The English batsmen failed to convert the start that was given by Jason Roy and Joe Root as they posted a total of 311/8 against South Africa in the opening match of ICC World Cup 2019 at The Oval, on Thursday. However, riding on the fifties from four batsmen, they managed to hide the failures of their star batsmen Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler. But, the South African bowlers put up a strong performance as they continued to keep their opponents under pressure by taking wickets at regular interval.

The Proteas captain had won the toss and asked the hosts to bat before Imran Tahir became the first bowler to bowl the first over of a World Cup. He reposed the faith shown to him by his skipper as he dismissed Bairstow in the second ball of his first over as the batsmen failed to read his googly and edged to wicket-keeper Quinton de Kock.

Opener Jason Roy was then joined by Joe Root who together started to rebuild the English innings. Both the batsmen found it easy to get their short makings right as they reached their fifty in quick time and stitched together a century partnership. It looked like the duo would run away with the game when Andile Phehlukwayo dismissed Roy against the run of play, caught by skipper du Plessis. Walking in at number four, Morgan made his intentions very clear as he hit the second ball that he faced from Phehlukwayo for a boundary.

But even before the duo could strike a partnership, Kagiso Rabada sent back Root as a casual sliced drive off his bat found J.P. Duminy at backward point. While the Proteas players celebrated the fall of the second English wicket in four balls, it was also the start of another quality partnership between Morgan and Stokes. As the duo mostly looked to pick the singles in the middle-overs, Morgan took special liking for Lungi Ngidi in the 26th over and hit the pacer for back-to-back sixes to bring up 7,000 runs for himself in ODI cricket for England. Playing his 200th ODI for England, the skipper couldn’t have asked for a better moment to reach the landmark.

Even though Morgan looked his fluent self, it took Stokes some time to open up and the 36th over of the innings saw him get stuck into Dwaine Pretorius as he picked up three boundaries from the pacer’s over to also bring up his own fifty. It was the first time that four English batsmen had scored a fifty in a single World Cup game. But just when it looked like England would run away with the game, South Africa struck again. With the pacers failing to create an impact, du Plessis turned back to Tahir and the wily old fox struck again as his flighted leg-spinner got Morgan to go for the swing and the English skipper failed to connect well as Aiden Markram completed a brilliant catch running in from long-on. The scoreboard read 217/4 in the 37th over as Buttler walked into the crease.

The crowd was already in anticipation for another whirlwind finish, but it wasn’t to be on Thursday as Ngidi cleaned him up with a slow bouncer that the batsman dragged onto his stumps in the 42nd over. Buttler (18) failed to read the pace of the ball and played his shot a tad bit early. Moeen Ali (3) too departed in Ngidi’s next over as the batsman failed to connect and du Plessis took a perfect catch diving in from long-on. With the score reading 260/6 after 44 overs, it was important that Stokes takes it on himself to finish well in the last six overs as wickets kept tumbling at the other end. But Stokes too was dismissed in the 49th over in his effort to finish with a flourish.

Starting the last 10 with the score on 235/4, England managed just 76 runs off the last 60 balls for the loss of four wickets. Having started poorly, the South Africa bowlers showed great composure to ensure that they restricted England to a gettable total after the hosts looked to be dominating the game at the halfway stage with the score on 135/3 and Morgan and Stokes in control.

(With inputs from IANS)