you’ve had previously.

“I’m really happy with where my game is at. The calmness and composure was really pleasing and seeing England over the line is important.”

After being inserted at the toss, South Africa’s 179 for six belied a disrupted buildup and felt competitive, with a sluggish pitch not entirely conducive to silken strokeplay and instead requiring a bit of muscle from the batsmen.

This came chiefly from the bulging triceps of Faf du Plessis, who top-scored with a 40-ball 51, put on 71 for the second wicket alongside Quinton de Kock, and kickstarted Tom Curran’s most expensive figures in T20i cricket – one for 55 – when the right-armer’s second over disappeared for 24 runs.

Sam Curran by contrast had an excellent outing after getting the nod over Moeen Ali in the No 7 all-rounder berth, sending down a mixture of cutters and short balls to return career-best figures of three for 28.

It began with the removal of Temba Bavuma in the first over of the match, before exacting revenge for his older brother’s treatment by getting Du Plessis caught in the deep, and then snuffing out the dangerous Heinrich Klaasen.

Sam Curran was the pick of the England bowlers with figures of 3-28 from his four overs. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

With Chris Jordan and Jofra Archer picking up a wicket apiece, and Adil Rashid’s 50th cap in the format producing a typically tidy none for 27 that shipped only one boundary, it was a slight surprise that Morgan described his side’s performance as “very average” afterwards.

The captain’s grumpiness was perhaps in part a response to the start of the run chase, which saw George Linde, South Africa’s debutant left-arm spinner, thrown the new ball and picking up two wickets inside the powerplay.

Jason Roy’s annus horribilis continued when he nicked behind second ball while attempting to cut a long hop from the newcomer, with Linde removing No 3 Dawid Malan, caught on the sweep for a 20-ball 19.

With Jos Buttler skying a delivery from Ngidi for seven in between, England had gone nowhere in the powerplay and needed an injection of power. Step forward Bairstow, who launched the left-arm wrist spin of Tabraiz Shamsi for three sixes en route to his sixth T20i half-century in only 31 balls.

Shamsi’s day improved somewhat when Stokes holed out in the 15th over, and with 51 then needed off the last four, England still had plenty of work to do and needed a bowler to target.

Step forward Beuran Hendricks, who made Tom Curran feel slightly better about his earlier efforts with a wayward 17th over that saw the left-armer ship eight runs in wides and 28 overall.

And though Morgan fell before the close when he picked out deep mid-wicket for 12, his two best players on show sealed the deal, Sam Curran launching Kagiso Rabada for a straight six in the 19th over that left nine to get off the final six balls. Bairstow, it transpired, was in no mood to muck about.

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