England sealed a hard-earned ODI series victory over South Africa with a memorable two-run win in the most thrilling of circumstances at the Ageas Bowl.
The first of three Internationals at the Ageas Bowl this summer lived up to its high expectations, as England powered their way to 331-6 and, despite a ferocious reply from the Proteas, managed to take a 2-0 series lead with one match left to play at Lord's on Monday.
Ben Stokes captivated the crowd at the home of Hampshire Cricket, delivering his second ODI hundred off just 77 balls, and Quinton de Kock dazzled with the bat on his way to 98 for the visitors, as Liam Plunkett helped seal England's triumph by taking 3-64.
The match offered exciting from the start, with South African quick Kagiso Rabada defeating England opener Jason Roy (8) for pace, comprehensively bowling the South African-born England star in the fifth over, leaving the home side on 12-1.
England recovered and raced along to 70, as Alex Hales (24) and Joe Root (39) combined well, running smartly and finding the boundary with regularity before both were swiftly dismissed. Hales edged Dwaine Pretorius (1-61) behind and was caught excellently by wicket keeper Quinton de Kock, before Root (39) was cruelly run out at the non-striker’s end in the 16th, at 81-3.
The home skipper, Eoin Morgan, became the first player to score 500 runs at the Ageas Bowl, moments prior to Root’s unfortunate end, and led from the front alongside Stokes as England looked to regain the initiative with the bat.
They did just that, transforming 81-3 into 175 before Morgan edged Rabada behind to de Kock. It was a hugely constructive partnership though, as Stokes reached fifty off 48 balls, with five fours and two sixes - it was just the start.
England are blessed with a batting line-up of natural gifted white-ball players; those saddened Morgan’s departure were immediately consoled by the sight of Jos Buttler (65) striding out of the dressing room and onto the Ageas Bowl’s immaculate outfield.
Stokes’ statement of intent, a sublime century off 77 balls - with 11 fours and three sixes – put the home side in the driving seat and, as Buttler and Moeen Ali inflicted more damage, England completed a fine innings by hitting 111 off the last ten overs, setting the Proteas a target of 331.
Buttler exhibited power, touch and sheer audacity as he recorded 65 off 53 balls, with Ali adding a speedy 33 off 19 balls to establish a highly competitive total.
South Africa, by no means unexpectedly, produced a special response, to no avail.
The Proteas, led by de Kock's (98) composed innings - cut two shy of his hundred - began quicker than their hosts and raced to 50 off eight overs - an alarming rate at which they continued to score.
Glancing at a scoreboard reading 189-2, the England players would have been beginning to doubt their chances of securing the series at the Ageas Bowl, but a breakthrough for Plunkett and the key wicket of de Kock - agonisingly dispatched by Buttler behind the stumps - revived them.
With David Miller (71*) swivelling and pulling well, South Africa needed 77 off the last 50 balls to seal a series-levelling win.
England had concluded their batting innings in explosive fashion, but the visitors were much more understated in their approach, though a healthy flow of runs continued to come from Miller, reaching his ninth ODI fifty off 34 balls.
Plunkett immediately hit back, encouraging Ferhaan Behardien (17) to go big and go straight to the hands of the ever-composed Ali at mid-off.
Buttler epitomised England's tenacity in the field, scampering after a soft glance to short backward point in order to save the second run - everything for the cause.
When Jake Ball fatally allowed 13 runs of the penultimate over, a South Africa victory was all but sealed. Mark Wood, though, showed nerves of steel to prevent the Proteas from scoring just seven off the final six balls, securing a two-run triumph and series win for the home side in the most thrilling of circumstances at the Ageas Bowl.