South Africa led England for all but 49.4 overs of their innings – but some sublime death bowling from Mark Wood ensured the hosts tipped the balance with the final two balls to earn them a dramatic two-run victory.
The jig looked well and truly up for Eoin Morgan’s men with South Africa needing 10 runs from 10 balls having hunted down England’s Ben Stokes-inspired total of 330.
But a good recovery from Jake Ball and a miserly high-pressure final over from Wood sent the Ageas Bowl crowd into raptures and the home side to a 2-0 lead in the series.
Mark Wood managed some sublime death bowling to earn a victory for England on Saturday
Jake Ball improved towards the end to ensure England managed to beat South Africa
On winning the toss, it looked a relatively simple decision for Proteas skipper AB de Villiers to put England in to bat under the overcast sky – particularly with the forecast set fair for the afternoon. And it appeared to pay dividends from the off.
Jason Roy – without a score above 20 in his last five ODIs – looked like a man struggling for form. The opener got lucky with a edged drive over backward point for a single off Chris Morris, but was comprehensively beaten by a 93mph yorker from Kagiso Rabada in the next over.
Roy was undone by rare pace on this occasion, but another single-digit score does not bode well for the Surrey man with the Champions Trophy on the horizon.
Wood’s bowling over the last ten balls sent the Ageas Bowl into raptures on Saturday
His departure sent Root out into the middle, and after playing himself in with a couple of boundaries, the man with 66 on his back reached into his bag of tricks. England’s talisman sunk to his knee and welcomed Dwaine Pretorious into the attack with an edged ramp shot down to the fine leg boundary.
Keshav Maharaj was the next to be dispatched for four by Root. The batsman again went down on one knee but on this occasion produced a more orthodox shot when he got there, lofting the left-arm spinner over midwicket. Alex Hales attempted an identical shot off the same bowler soon after, but with Rabada lurking by the rope to offer Maharaj some protection, the opener’s number looked up.
What relief, then, for Hales as Rabada tipped a relatively straightforward chance over the rope for six. Even in the hermetically-sealed press box, the crowd’s ironic cheers were audible.
Ben Stokes celebrates reaching his century in England’s clash with South Africa
Jos Buttler returned to form by firing his first 13th one day international fifty for England
The all-rounder smashes the ball into the leg side as he takes the aerial route
What might have been an expensive error for Rabada – given Hales’ destructive reputation in limited-overs cricket – ended up costing South Africa just six runs as the opener edged Pretorious behind and drew a very sharp catch from De Kock the next over.
Root was back in the pavilion for 39, but was desperately unlucky to be run out at the non-striker’s end as Pretorious stooped to get a fingertip on Eoin Morgan’s straight drive into the stumps.
That saw Stokes stride out to the middle – and make something of an inauspicious start to his innings. After almost being run out without facing, the all-rounder was dropped off both of his first two balls, with Hashim Amla and De Kock the guilty parties.
Kagiso Rabada celebrates after snaring England captain Eoin Morgan for 45
Eoin Morgan cuts into the off side during the second ODI in Southampton on Saturday
Unlike Rabada’s missed chance off Hales, these drops would prove much more costly.
Stokes had no trouble putting his early struggles to the back of his mind, and was soon adding to England’s boundary count. After stroking a straight one from Pretorious back over his head for four, the Durham man crunched Andile Phehlukwayo for six over the midwicket boundary.
A golf shot for six off Chris Morris followed closely after as Stokes looked to tee off, but it was some well-judged running that saw his total reach three figures.
The fun and games were put on hold when he was caught on the boundary off Maharaj in the next over – Stokes struggling to hide his disappointment as he trudged off the field for 101 – but with the arrival of Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler in the middle, South Africa’s respite didn’t last long.
South African bowler Dwaine Pretorius appeals after running out Joe Root
Root was in fine touch before he was run out in cruel circumstances for 39
Alex Hales hit 24 from 28 deliveries before he was caught behind by Quinton de Kock
A series of brutal strokes from both men – and an outrageous reverse pull for four by Buttler – gave the innings late impetus and pushed the tourists’ target to 331.
Their reply got off to a bang, too – but not the kind they were hoping for.
With Amla and De Kock ticking along on 23-0, Mark Wood found some extra bounce and hit the former flush on the grille with a 91mph short ball. After several minutes of treatment the opener was fine to continue and the pair picked up where they left off, putting away some loose bowling from the home seamers.
And it took the introduction of England’s star man to break the stand. With Amla on 24, a full, straight delivery from Stokes convinced him to aim for the gap between the covers. But Morgan, standing well inside the ring ducked low to take an excellent catch and send the 34-year-old on his way.
Kagiso Rabada celebrates after bowling Jason Roy with a vicious yorker early on
Faf du Plessis didn’t last long at the crease, edging behind off Liam Plunkett, but after half-centuries for De Kock and AB de Villiers the Mexican wave began to work its way around the Ageas Bowl, with no England bowler looking capable of making inroads.
Plunkett eventually did for De Villiers, and Moeen for De Kock – agonisingly for 98 – but once Morris and Miller got started in the death overs, a match that had looked in the balance moments earlier was tipping the way of South Africa.
But after seeing his penultimate over disappear for 13 runs, Wood held the devastating duo to just four runs off his final six balls to seal a fantastic victory for England.